Some people celebrate 25 years of anything: dead marriages, inert regional groupings, just occupying space.
We don’t. SAARC must be assessed by its fruits. On internal connectivity it fails. Here’s the evidence, carried in op-ed articles in Bangladesh’s Daily Star, Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror and also in a PTI dispatch:
It is always easier to do things within one’s own country than outside, or at least it should be. One does not need a passport or a visa to travel inside one’s country, but those formalities are required when one ventures out. Telephone calls within one’s own country are cheaper than to foreign countries. The same logic can be extended to a regional grouping such as SAARC which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
If none of these conditions are satisfied, one has to conclude that the regional grouping is not real; that it has been more an opportunity for mutual ego-stroking for the region’s leaders, than something yielding tangible benefits to South Asia’s people; that there is little to celebrate after 25 years.
Given the reality of cross-border terrorism and paranoid security policies, it will be some time before lines outside SAARC-country consular offices disappear. But cheaper telecom connectivity within SAARC is eminently achievable.
The PTI story, carried in MSN India starts thus:
Low and uniform telecom tariffs across SAARC nations will help improve trade relations between member countries, as well as bolster regional cooperation, says a study.
“The government must, through telecom operators, provide low and uniform telecom tariff across SAARC nations. As of now one is spending 64 times more if using the roaming phone within the SAARC nations,” Sri Lanka-based non-profit research organisation LIRNEasia said in a report on Information and Communication Technologies and Services Trade within the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).