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Book Review of Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Regionalism and Regional Security in South Asia: The Role of SAARC
an article by Dharshani Premaratne South Asia Economic Journal, 15, 2 (2014): 315–356 (abridged)

The level of inter-dependency among South Asian countries is growing due to the transnational and interconnected nature of human security concerns in the region. Human security challenges such as poverty, hunger, water scarcity, natural disasters, diseases and environmental degradation demand for regional cooperation in South Asia. The landlocked countries like Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal not only depend on water and food from neighbouring states but also on access to seaports. To retain the current economic growth level, India sources its energy needs mainly from Bhutan, which is the biggest hydropower electricity exporter to India, and India has also shown interest over the natural gases of Bangladesh and Iran via Pakistan to ensure future energy needs.

Hence, profound economic and social implications of the issues concerning human security called for greater regional cooperation, which resulted in forming the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in 1985. However, South Asian regionalism has suffered bilateral tensions and differences between SAARC members along with individual countries’ domestic disputes. Although most studies label SAARC as a dysfunctional organization that has failed to tackle bilateral disputes, some studies find encouraging developments in SAARC that deal with issues related to human security.

For this reason, in Regionalism and Regional Security in South Asia: The Role of SAARC, the author attempts to find the extent to which regional cooperation, through agreements and actions in the areas of human security, can strengthen regionalism. By conducting a comprehensive reappraisal of SAARC’s progress to date, the book analyzes the trends in economic, environmental, food, water and energy insecurities and transnational crimes in South Asia. It offers a more realistic and balanced approach to study regionalism through the lens of SAARC’s structure, actions and challenges. . . .

The concluding chapter offers a comprehensive argument on the functionalist approach to regionalism in South Asia. This chapter also summarizes the achievements made, with regard to human security, and challenges faced by SAARC. Ahmed deliberates over the difficulty of comparing SAARC with other regional organizations chiefly due to the length and depth of the bilateral tensions between member countries. The thought-provoking critical analyses in the book offers a gamut of policy options not just within the parameters of regionalism but also for national development agendas of SAARC members. Every chapter is intertwined and the thread of South Asian regionalism is woven effectively and taps into whole new dimensions of South Asia-specific regionalism instead of generalizing.

The book is an engaging read, especially for those interested in South Asia’s progress of and prospects for regional integration. Ahmed voices his thoughts and experiences through this book to restore the broader essence of South Asia and the fruits of his endeavour can benefit policymakers in South Asia to strategize their approach towards South Asian regional cooperation.

Zahid Shahab Ahmed, Regionalism and Regional Security in South Asia: The Role of SAARC, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013, pp. 217, £58.50, ISBN 978-1-4094-6769-4.


Question(s) related to this article:

If you have read this book, what do you think of it?,

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Latest reader comment:

I second Sheila Conroy's enthusiasm for this book, "The Truth."  It is innovative and appealing; and accessible for any age level of reader from youth to adult.

This report was posted on December 19, 2014.