The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established by signing the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
In 1980, The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was raised for the first time. After consultations, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding countries, 7 countries were ready to establish regional cooperation. These were — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. However, SAARC was formally established on 8 December 1985.
Afghanistan is the newest member of SAARC which joined SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005.
The Headquarters and Secretariat of SAARC are in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Cooperation within the framework of the SAARC shall be based on the principle of:
- Respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, and mutual benefit.
- Such cooperation shall not be undermined by the bilateral and multilateral relations of the country but shall complement them. And also act as a supplement to the diplomacy of a nation.
- Such cooperation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations.
Members of SAARC
SAARC comprises of eight-member States:
(v) the Maldives
(viii) Sri Lanka
[NOTE: Afghanistan is the newest member of SAARC which joined SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005.]
Observer States of SAARC:
Some countries are associated with SAARC as an observer (not a member), these are the following;
(iii) The European Union
(vi) The Republic of Korea
(ix) The United States of America.
Areas of Cooperation:
- Human Resource Development and Tourism sector
- Education, Security and Culture and Others
- Energy, Transport, Science, and Technology
- Economic, Trade, and Finance
- Social impact related to society
- Information and Poverty Alleviation
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Environment, Natural Disasters, and Biotechnology
The Objectives of the SAARC:
- To promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life by sharing the knowledge to tackle common challenges.
- To promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individual to live with dignity and relies on their potential.
- To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia so that international impact does not impact them.
- To initiate a step towards mutual trust, understanding, and appreciation of one another’s problems and try to acknowledge them.
- To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, technology, defense, agriculture, etc.
- To strengthen cooperation and maintain good relations with other developing countries.
- To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums and international organization like the United Nation (UN) on matters of common interests;
Meeting of Heads of State or Government:
- This comprises the meeting head of the 8 states and Meetings are held at the Summit level, usually on an annual basis.
Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries:
- These committee comprises foreign minister of these countries ensure overall monitoring and coordination, mobilizes resources, and approves projects and financing.
- The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987. Its role is to coordinate and monitor among SAARC Nation and service the meetings of the association and also serve as a channel of communication between SAARC and other international organizations. The Secretariat comprises the secretary-general, seven directors, and the general services staff. The secretary-general is appointed by the council of ministers for 3 years on a rotational basis.
SAARC Specialized Bodies:
SAARC Development Fund (SDF):
- The primary objective is to fund social sector base projects such as poverty alleviation, development, etc.
- SDF is governed by a Board consisting it members from a member of the finance ministry of respective states. The Governing Council of SDF (Finance Ministers of the ministry of State) has seen the functioning of the Board.
South Asian University (SAU):
- South Asian University (SAU) is an international university, located in India. The degree and certificate awarded by this university are the same as the national university of India.
South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO):
- South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) has its Secretariat in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- It was established balance cooperation among SAARC members which aimed to develop harmonized standards for the member countries to promote international trade among members.
SAARC Arbitration Council (SARCO):
- It is an inter-governmental body having its office in Pakistan and provides legal support to any issue related to investment, tourism, banking sector, and any other issue.
Importance of SAARC:
- SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population, and nearly 5% of the global economy.
- Creating synergies: It is the most dense and fertile area in the world. SAARC countries have common food, agricultural, and other cultural and political habits which it towards synergies among the nation.
- Common solutions: All member countries face common issues like poverty, industrial and technological backwardness illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal conflicts, low GDP, and poor socio-economic conditions and uplift their living standards thereby these common problems make a way forward to resolve with commonly.
- Free Trade Area (FTA): member countries have signed a Free Trade Area (FTA) which will increase their internal trade and reduce trade deficit among nations.
- SAPTA: South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement for promoting trade amongst the member countries came into effect in 1995.
- SAFTA: A Free Trade Agreement which promotes trade among Goods. This Agreement excludes various services provided among nations. It focuses towards to reduce customs duties of all traded goods to zero by the year 2016.
- SAARC University: Establish a SAARC university in India which provide degree as same of National University.
- South Asia Satellite: this is made by India to provide satellite facilities to member countries. All members despite Pakistan take benefit from these facilities.
The list of all SAARC Summits and their details are as follows;
- First summit – Bangladesh (7–8 December 1985)
- Second summit – India (1986)
- Third summit – Nepal (1987)
- Fourth summit – Pakistan (1988)
- Fifth summit – Maldives (1990)
- Sixth summit – Sri Lanka (1991)
- Seventh summit – Bangladesh (1992 – 1993)
- Eighth summit – India (1995)
- Ninth summit – Maldives (1997)
- Tenth summit – Sri Lanka (1998)
- Eleventh summit – Nepal (2002)
- Twelfth summit – Pakistan (2004)
- Thirteenth summit – Bangladesh (2005)
- Fourteenth summit – India (2007)
- Fifteenth summit – Sri Lanka (2008)
[Note: During the 15th summit, a major discussion was held on the global food crisis. The SAARC member countries took the issue of rising food prices and the shortages of food very seriously and it was decided to hold a meeting of the Agriculture ministries of all SAARC member countries.]
- Sixteenth summit – Bhutan (2010)
[Note: For the first time Bhutan hosted a SAARC summit]
- Seventeenth summit – Maldives (2011)
- Eighteenth summit – Nepal (2014)
- Nineteenth summit – Pakistan (2016)
The 19th summit was to be held in Pakistan but India cancelled its participation due to the Uri terror attack by Pakistani terrorists. The other member countries (Except Nepal) also cancelled their participation from the nineteenth SAARC summit due to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and their direct interference in the internal affairs of neighboring countries like Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Significance for India:
- Neighbourhood first policy and also support Gujral Doctrine
- Geostrategic significance: to counter China (OBOR initiative) through engaging Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka by developing projects which are of economic benefit.
- Regional stability: SAARC promotes mutual trust and peace among the nation. It can also act as an important organization to tackle terrorism.
- Global leadership role: It gives an opportunity to India to emerge as a regional leader at the global level.
- Game changer for India’s Act East Policy and also connectivity with Southern and mid-west Asia
- The low frequency of meetings among the members is a major concern. It reduces cooperation among nation on a various common issue
- The big brotherhood approach is neglected by many member countries. They are under fear of losing their sovereignty.
- Limitation in SAFTA: even after the free trade agreement among nations international trade among nations is negligible. It against the main motto of promoting international trade among member countries.
- Tension and conflict among India and Pakistan severely affected the growth of SAARC as a regional organization.
- In a region where the Chinese penetrate their existence, SAARC provides a way to counter it for India by enhancing economic and cultural ties with member countries.
- SAARC is not an organization but shares common historical, cultural, economic, and political values. It is an opportunity to build relation strong among nations.
- Good relations among SAARC countries member promote peace and harmony among regions.
Some important questions/facts for UPSC and other competitive exams;
Q: When SAARC was established?
Ans: 8Th December 1985 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Q. How many members are there in SAARC?
Ans: 8 countries are members of SAARC. These are 1. India, 2. Bangladesh, 3. Nepal, 4. Sri Lanka, 5. Maldives, 6. Bhutan, 7. Afghanistan, 8. Pakistan.
Q. Which country joined the SAARC in 2005?
Ans: Afghanistan is the newest member of SAARC which joined SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005. Except for Afghanistan other countries were a member of SAARC from the beginning of the SAARC in 1985.
Q. How many countries are approved as observers in SAARC?
Ans: 9 countries have joined SAARC as observers (not as members), Theses are: (i) Australia, (ii) China, (iii) The European Union, (iv) Iran, (v) Japan, (vi) The Republic of Korea, (vii) Mauritius, (viii) Myanmar, and (ix) The United States of America.
Q. Where is SAARC Headquarters situated?
Ans: SAARC headquarters is in Kathmandu (Nepal).
Q. Who was the 1st Secretary-General of SAARC?
Ans: Mr. Abul Ahsan from Bangladesh.
Q. Who is the Current Secretary-General of SAARC?
Ans: Mr. Esala Ruwan Weerakoon from Sri Lanka.
Q. When was the last SAARC Summit held?
Ans: The last SAARC summit (i.e. 19th summit) was supposed to be held in Pakistan in 2016 but India cancelled its participation due to Uri terror attacks by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists. Later on other countries (except Nepal) also cancelled their participation from the 19th SAARC summit.
Q. What are the different SAARC specialized bodies?
Ans: The 4 different SAARC specialized bodies are as follows:
- SAARC Development Fund (SDF) – Bhutan
- South Asian University (SAU) – India
- South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) – Dhaka
- SAARC Arbitration Council (SARCO) – Pakistan
Q. Who was the founder of SAARC?
Ans: Mr. Ziaur Rahman from Bangladesh.
Q. What is the full form of SAARC?
Ans: SAARC full form is ” South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation”.
Q. What is the motto of SAARC?
Ans: The motto of SAARC is “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity”.
This article is written by;
Selected as Assistant Commandant (UPSC CAPF 2019)
Also appeared for Civil Services Interview
Email: [email protected]