The South Asian association for regional cooperation (SAARC) was formed in December 1985 with seven member states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Whereas, Afghanistan became the eighth member in 2007. SAARC is the regional organization at the government level for the 8 member countries to delineate their differences and promote welfare of the people, improve quality of their life and accelerate economic growth since its establishment.
SAARC has been focused on promoting economic cooperation and growth, mutual assistance in the social, cultural, technical and scientific fields and the rule of law. SAARC ultimately aims to provide a platform for cooperation and dialogue among the governments of South Asia, since South Asia is at a crossroads powered by the vibrant development and fastest-growing region in the world, If its member states develop as an incorporated economy this would make South Asia the second-largest economy in the world.
On the contrary no country is free from the threat of instability whether caused by terrorism, economic-terrorism, bad governance and regional security, similarly problems such as corruption, poverty, illiteracy and high rate of crime, etc, create sagacity of insecurities amongst all the member states of South Asia. There have been moments of significant coming together among SAARC states on rule of law issues, particularly drug trafficking, anti-terrorism, anti-corruption, cyber-crime, which are major security challenges for South Asia. South Asian countries do not only rank ill in governance standards but also in poor infrastructure along with defensive policies, corruption and red tape are key barrier that impede the economic growth of these countries.
They have individually launched programs to fight corruption and improve public sector and governance but every day stories covering issues of corruption appear in South Asian print and electronic media stating stories regarding corruption, corrupt officials, money laundering, and abuse of power, crimes that propagate political and regional instability.
Despite the fact SAARC faces severe challenges in bonding such a diverse region with different political, social and religious traditions, regardless of lack of common grounds it is crucial that SAARC countries put aside their difference and work to fabricate common solutions to the problems they are facing in their economic and regional development as well as rule of law and menace of corruption.
The 19th South Asian Association for regional cooperation (SAARC) summit will be held in Islamabad in November 2016. While speaking at a conference of the states parties to the United Nations convention against corruption (UNCAC) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, Chairman National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Pakistan, Qamar Zaman Chaudhry said that a regional conference of SAARC member countries on anti-corruption will be hosted by Pakistan to promote bilateral and regional cooperation on anti-corruption issues. In view of the desire of the government of Pakistan, following steps are recommended as the way forward for SAARC countries to combat corruption in the region :
- Governments of SAARC countries should have a zero tolerance for corruption and money laundering in their countries.
- Governments of SAARC countries should educate and involve citizens in building integrity to prevent corruption and punish the corrupt and support those who have suffered from institutional corruption.
- Governments of SAARC countries should conduct public education and awareness raising activities, such as integrity building workshops, and other cross border events to eradicate corruption and poverty.
- Governments of SAARC countries should reform the justice systems by ensuring very stiff and stricter penalties for people found guilty of corrupt practices.
- Governments of SAARC countries should establish a closer link and develop a network of dedicated individuals committed to the objective of ending corruption.
- Governments of SAARC countries should apply the principle of consensus in the allocation of natural resources to prevent regional conflict and use dialogue as a tool of settling regional problems such as insecurity, insurgency, corruption and poverty.
SAARC has made significant progress in improving socio economic development, scientific and technological coordination in South Asia. It is now time for it to shift its focus to other long standing political, good governance and anti corruption concerns. SAARC should therefore play an important role in helping member state governments meet their citizens demands which will contribute to building regional peace, stability and economic prosperity.