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.
In Afghanistan Germany’s efforts are focused on civilian reconstruction. The priorities here are building the country’s police force, administrative structures and judicial system, as well as developing education, the economy and employment opportunities. Germany is also one of the largest troop contributors to the Resolute Support Mission, the NATO-led effort to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. The International Contact Group on Afghanistan, which is co‑chaired by Germany and Afghanistan, coordinates international efforts in the the country.
Germany is an important economic partner for Bangladesh. In particular, Germany is the country’s largest export market, especially for textiles. An important policy focus here is raising minimum social and environmental standards. Bangladesh is a development cooperation partner of Germany, with the main projects being in the areas of renewables, promoting good governance and adaptation to climate change.
Although the Kingdom of Bhutan has friendly relations with Germany, diplomatic ties have not been established between the two countries. Nevertheless, private German associations provide 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 approx. three quarters of the population and economic output of the entire region. Germany and India have a strategic partnership, and they conduct intergovernmental consultations every two years. The last round of comprehensive consultations, which cover the entire range of Indo-German relations, was held in Berlin on 30 May 2017. The consultations were co-chaired by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a number of cabinet members on both sides participated. The EU, too, maintains close ties with India and aims to conclude a free trade and investment agreement with the South Asian country.
Many Germans know the Maldives as a tourist destination. More than 100,000 Germans visit the chain of islands every year. The Maldives opened an embassy in Berlin in 2016. Germany and the Maldives share interests primarily in the area of climate policy. The Federal Government is closely following critical domestic political developments in the country.
Germany supports Nepal’s efforts to recover from many years of civil war and to fight and overcome poverty in the country. Germany is assisting reconstruction efforts following the severe 2015 earthquake, as well as supporting the process of drawing up a national constitution.
In Pakistan, Germany has a strong interest in the country’s democratic and stable development. Bilateral cooperation focuses on good governance, preventing extremism, and on sustainable economic development. Germany also supports humanitarian aid projects. The German Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GPCCI) was established in the commercial hub of Karachi in May 2016. It is a member of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Germany supports Sri Lanka as the country works to reconcile its ethnic groups following a long civil war. Germany also provides advice on constitution-related issues and promotes vocational training for young Sri Lankans of all ethnic groups. Since 2015, political relations, too, have seen rapid development. There have been a number of meetings between the countries’ heads of government, foreign and economic ministers, and members of parliament.