QUESTION : Regional cooperation of SAARC nations on a global disaster like covid-19 will act as building blocks for re-discovering the virtues of multilateralism. Discuss.






Covid-19 And South Asia




With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, growth prospects for the world’s fastest-growing region, South Asia, appear grim.




  • India has the second largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world (over 55 lakh) after the U.S


  • Bangladesh has around 3.5 lakh cases.


  • Bhutan and the Maldives have managed to largely contain community transmission and avoid prolonged lockdowns due to a higher testing rate.


  • Low Mortality: Unlike other regions, South Asian countries are experiencing a lower mortality rate despite having a higher infection rate.


  • Reasons for Low Mortality: The region’s tropical climate, protection offered by a tuberculosis vaccine (BCG), exposure to malaria, and a weaker strain of the virus are considered as some of the reasons for low mortality.




  • India, in late March, announced a $22.5 billion relief package to ensure food security and cash transfers to save the livelihoods of an estimated 800 million people living in poverty. RBI slashed the repo and reverse repo rate to create liquidity for businesses.


  • Bangladesh, in early April, announced a stimulus package worth about $8 billion in addition to an earlier $595 million incentive package for export-oriented industries.


  • Pakistan, in late March, unveiled a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of $6.76 billion. Its central bank also slashed the interest rate.


  • Maldives, in late April, mobilised a $161.8 million emergency fund and Afghan government allocated about $25 million to fight COVID-19.




  • Inadequate Testing: Countries facing a surge in cases, such as India, could have flattened the curve by increasing the number of tests


  • Data Reliability: South Asia houses one-fourth of the global population and one-third of the global poor, many COVID-19 deaths might have gone unnoticed, unreported or even under-reported.


  • Implementation of Economic Package: Although countries like India and Bangladesh announced financial and material stimulus packages, distribution concerns remain unaddressed


  • Inoperative SAARC COVID-19 fund: The fund was created following Indian PM Narendra Modi’s call to South Asian leaders, but governments are yet to decide on its modus operandi.


  • Narrow Geopolitical Rivalry: This crisis is likely to result in prolonged economic slowdown in South Asia which will be further complicated by narrow geopolitical rivalry.




  • It was established on 8 December 1985.


  • Its member countries are—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India,

 Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan (2005)


  • The Headquarters and Secretariat of the Association are at Kathmandu, Nepal.


  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (2018) of the global economy




 To promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life.


 To accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potentials.


 To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia.


 To contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems.


 To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields.


 To strengthen cooperation with other developing countries.


 To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests; and


 To cooperate with international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes.




  • Neighbourhood first: Primacy to the country’s immediate neighbours.


  • Geostrategic significance: Can counter China (OBOR initiative) through engaging our neighbours in development process and economic cooperation.


  • Regional stability: These regional organisations can help in creation of mutual trust (India & Pakistan) and ensure that regional interest over ride bilateral disputes.


  • Global leadership role: It offers India a platform to showcase its leadership in the region by taking up extra responsibilities.


  • Game changer for India’s Act East Policy: Linking of South Asian economies with South East Asian region will bring further economic integration and prosperity to India particularly in its under-developed Eastern region.


  • Potential for India’s export: With closer economic integration of economies in the region, India’s domestic companies will get access to much bigger market thus boosting their revenues




  • South Asia region could leverage its existing institutional framework under the umbrella of SAARC to effectively respond to the crisis.


  • For instance, SAARC Food Banks could be activated to tackle the imminent regional food crisis,


  • The SAARC Finance Forum can be activated to formulate a regional economic policy response



QUESTION : The today world needs multilateralism more than ever considering the rise of global issues. Comment






UN Reforms And India




  • Recently, the United Nations has marked its 75th anniversary, celebrating the mantra that “multilateralism is not an option but a necessity”.


  • However, the coronavirus has exposed the structural weakness of the UN system that was set up amidst the ruins of the Second World War.




  • During the Cold War, US and Russia were at each other’s throats and the UNSC was deadlocked. However,during 1990s, post-Soviet Russia was willing to accept US agenda for global security.


  • All that began to change in the first decade of the millennium, when Russia and China began to offer resistance to US dominance. By third decade, the conflict between the US on the one hand and China and Russia on the other has become full-blown.


  • To make matters more complicated, there is a growing divergence between US and its European partners on many global issues.


  • For example: US wants to continue the UN sanctions on Iran. Other powers, including the US’s allies in Europe, are not willing to follow the American lead on this.


  • The discord between the US and its European partners underlines the problem with viewing the world through the traditional East-West prism.


  • The US has never been more divided within itself on global issues as it is today.


  • Also, recently at the UN Security Council, China blocked a serious discussion on the origin and sources of the crisis. While the World Health Organisation did move a bit in that direction, the US was not satisfied and walked out of the forum




India must come to terms with a number of propositions: –


  • First, it should shed the illusion, cultivated since the 50th anniversary of the UN in 1995, that the expansion of the permanent membership of UNSC, with or without veto, is within reach. Hence, India should leave its desire to get permanent membership in UN as UNSC reform is unlikely to happen soon.


  • Second, India’s own experience during the Cold War points to the fact that the UN is a lot more than the Security Council. While the UNSC was dysfunctional, India developed a multilateral agenda of its own, from decolonisation and disarmament to a new international economic order. Not all of India’s efforts were successful during the Cold war, but the past underlines the possibilities for shaping the global discourse in the present.


  • Third, primary objective of India’s present multilateralism must be to ensure its territorial integrity, especially at a time when China and Pakistan have mounted a massive effort to internationalize the Kashmir question.


  • Fourth, beyond the issues of peace, there is the big challenge of protecting India’s prosperity amidst the unfolding economic, technological and environmental disruptions. The rules governing all these areas are now up for a significant overhaul. As India learnt from its 1970s experience with the nuclear non-proliferation regime, once the rules are set, it is rather hard to change them.


  • Fifth, India needs to strengthen its recent turn to a more dynamic coalition building. While reclaiming its role in the Non-Aligned Movement, India has also joined the European alliance for multilateralism. India also knows that much of the new rule-making is likely to take place outside the UN. That is where India’s new engagement with the US on building like-minded coalitions acquires much significance.


  • Sixth, India’s share in the UN budget stands at 0.7 %. The shares of China, Japan and the US are at 8, 10 and 22 %respectively. Raising India’s contribution to at least one per cent might convince its partners that India is serious about pursuing a more vigorous multilateralism.




  • The global order is faltering in addressing transnational dangers of conflict, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, climate crisis, cyber-security and poverty.


  • For India, the current UN system is the opportunity to articulate the why, what, when and how of its conception of “Reformed Multilateralism” and work with others on reinvigorating multilateralism.


  • However, before India can take benefit of reformed Multilateralism, it needs to be beneficent in contributing to rejuvenate multilateralism.

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