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The new player in S Asia

The US demand for an observer status in Saarc comes as no surprise to the media in Pakistan, reports Meenakshi Iyer.

india Updated: Apr 06, 2006 20:15 IST

Is it the dragon's meteoric rise that worries US?

Or as the Leftists say—it wants to create a unipolar world with its complete hegemony.

Why else then would it hinge on an observer status in the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc)?

While analysts continue to chafe the hidden agenda behind Uncle Sam's keenness for an observer status in Saarc, it comes as no surprise to the media in Pakistan.

"Saarc has not freely traded within itself - its member states have their largest trading partners outside the region. In all cases, the United States remains the single-country trading partner. Therefore, it should not surprise anyone…" the Daily Times says.

The country had sent its request to Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin for observer status of SAARC.

Apart from US, China and Japan have also applied for the observer status.

Washington is already a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and attends the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) forum, which makes its case stronger.

Moreover, "it is the largest trading partner in the region and most member states keep their reserves in dollars for their trade payments," the Daily Times explains.

Every SAARC meeting has achieved precious little in promoting trade and economic cooperation. As the paper explains, "It (Saarc) could easily take off as a trading bloc but most of the states are still stuck with bilateral disputes that they think should be resolved first".

Further, in a covert message, the paper attempts to say that as a regional organisation, Saarc has been ineffective because of the presence of a 'third party', supposedly India.

"Most regional organisations are set up against a 'third party'…but in case of Saarc there is no external enemy to target collectively. It is said that Saarc has been ineffective because the 'third party' has been located within it," the paper says.

India remains one of the major powers in the region.

"India's peripheral states, unable to withstand India's political clout, have been trying to reach out to extra-regional players as a strategic make-weight. But India, in a sort of unspoken Monroe Doctrine, has objected to this.

"It (India) has the potential of becoming a regional hegemon. Letting outsiders in would water down its hegemony…" the editorial says.

Meanwhile, in India the Leftists have already started raising the banner of revolt.

CPI's General Secretary AB Bardhan says, "there is no rationale behind its (USA) move. Indeed, the Saarc is a regional forum of independent sovereign countries for cooperation and development.

At the best, it can have bilateral relations with other regional forums like the ASEAN and the European Union (EU)".

He adds that granting observer status to the US will only complicate the matters at Saarc, which has yet to consolidate its functioning.

First Published: Apr 06, 2006 20:13 IST