South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has emerged as a dynamic and crucial force, bringing together the diverse nations of South Asia. It was established on December 8, 1985, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, under the leadership of General Zia Ur Rehman, the then President of Bangladesh in the 1980s. Since its inception, SAARC has developed into a multifaceted organization, promoting collaboration and diplomatic relations among its eight member nations: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined in 2007 during the 14th Summit held in New Delhi, India.

SAARC’s objective is to build “mutual trust, understanding, and appreciation of one another’s problems,” and its principles are rooted in the Panchsheel Principles.

Beyond South Asia, SAARC holds diplomatic influence, maintaining a robust observer status at the United Nations. The organization’s core lies in its secretariat, strategically based in Kathmandu, Nepal, serving as the nerve center for coordinating regional initiatives and facilitating effective communication and collaboration among member nations.

Golam Sarwar from Bangladesh currently holds the position of Secretary-General of SAARC, assuming office on March 4, 2023.

The inaugural summit of SAARC took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from December 7 to 8, 1985. SAARC summits are typically held biannually, with member countries convening once a year for the SAARC Summit to discuss regional issues, foster cooperation, and strengthen ties.

At the core of SAARC’s mission is the pursuit of regional economic integration. A testament to this commitment is the launch of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in 2006, a landmark initiative aimed at fostering economic growth, social progress, and poverty alleviation across the region. SAARC’s vision extends beyond borders, emphasizing collective prosperity.

While SAARC is firmly rooted in South Asia, it extends its global influence through observer status granted to various countries and entities, including Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea, and the United States. This global outreach enhances SAARC’s role as a key player in shaping regional and global dynamics.

SAARC’s governance structure is anchored by crucial organs, including high-level meetings of heads of state or government, a standing committee of foreign secretaries, and its secretariat. These organs collectively shape policies and initiatives, providing a platform for dialogue and decision-making at the highest levels.

Till Date India has hosted 3 SAARC Summits –

  • Second Summit – 1986 – Bengluru
  • Eight Summit – 1995 – New Delhi
  • Fourteenth Summit – 2007 – New Delhi

Cooperation Principles:

  1. Adherence to the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, and mutual benefit.
  1. This collaboration is not intended to replace bilateral and multilateral cooperation but to supplement them.
  1. This collaboration should align with, and not contradict, bilateral and multilateral obligations.

South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA)

The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) is a regional trade agreement designed to bolster economic collaboration among member nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Conceived as a means to enhance regional trade, SAFTA was officially signed on January 6, 2004, during the 12th SAARC Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan. Following the signing, the agreement underwent the approval process from the participating countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

SAFTA formally came into effect on January 1, 2006, with the overarching goal of diminishing trade barriers. The agreement seeks to reduce tariffs, eliminate non-tariff barriers, and create a favorable environment to facilitate commerce within the region. The gradual establishment of a free trade area is a key objective, intended to stimulate economic development and contribute to poverty alleviation in South Asia.

Despite these noble objectives, the full implementation of SAFTA has encountered challenges. Political tensions and unresolved disputes among member countries have impeded the realization of the agreement’s potential. Nevertheless, SAFTA remains a significant initiative for fostering economic integration and cooperation in the South Asian region, with ongoing efforts to address impediments and enhance its effectiveness.

Specialized Bodies:

  • SAARC Development Fund (SDF): Established in 2010 by SAARC member states, the SAARC Development Fund aims to enhance the well-being of people in the SAARC region, improve their quality of life, and expedite economic growth, social progress, and poverty alleviation. The headquarters of SDF is located in Thimphu, Bhutan.
  • South Asian University (SAU): SAU is an international university situated in New Delhi, India established in 2010. The degrees and certificates granted by SAU hold equal value to those awarded by national universities and institutions.
  • South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO): SARSO, headquartered in Dhaka, Bangladesh, was founded to foster coordination and cooperation among SAARC member states in the realms of standardization and conformity assessment. Its goal is to develop harmonized standards for the region, facilitating intra-regional trade and providing access to the global market.
  • SAARC Arbitration Council: This inter-governmental body, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, is tasked with establishing a legal framework/forum within the SAARC region for the fair and efficient resolution of various disputes, including commercial, industrial, trade, banking, and investment matters. The council addresses disputes referred to it by member states and their constituents.

Recent Initiatives:

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, SAARC once again showcased its adaptability and relevance. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to establish a SAARC Emergency Fund of $10 million and form a Rapid Response Team garnered unanimous support from member nations. This recent initiative underscores SAARC’s commitment to collaborative problem-solving in the face of contemporary challenges.

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