The dimensions of regional collaboration in South Asia
Despite some developmental improvements in recent decades, South Asia remains one of the poorest regions in the world, comparable in many respects to sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, according to the World Bank, the poverty headcount ratio at US $1.25 a day was 40 percent in South Asia and 53 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.1 Given their limited ﬁscal resources, individual countries in South Asia are often ill-equipped to single-handedly tackle most of their internal developmental problems. Thus, there is a strong incentive to seek external support to alleviate domestic developmental challenges. For instance, South Asian countries have been world-leading recipients of net overseas development assistance from the International Development Association’s (IDA) assistance fund for the world’s poorest countries.2 As an alternative funding mechanism, SAARC has endeavored to enhance regional collaboration on human capital and social infrastructure, principally through a mixture of top-down and bottom-up programs. From the outset it should be useful to frame the dimensions of
SAARC’s regional collaboration eﬀorts within the context of the literature on comparative regional integration. The theoretical literature will guide us to understand how regional integration can take place, particularly in situationswhere there is a considerable level of asymmetry in state capacity to tackle developmental problems. In this chapter I will highlight the eﬀorts that SAARC has made in deﬁning its remit through the creation of an integrated program of action (IPA). I will show that the association’s eﬀorts to list subject areas for inclusion in
the IPA have resulted in a diﬀuse range of overlapping objectives, with no clear indication that SAARC has been successful at implementing any single individual subject area contained in the IPA. In this chapter I will also examine the development of SAARC’s elaborate institutional framework to facilitate regional collaboration, particularly with the establishment of SAARC regional centers, apex and recognized bodies. The SAARC regional centers and other ancillary institutional bodies are expected to provide a bottom-up approach to regional collaboration. I will conclude by determining whether any of these institutions have helped to deepen regional integration in South Asia.