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 South Asia. It was established in 1985 when the Heads of State of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka formally adopted the charter. Afghanistan joined as the 8th member of SAARC in 2007. To date, 18th Summits have been held and Nepal’s former Foreign Secretary is the current Secretary General of SAARC. The 19th Summit will be hosted by Pakistan in 2016.
SAARC aims to promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development within the South Asia region. The objectives of SAARC, as defined in its charter, are as follows:
- Promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life
- Accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region by providing all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and realise their full potential
- Promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia
- Contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems
- Promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields
- Strengthen co-operation with other developing countries
- Strengthen co-operation among themselves in international forms on matters of common interest; and
- Cooperate with international and regional organisation with similar aims and purposes.
Structure and Process
Cooperation in SAARC is based on respect for the five principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of the Member States and mutual benefit. Regional cooperation is seen as a complement to the bilateral and multilateral relations of SAARC Member States. SAARC Summits are held annually and the country hosting the Summit holds the Chair of the Association. Decisions are made on an unanimity basis while bilateral and contentious issues are excluded from the deliberations of SAARC. In addition to the eight Member States, nine Observer States join SAARC Summits: China, the US, Myanmar, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Mauritius and the European Union.
Areas of Cooperation
The Member States agreed on the following areas of cooperation:
- Agriculture and rural development
- Education and culture
- Economic, trade and finance
- Science and Technology
- Information, Communication and Media
- Poverty alleviation
- Security aspects
- People-to-People Contacts
- Funding mechanism
- Social development
The 18th SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu in 2014 concluded with the adoption of the SAARC Declaration. The Declaration recognizes labour migration as an issue in need of collective action. Article 21 states that SAARC countries agree to collaborate to ensure the protection of migrant workers from South Asia. During the Summit, SAARC leaders also called for authorities to tackle and prevent the trafficking in women and children.
In regards to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, participating countries aim to initiate an inter-governmental process to appropriately contextualize the Sustainable Development Goals at the regional level.