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Prospects of cooperation and development of a multilateral engagement strategy for the SAARC

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By Dr Srimal Fernando

The SAARC has adopted a somewhat neutral approach in its multilateral engagement strategy. This has enabled the organisation to forge close ties with several multilateral entities across the world including western powers such as the European Union (EU) and US, African nations, and its Asian neighbours. These Regional. blocs from various parts of the world consider the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be a vital strategic partner due to geostrategic economic and security reasons. This article examines the prospects of cooperation between the SAARC and other blocs from various parts of the world.

Prospects of SAARC’s Engagements with Regional Blocs and Groupings.

In light of the vast economic potential and strategic importance of the South Asian region, there is a mutuality of interest between the SAARC and major western powers such as the EU and the US. Given the various challenges that have faced regional cooperation under the umbrella of the SAARC, the prospects for long-term engagements in various fields with the EU and the US are diverse. SAARC can cooperate with the EU in various fields such as the development of intra-regional trade, capacity training on the establishment of regional institutions.

The SAARC can also benefit from financial and technical assistance for the western world in other fields of cooperation such as food security, energy, and regional communications amongst others. There is also a great potential for trade in services between the SAARC and the western world such as banking, medical services, education, and technology-based services. The scope and opportunities for collaboration between the SAARC and the western world are endless. Notably, the priority areas of cooperation between the SAARC and the western world will mostly relate to economic cooperation, the promotion of human rights, and other aspects of human development.

The Asian neighbourhood is of increasing importance to the SAARC and South Asian countries, especially the Asian neighbours to the east. Over the years, the economic relationship between the SAARC and its neighbours to the east has expanded from being a mere trading partnership to one that also includes free flow of investments.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (ASEAN ) has particularly been a priority partner for the SAARC in this regard. This is due to the fact that ASEAN has experienced a higher rate of economic growth compared to other Asian regional organisations and its increasing economic importance is reflected in SAARC’s changing trading patterns with ASEAN.

The importance of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, (ASEAN ) to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) policy of multilateral engagement is attributed to increased trading relations that have been observed between south Asian countries and ASEAN member states in recent years. For example, Sri Lanka has entered into a free trade agreement with Singapore known as the Singapore-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA). India has also signed a free trade agreement with ASEAN, known as the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA). Such developments between ASEAN and the SAARC initiatives will open vast consumer markets and investment opportunities for South Asia nations.

Similarly, Oceania has become an important theatre for the SAARC for several strategic, economic, and geopolitical reasons. Considering the vast economic and geostrategic potential of the Oceania island nations, the SAARC foresees the potential of this region and given the foreign policy priorities aimed at promoting economic growth

The prospects for cooperation between the SAARC and Africa are based on several irrefutable similarities between both regions. Both Africa and the SAARC have a nearly similar pattern of colonial historical factors that have shaped the regions in what they are today. In the contemporary world, both regions also share some common political, economic, and security challenges that have affected the prospects of cooperation amongst countries in the specific regions. In a world that is increasingly becoming interdependent, the potential for establishing new mechanisms for cooperation and forging closer ties between the SAARC and African regional organizations is immense.

Way Forward: A New Strategic Pathway for the SAARC.

SAARC can build coalitions for solving common problems with other regional blocs across the globe. This calls for the adoption of a common strategy for engaging with African regional groupings for cooperation on a wide array of issues. The current dynamics with regard to the global impacts of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19 ) create an opportune time to re-examine the foreign policy engagements and relations between SAARC and East and West Regional blocs Importantly, the stability of the SAARC nations will determine its future in the pursuit of regional continuity, the promotion of South Asian strategic interests, and strengthening the economic prosperity while collaborating with other regional blocs.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Adviser/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union.’



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Opinion

A ‘painless shot’ from Army

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When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.

At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.

Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.

The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.

The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.

I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!

What first class service!

To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.

My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)

Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.

Dr. N.Jayasinghe

Physician.

Colombo 7

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Opinion

On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health

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Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.

I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted

The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.

From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.

In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…

None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.

The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.

Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?

As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!

 

Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara

 

 

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Opinion

Night soil as fertiliser

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I write with reference to a letter on night soil as a source of fertiliser by my good friend Upali Wickremasinghe which appeared in the Island of 17/07.

In the first place we were not talking of ammonium sulphate only but all chemical fertilisers vs compost as the sole supplier of nutrients for successful crop growth.

His suggestion to use night soil is an invitation to revisit the smelly past. It is true that some Asian countries and Sri Lanka too used this on a very limited scale many years ago mostly on home gardens.Our concern is on  much larger holdings. Irrespective of the scale of operation the implementation poses many problems,

Outdoor latrines have to be built. Who collects and cleans the buckets used? In the olden days scavengers were employed. Today, we attach more respect and dignity to human labour. These kinds of latrines particularly around Negombo were designed for the pigs reared on the range. Repulsive no doubt. I remember a story I heard as a child. A state councilor who visited a friend in Negombo spent a night with him. The following morning when using the toilet he was amazed to find a pig catching his dropping in midair. He is supposed to have commented that although he had been a state councilor for many years it was the only day that his motion was carried! There was also a practice to tether buffalows to coconut palms overnight. Their dung and the urine nourished the palms.

I will not elaborate on the sanitary and enviorenmental issues which are bound to be overwhelming

Some theoretical concepts cannot be adopted in practice particularly on large scale. UW talks of some girls in Nigeria generating electricity from urine, One could also conceptualise to extract sugar from the urine of diabetics. How feasible is it?

UW in earnest implores to find ones roots. Whatever it means it cannot be scattering human waste  all over.

Let us view the fertiliser issue crippling the farmer and the nation more seriously.

 

Gamini Peiris

Panadura

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