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.
- 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.
- 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.
- SAARC comprises of eight member States:
1.Afghanistan (Latest to Join)
Nine Observer States: Australia, China, European Union, Japan, Iran, Mauritius, Myanmar, South Korea, and United States.
Trick to Remember–MBBS PAIN-Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal
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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.