At every South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) conference member states advocate strengthening regional integration through the creation of some kind of common economic union, expanding people-to-people contacts, and reclaiming South Asia’s shared heritage.
No doubt engagement between these eight nations has increased over the years. Trade between the bloc and people to people contacts have both grown, while travel restrictions have declined. That being said, the national mentality is still firmly entrenched and each country’s actions continue to be driven by narrow calculations of national interest.
Even at the societal level there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of interest in different nations. For example, recently a factory fire in Bangladesh killed 100 people. The story was given minimal coverage by the Indian media, however, and the coverage it did receive garnered little interest among the Indian public.
Instead, most Indians remained engrossed in their own debates and business.
The same indifference is apparent with Pakistan, as demonstrated by the apathy India displayed when factory fires in Karachi and Lahore resulted in more than 300 deaths. This is particularly appalling when one considers that every time 20 people in Pakistan are killed in a bomb blast it becomes a big news story in India. Indians grasp on the bombing, of course, because it is ripe for politicizing. The tragic fire in a garment factory fails to elicit similar feelings. Indeed, tragic fires in neighboring countries fail to elicit much emotion at all.
It’s self-rewarding to boast of South Asia’s thousands of years of shared history, culture and civilization. But this ignores the reality that such an umbilical connection is increasingly only true when one is speaking in the past tense. Instead of communicative and technological innovations binding the region closer together, South Asians are drifting further apart. Grandiose rhetoric at SAARC conferences can only further obscure this point; words alone can't change it.