Reinvigorating SAARC: India’s Opportunities and Challenges

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.

In the world of regional organizations the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an unruly stepchild. With squabbling members and embarrassingly poor integration the organization has very little to show on the eve of its 30th anniversary next year. Yet, a reinvigorated SAARC has the potential to vastly improve the lives of its 1.5 billion citizens – nearly one-fourth of all humanity – particularly the inhabitants of its largest member, India. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who has vigorously championed regional cooperation since coming to office – prepares for his first SAARC summit in Kathmandu on 26-27 November 2014, Brookings India focuses on areas of potential cooperation and suggests ways to translate those opportunities into outcomes.

While this might be dismissed as a counterfactual exercise – in the words of E.H. Carr, “an idle parlour game” – it does offer value in challenging long held assumptions, and exploring ways to build on existing regional cooperation and developing cooperation in new areas.

This policy brief contains 13 essays in three sections. The first section provides the overview and situates SAARC geopolitically. The following section looks at ways of further enhancing existing regional cooperation. The final section examines the prospect of initiating cooperation on new issues.

Brookings does not take institutional positions on policy issues and each essay in this briefing book solely reflects the views of the Brookings scholar(s) who authored it.

Table of Contents

(Click title to view chapter)


Reinvigorating SAARC W.P.S. Sidhu & Rohan Sandhu

Internal and External Challenges W.P.S. Sidhu & Rohan Sandhu

A Role for China in SAARC? Tanvi Madan


Gravity and Geography: Sub-regionalizing SAARC Trade Subir Gokarn

From Energy Crisis to Energy Sufficiency? Vikram Mehta

Building Infrastructure Collectively Rahul Tongia

Turning Water Challenges into Opportunities Subir Gokarn & Anuradha Sajjanhar

Developing SAARC’s Higher Education Potential Shamika Ravi


Climate change imperatives for regional cooperation Subir Gokarn

SAARC and India’s Healthcare Opportunities Shamika Ravi

Can SAARC Counter the Al Qaeda Threat? Bruce Riedel

Military Co-operation: Mission Impossible? W.P.S. Sidhu & Shruti Gakhar

Cooperation in Outer Space: SAARC’s Constellation of Stars? W.P.S. Sidhu