How do we make a South Asia?

Guest Post by Trisha Rana, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Nepal.

During several of the sessions, panelists kept saying how stronger economic growth requires greater ‘integration’, ‘linkages’, ‘cooperation’ between countries within this ambiguous entity called South Asia. Experts discussing the dilemmas faced by migrants and diaspora community in particular were adamant that South Asians living in the different parts of the globe need a more cohesive, common identity that will not only ensure their strength and safety but also promote investments back home. Today morning the theme was revisited as panelists talked about possibilities for private enterprises in the region.

While an EU like institution has existed since 1985, the SAARC is, to be brutally honest, a decrepit organisation. And even cooperation within trade and business – which should theoretically be easier to deal with than politics – is littered with barriers.

The private sector, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, seems to be putting up barriers to protect domestic markets. Then there are stringent visa regimes that impede the movement of goods, money, ideas. The knee-jerk reaction of countries is always: protecting national security. But as Pakistani businessman and philanthropist Babar Ali put it eloquently, “Men and women who the governments want to prevent from crossing boundaries, will do it anyhow. Such archaic visa regulations only hamper legitimate travellers and businesses.”

And for landlocked countries like Nepal and Afghanistan, intra-regional business is made more complicated than it should be. Even with numerous agreements in place, the handling charges of cargo in Indian ports account for 60 per cent of the total bill for Nepali traders and clearing customs in Kolkota takes 3-5 days even with legitimate papers. How can we move ahead with a coming together of South Asian hearts, even as we have failed to merge our practical, finance heads?