Drawing lessons from the ASEAN free trade area (AFTA) and the way forward for SAFTA
With the shift in the centre of power from the west to Asia, the importance of south Asia has increased many folds. South Asia is home to 25% of the world's population and covers 3.5% of the world's land mass. It also has strategic importance, not just because it is in the proximity of the energy lane but also to emerging superpower China. South Asia is still one of the least integrated regions in the world. It has significantly less inter-country infrastructure connectivity and trade. With the shifting global order, it becomes vital for countries in the region to integrate to take advantage of it. Stability in South Asia has remained very challenging to achieve, except for India. It has often seen multiple regime changes. Since SAARC's founding in the 1980s, the organization has experienced several ups and downs with shifting regimes in member states. Regional integration is considered more advantageous than cooperation outside the region in the dominant globalized world order. ASEAN and the EU best exemplify the advantages of intraregional cooperation. This paper first outlines the regional politics and historical background towards the attempt to form regional integration through SAARC. It demonstrates how changing regimes impacted the prospect of regional integration. Secondly, it tries to identify significant challenges to regional integration and suggest how such challenges can be overcome. And lastly, it concludes with comparative lessons from ASEAN, which SAARC can draw for more significant regional benefits.