The recent SAARC Summit showed that it was merely a meeting of US allies in the region and that South Asia is just an area which the USA would like to see centred around India. While South Asia is, indeed, centred around India, it also provides the means whereby it can deal relatively easily with a multinational South Asia through the SAARC. It should be noted that SAARC is the old British Indian Empire (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), plus the surrounding hill kingdoms (Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal) and Indian Ocean Islands (Sri Lanka and the Maldives). From an outsiders point of view, this formed one region, and from the point of view of an outside corporation, formed a potentially single market. However, there was one problem, and that was the behaviour of its largest member, India, which harboured ambitions of dominating the region and had engaged in hegemonistic adventures with all its neighbours. It is worth noting that SAARC members all have a common border with India. It is only with the addition of Afghanistan to its membership, the first addition since its founding, that a member does not have a border with India. But it does have a border with Pakistan, the second most important member of SAARC. Pakistan provides the greatest irritant to India, because it is the only country in the region which does not accept that it obtained independence from the British only to have to accept Indian hegemony. More important, not only is it the natural magnet for other SAARC members impulses to resist, but it too has the biggest dispute in South Asia, over another mountain kingdom, but one which was in a much closer treaty relationship with the Raj than those which are now SAARC members, the State of Jammu and Kashmir. While the Indian occupation on a part of Kashmir has been maintained in defiance of the UN, it also provided one of the reasons propelling the formation of SAARC. True, SAARC always had the example of the European Union before it, long before its post-Soviet expansion, when it was essentially a West European organisation, but it was very swiftly realised that it was not going to work so long as the largest two countries in the region - India and Pakistan - continued to have such vast political differences. It was realised at the outset that what brought Europe together was not just a common economic need, but also the easing of political differences to the point of disappearance. However, the big difference between the EU and SAARC was that Germany, the largest power in Europe, did not loom as large in the EU as India in SAARC, and also had its corners rubbed off in the course of two world wars. On the other hand, India has aspirations now to become a world power. Despite these forebodings, it was decided to go ahead, and it was though contentious bilateral issues were kept off the SAARC agenda, a summit was fixed annually which was to be the major means of high-level contact between India and its neighbours, notably Pakistan. This has meant that SAARC summits have an enhanced domestic expectation behind them, not related to the creation of a common market. However, despite the sideline summits, the problems are not solved. Kashmir is the most complicated, for some the most intractable. Indias other problems with other members, not just Pakistan alone, have not been solved. Thus, the good neighbourliness expected of it, let alone the elder brother behaviour valued throughout the region, have not been on display. The latest example, which affects all the SAARC members, are non-tariff barriers. Non-tariff barriers are an old mercantilist trick in a time of free trade. India is a firmly mercantilist power. An ex-colony, its post-colonial ruling elite wants to do the same things the pre-colonial elite did, and for that money is needed. Thus, Indias ruling elite forces the country into mercantilism at a time when the mantra is free trade. Modern multinationals no longer need the protection of mercantilism, and want the free movement of resources implied by free trade. Thus, the Indian ruling elite finds itself in a mercantilist position, watching the EU example with increasing horror. But until the evil day when policy, including for India, is not made in New Delhi, it (India) is pursuing SAARCs goal for whatever gains it can obtain. That means getting its exports abroad, while not importing. While the Indian industrialist not only finds a market abroad for his products, his Indian market is protected, first by tariffs, and now by non-tariff barriers. This is meant to generate a surplus in foreign exchange that the Indian State will carefully control, and use on things like arms, which will keep other SAARC countries under control. It is this desire to control that has created among countries, which have thrown off English tutelage to see it replaced by the Indian, a drive for independence. At the same time, the USA has also found in SAARC a ready tool to pursue its goals in the region. It is worth noting that not only all SAARC members are cooperating with the USA, but also the fight against terrorism, which is a kind of shorthand for its war on terror, won a mention in the summit declaration. Not only is Afghanistan, a SAARC member, occupied by the USA, but also another member, Pakistan, is deeply involved in the war, to the extent that it has begun to resent US pressures. One of those pressures is related to SAARC: the USAs desire, after the collapse of the USSR, to prop up India as a regional counterweight to China. To show its goodwill, the USA wants to help achieve its regional goals, and that includes achieving its objectives in SAARC. The gaining of MFN status from Pakistan is one major aspect, but it wants Pakistan to agree with it and buttress its position diplomatically, with giving anything in return. Pakistan should be very careful about SAARC, as well as the formation of any common market as a result. There may be natural trading regions because of geography, but it is in the hinterland of the near East, Central Asia and Eurasia, so there is no inevitability about South Asia. Indeed, the inclusion of Afghanistan, very much a Central Asian power, in SAARC itself makes the organisations identity a little confused. It must be especially wary of American plans to use it, for it can be certain that the use will be through Afghanistan, meant to promote American interests in the region, and thus harmful to Pakistans. It should not allow itself to become party to such moves as giving India MFN status, which have wide-ranging economic consequences, but which are made for non-economic reasons centred around currying favour with the USA. Pakistan should also not look forward so much to the sideline summiteering that SAARC naturally provide, especially now that the USA has gained a place at the table through Afghanistan. It should only agree to increased trade, if India shows the political will to act with justice and fair play across the whole range of disputes in which it is involved, including Kashmir, where it has to give the people the right of self-determination they have been struggling for. Pakistan should remember that SAARC will only yield its fruits when India treats all members as partners, including, and not only, Pakistan. The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation. Email: