In 1985, the countries of South Asia decided to establish the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Afghanistan joined the group in 2007. The chief aim is close economic cooperation. So far, however, countries in this region conduct only five percent of their trade with other South Asian countries. Tense relations between India and Pakistan and demographic and economic disparities are hampering progress on joint SAARC projects (www.saarc-sec.org), for example expanding transport networks and energy links, as well as promoting trade and investment.
In addition to the SAARC, efforts to advance regional integration include the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which links a number of countries in South and South East Asia around the Bay of Bengal – although it does not include Pakistan.
Germany’s engagement in the Region
Germany has close partnerships with the countries of South Asia. Mutual visits are conducted by members of government and parliament, by means of which close contact is maintained with decision-makers in the region. Germany is an important development partner for South Asian countries and funds a wide range of projects. These include the development of renewable energies as well as promoting urban development, vocational training and democratic progress.
Since the Taliban seized de facto control of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, the framework conditions for the German Government’s engagement there have been fundamentally reset. Prior to the withdrawal of international troops, Germany was the second-largest troop contributor to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. German and international partners’ efforts are currently focussed on the promotion of human rights – especially those of women and girls – as well as on promoting freedom of opinion in Afghanistan, on giving German nationals, local employees and people in need of protection who have received German Government approval for admission to Germany the opportunity to leave the country, and on the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Germany will therefore continue its engagement, and it will remain one of the largest bilateral donors of humanitarian assistance to the country.
Germany is an important economic partner for Bangladesh, serving as a major export market, especially for textiles. Here, the Federal Government is working to improve social and ecological minimum standards. Bangladesh is a development cooperation partner of Germany, with the main projects being in the areas of climate/renewables, sustainable economic development and biodiversity. Germany is also helping Bangladesh provide for the ca. 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
Diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Bhutan were launched in November 2020. Even beforehand, private German associations provided active support in the education and health care sector, and help to preserve Bhutan’s cultural heritage. This assistance is supported in part by the German Embassy in New Delhi and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
India is by far Germany’s largest partner in South Asia. It accounts for around three quarters of the population and economic output of the entire region. Germany and India have a strategic partnership and conduct intergovernmental consultations every two years. The most recent round of these comprehensive consultations, which cover the entire range of Indo-German relations, was held in Berlin in May 2022. The consultations were co-chaired by Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a number of cabinet members on both sides participated. The EU also has close relations with India. At the last EU-India Summit on 15 July 2020, the two sides agreed on a joint action plan for cooperation in the next five years (Roadmap to 2025). The negotiations between the European Commission and the Indian Government on an agreement governing free trade and investment were relaunched in June 2022 after a long interruption.
Many Germans know the Maldives as a tourist destination with around 100,000 Germans visiting the chain of islands every year. The Maldives opened an Embassy in Berlin in 2016 while an honorary consul represents Germany in Malé. The two countries have shared interests above all on climate policy. The Federal Government supports the reform agenda of the new Government, which has been in office since November 2018.
Germany supports Nepal’s efforts to recover from many years of civil war and is active in the spheres of healthcare, energy and education. Germany has also been a major contributor to reconstruction efforts following the severe earthquake in 2015 and supported constitutional reform in the country.
Germany has a strong interest in the democratic and stable development of Pakistan –the world’s sixth-largest country, with a population of approximately 221 million – and wants to see it play a constructive role in the region. Bilateral cooperation focuses on good governance, energy (in particular renewables and energy efficiency) and sustainable economic development (especially vocational training). With 2.25 billion US dollars in bilateral trade in 2020, Germany is one of Pakistan’s most important trade partners in the EU. Germany also supports humanitarian assistance projects.
Germany is assisting Sri Lanka as the country works to reconcile its ethnic groups following a long civil war. It also provides advice on constitution-related issues and promotes vocational training for young Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups. The Federal Foreign Office is also supporting Sri Lanka in an initiative to strengthen regional cooperation as part of an international rules-based maritime order in the Indian Ocean. Since 2018, Germany has also had a chamber of commerce abroad in the capital Colombo.