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ASEAN vs. SAARC - Why Do Some Regional Organizations Fare Better

Why do some regional organizations fare enormously better in collaboration than others? Have regional disputes and attitudes become the primary reason for the failure of post-colonial states, and are these conflicts typically rooted in a shared history of colonialism?

We have all heard about ASEAN's success in some measure or another. At the same time, if you're interested in South Asia or international organizations, you've probably heard quite the contrary about SAARC. Being regional organizations, these groups focus on their respective regions' economic and social development through multilateral means. It involves treaties, peace agreements, FTAs, SEZs and PTAs, youth empowerment, etc.

ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a group of ten nations from South East Asia and is hailed worldwide for its excellent track record. It began as an economic institution but has since broadened the scope of its activities by emulating the European Union and establishing several verticals such as the ASEAN Security Community, the ASEAN Economic Community, and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Moreover, it works to proliferate the principles of the UN Charter. A unique feature of ASEAN is the informal way of interaction between the countries in this forum, which has come to be called the "ASEAN Way."

ASEAN has managed to achieve food security, enhance agriculture, and even dealt with humanitarian and security crises such as the East Timor Crisis and Cambodian conflict. The economies of the South East Asian region are also rising at an unexpected rate, which further points to the success of this international forum.

At the same time, SAARC, or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, hasn't imitated the growth of its Asian neighbors. SAARC is a grouping of the South Asian states for multilateral cooperation. Despite implementing the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement), the performance of SAARC isn't as spectacular as expected. One of the primary reasons for disagreement in this forum is India-Pakistan's land dispute over Kashmir, amongst other reasons. Moreover, being the largest of all nations in the region and central geographical position, India is perceived as a bully by its organizational counterparts. This phenomenon is referred to as the "Big Brother Syndrome," which has led to apprehensions about India's intentions and the subsequent failure of the states to collaborate.

Some may argue that the regional conflicts in South Asia are rooted in a shared history of colonialism. Be that as it may, ASEAN countries also underwent European and Japanese colonialism. Post colonization, these countries found themselves underdeveloped, poverty-stricken, and faced the pressures to ally with either of the blocs during the cold war.

These countries essentially faced the same challenges the South Asian countries encountered but managed to rise beyond the colonizer's shadow. Suppose the region truly aspires for economic growth and social development. In that case, the citizens and rulers of these nations will have to let go of social biases, resolve endemic conflicts and develop an indomitable cooperative spirit.

One way towards a brighter future could be by involving the youth in International Affairs, as today's youngsters are the leaders of tomorrow. The blueprint of this initiative would not be so challenging to chart as our East Asian neighbors have also taken the lead here. ASEAN Youth Organization works with the youth for youth empowerment, economic enhancement, and social justice. By emulating already existing successful models, South Asia can also go on a path of unprecedented economic rise.


Contemporary World Politics: Textbook in Political Science for Class XII, NCERT, 51-80.


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