Feb 10, 2009
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and political organization of eight countries in Southern Asia. In terms of population, its sphere of influence is the largest of any regional organization: almost 1.5 billion people, the combined population of its member states. It was established on December 8, 1985 by India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan. In April 2007, at the Association's 14th summit, Afghanistan became its eighth member.HistoryIn the late 1970s, Bangladeshi president Ziaur Rahman proposed the creation of a trade bloc consisting of South Asian countries. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was again mooted in May 1980. The Foreign Secretaries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. The Committee of the Whole, which met in Colombo in August 1981, identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. New areas of cooperation were added in the following years. The Objectives of the Association as defined in the Charter are: • to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; • to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential; • to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia; • to contribute to mutual trust, understand and appreciation of one another's problem; • to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields; • to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries; • to strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest; and • to cooperate with international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes. The Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation was adopted by the Foreign Ministers in 1983 in New Delhi. During the meeting, the Ministers also launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in nine agreed areas, namely, Agriculture; Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; Health and Population Activities; Transport; Postal Services; Science and Technology; and Sports, Arts and Culture. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on 8 December 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping at the behest of India on November 13, 2005, and became a member on April 3, 2007. With the addition of Afghanistan, the total number of member states were raised to eight (8). In April 2006, the United States of America and South Korea made formal requests to be granted observer status. The European Union has also indicated interest in being given observer status, and made a formal request for the same to the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in July 2006. On August 2, 2006 the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union. On 4 March 2007, Iran requested observer status. Followed shortly by the entrance of Mauritius.SecretariatThe SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987 and was inaugurated by His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal.It is headed by a Secretary General appointed by the Council of Ministers from Member Countries in alphabetical order for a three-year term. He is assisted by the Professional and the General Services Staff, and also an appropriate number of functional units called Divisions assigned to Directors on deputation from Member States. The Secretariat coordinates and monitors implementation of activities, prepares for and services meetings, and serves as a channel of communication between the Association and its Member States as well as other regional organizations. The Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the Secretariat which was signed by Foreign Ministers of member countries on 17 November 1986 at Bangalore, India contains various clauses concerning the role, structure and administration of the SAARC Secretariat as well as the powers of the Secretary-General.In several recent meetings the heads of state or government of member states of SAARC have taken some important decisions and bold initiatives to strengthen the organisation and to widen and deepen regional co-operation.The SAARC Secretariat and Member States observe 8 December as the SAARC Charter Day.IneffectivenessSAARC's inability to play a crucial role in integrating South Asia is often credited to the political and military rivalry between India and Pakistan. It is due to these economic, political, and territorial disputes that South Asian nations have not been able to harness the benefits of a unified economy. Over the years, SAARC's role in South Asia has been greatly diminished and is now used as a mere platform for annual talks and meetings between its members.Political issuesSAARC has intentionally laid more stress on "core issues" mentioned above rather than more decisive political issues like the Kashmir dispute and the Sri Lankan civil war. However, political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings. SAARC has also refrained itself from interfering in the internal matters of its member states. During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.Free trade agreementOver the years, the SAARC members have expressed their unwillingness on signing a free trade agreement. Though India has several trade pacts with Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, similar trade agreements with Pakistan and Bangladesh have been stalled due to political and economic concerns on both sides. India has been constructing a barrier across its borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan. In 1993, SAARC countries signed an agreement to gradually lower tariffs within the region, in Dhaka. Eleven years later, at the 12th SAARC Summit at Islamabad, SAARC countries devised the South Asia Free Trade Agreement which created a framework for the establishment of a free trade area covering 1.4 billion people. This agreement went into force on January 1, 2006. Under this agreement, SAARC members will bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2007.MembershipCurrent members• Islamic Republic of Afghanistan • People's Republic of Bangladesh • Kingdom of Bhutan • Republic of India • Republic of Maldives • Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal • Islamic Republic of Pakistan • Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Observers• Commonwealth of Australia• People's Republic of China • European Union• Islamic Republic of Iran• Japan• Republic of Mauritius • Union of Myanmar • South Korea • United States List of SAARC summits1st Dhaka December 7-8 19852nd Bangalore November 16-17 19863rd Kathmandu November 2-4 19874th Islamabad December 29-31 19885th Malé November 21-23 19906th Colombo December 21, 19917th Dhaka April 10-11 19938th New Delhi May 2-4 19959th Malé May 12-14 199710th Colombo July 29-31 199811th Kathmandu January 4-6 200212th Islamabad January 2-6 200413th Dhaka November 12-13 200514th New Delhi April 3-4 200715th Colombo August 1-3 2008Future membership• The People's Republic of China has shown its interest in joining SAARC. While Pakistan and Bangladesh support China's candidature, India is more reluctant about the prospect of Chinese membership, while Bhutan does not even have diplomatic relations with China. However, during the 2005 Dhaka summit, India agreed on granting observer status to the PRC along with Japan. During the 14th summit, Nepal along with Pakistan and Bangladesh, announced their support for the membership of China. China seeks greater involvement in SAARC, however, finds it too early to apply for full membership. • The Islamic Republic of Iran, a state with borders to two SAARC members, has traditionally enjoyed strong cultural, economic and political relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India and has expressed its desire to become a member of the South Asian organization. On 22 February 2005, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Kamal Kharrazi, indicated Iran's interest in joining SAARC by saying that his country could provide the region with "East-West connectivity". On 3 March 2007, Iran asked to join the SAARC as an observer. SAARC Secretary-General Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji responded by saying that Iran's request for observer status would be taken up during a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of SAARC member countries in the 3 April summit in New Delhi. • The Russian Federation intends to become an observer as well, and is supported by India. • Union of Myanmar has expressed an interest in joining as a full member. If done so, Myanmar will become the ninth member in the group. India is currently backing Myanmar. • The Republic of South Africa has participated in meetings.