[International Institutions] – SAARC-South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation 

What is SAARC?

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia.
  • The SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.
  • The SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

Principles

  • Respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interferencein the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.
  • Such cooperation shall not be a substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation but shall complement them.
  • Such cooperation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations.

Vision

  • To be a Centre of Excellence for regional cooperation and specialized service delivery to Member States for Disaster Risk Reduction, Response and Recovery for Sustainable Development.

Member Nations

  • SAARC comprises of eight member States:

1.Afghanistan (Latest to Join)

2.Bhutan

3.Bangladesh

4.India

5.Pakistan

6.Nepal

7.Sri Lanka

8.Maldives

Nine Observer States: Australia, China, European Union, Japan, Iran, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea, and United States.

Trick to RememberMBBS PAIN-Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal

DOES SAARC HAVE A FUTURE? – South Asia Journal

AREAS OF COOPERATION

  • Human Resource Development and Tourism
  • Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Environment, Natural Disasters and Biotechnology
  • Economic, Trade and Finance
  • Social Affairs
  • Information and Poverty Alleviation
  • Energy, Transport, Science and Technology
  • Education, Security and Culture and Others

OBJECTIVES

  • Promote the welfare of the people of South Asia
  • Accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development
  • Promote and strengthen collective self-reliance
  • Contribute to mutual trust
  • Promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields
  • Strengthen cooperation with other developing countries
  • Strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests
  • Cooperate with international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes

PRINCIPAL ORGANS

  • Meeting of Heads of State or Government
  • Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries
  • SAARC Secretariat established in Kathmandu 
  • Secretariat comprises the secretary-general, seven directors, and the general services staff

SPECIALIZED BODIES

  • SAARC Development Fund (SDF) consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Finance of the Member States.
  • South Asian University (SAU) is an international university, located in India. 
  • South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) has its Secretariat at Dhaka, Bangladesh.
  • SAARC Arbitration Council is an inter-governmental body having its office in Pakistan.
  • The SAARC Secretariat is supported by Regional Centres established in the Member States to promote regional co-operation. 

Apex and Recognized Bodies

The SAARC has six Apex Bodies, they are;

  • SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI),
  • South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Law(SAARCLAW),
  • South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA),
  • South Asia Foundation(SAF),
  • South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC),
  • Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL)
  • The SAARC also has about 18 recognized bodies
  • The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Disaster Management Centre (SDMC-IU) has been set up at Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management (GIDM) Campus, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.

SAARC: Importance & Achievements

  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8%(US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy.
  • It is the world’s most densely populated region and one of the most fertile areas.
  • SAARC countries have common tradition, dress, food and culture and political aspects thereby synergizing their actions.
  • All the SAARC countries have common problems and issues like poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal conflicts, industrial and technological backwardness, low GDP and poor socio-economic condition and uplift their living standards.
  • The member countries have established a Free Trade Area (FTA).
  • South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement came into effect in 1995.
  • SAARC University in India, a food bank and also an energy reserve in Pakistan.
  • SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) following the GATS-plus ‘positive list’ approach for trade in services liberalization.

SAARC & INDIA

  • India Constitutes 70 % or more of SAARC area and population.
  • India encompasses more than 75 percent of the region’s GDP.
  • Can counter China (One Belt One Road initiative) through engaging Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka in development process and economic cooperation.
  • It offers India a platform to showcase its leadership in the region by taking up extra responsibilities. (Through BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement etc)
  • Game changer for India’s Act East Policy by linking South Asian economies with South East Asian will bring further economic integration and prosperity to India mainly in the Services Sector.
  • India has taken several initiatives to improve bilateral relations with all the member countries without exception.
  • India has also extended billions of dollars worth of lines of credit to her neighbours in the spirit of ” Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas”.
  • India’s emphasis is on three central themes of SAARC- trade, connectivity and people-to- people contact.
  • India was the first country to reach out to Nepal in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake.
  • India’s trade with South Asia accounts for around 5.5% of its global trade.
  • The tele-medicine project in Afghanistan offered by India runs successfully.
  • India has been extending financial support to a number of cultural organizations working for regional integration.
  • A SAARC Covid-19 Fund has been proposed with India committing US$10 million.

Challenges

  • SAARC’s performance has been less than satisfactory.
  • SAARC faced setback after the 19th summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan in 2016 was suspended for an indefinite period.
  • Numerous agreements have been signed and institutional mechanisms established under SAARC, but they have not been adequately implemented. The South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) is often highlighted as a prominent outcome of SAARC, but that, too, is yet to be implemented
  • Lack of trust among the member countries has been the most significant factor between India and Pakistan.
  • SAARC satellite project that India proposed was abandoned following objection from Pakistan in 2016.
  • Faced obstacles in the area of security cooperation. Cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan is a major concern for India.
  • Other member countries perceive India as “Big Brother” and fear that it might use the SAARC to pursue hegemony in the region.
  • India’s Citizenship Amendment Act is also creating unnecessary tensions with its neighbors, which in the long run may help China expand its influence in South Asian countries. 
  • There is a new situation as a result of the abrogation of Article 370 relating to Kashmir, which has been denounced by Pakistan.
  • Does not have any arrangement for resolving disputes or mediating conflicts.
  • Member countries have turned to bilateralism.
  • Faces a shortage of resources, and countries have been reluctant to increase their contributions.
  • Lack of connectivity between different SAARC countries is another reason for the lackluster performance of SAARC so far.
  • Pakistan has often vetoed the major initiatives proposed at SAARC. For example, SAARC Motor Vehicle Agreement proposed at Kathmandu summit, 2014.
  • 6.Chinese aggressive projects like the CPEC under Belt and Road Initiative or for that matter maritime expanse in the IOR ( Indian Ocean RIM) all seem to fall into China’s ” String of Pearls strategy ‘ geared to control Indian influence .
  • China welcomed Maldives to jointly build 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives have supported the project, which includes Chittagong, Colombo and Hambantota ports, as well as a potential foothold in Maldives which will be a strategic challenge for India.
  • Other organisations such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) came into the forefront.

Way Forward

  • SAARC could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms for South Asian labour around the world.
  • Operationalize agreements signed earlier. Growth in trade and commerce within the region is an extremely important step in this direction.
  • The problems faced by the SAARC countries are similar and distinct from other regions. The solutions, therefore, are best found with mutual cooperation in the region.
  • SAARC should be allowed to progress naturally and the people of South Asia, who make up a quarter of the world’s population should be offered more people-to-people contact.
  • Impact of COVID-19 on regional trade and possible measures to mitigate it was seen as a new focus area for discussion in the larger framework of trade facilitation in the SAARC region.
  • India to demonstrate its compassionate face to secure a region at peace with itself.
  • SAARC to concentrate its activities in core identified areas and not lose its direction by getting involved in too many activities.
  • The organisation must be reformed and member countries must reach a consensus regarding the changes required.