South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

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South Asia Association for Regional
  Member states   Observer states
  Member states
  Observer states
HeadquartersNepal Kathmandu, Nepal
Official languagesEnglish
 - Secretary-GeneralArjun Bahadur Thapa[1]
 - Directors Afghanistan Ibrahim Ghafoori [2]
 Bangladesh Tareque Muhammad[3]
 Bhutan Singye Dorjee [4]
 India Amrit Lugun[5]
 Maldives Ibrahim Zuhuree[6]
   Nepal Dhan Oli[7]
 Pakistan Ahmar Ismail[8]
 Sri Lanka Prasanna Gamage[9]
 - SAARC Summit Maldives
Establishment8 December 1985
a.If considered as a single entity.
b.A unified currency has been proposed.
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South Asia Association for Regional
  Member states   Observer states
  Member states
  Observer states
HeadquartersNepal Kathmandu, Nepal
Official languagesEnglish
 - Secretary-GeneralArjun Bahadur Thapa[1]
 - Directors Afghanistan Ibrahim Ghafoori [2]
 Bangladesh Tareque Muhammad[3]
 Bhutan Singye Dorjee [4]
 India Amrit Lugun[5]
 Maldives Ibrahim Zuhuree[6]
   Nepal Dhan Oli[7]
 Pakistan Ahmar Ismail[8]
 Sri Lanka Prasanna Gamage[9]
 - SAARC Summit Maldives
Establishment8 December 1985
a.If considered as a single entity.
b.A unified currency has been proposed.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical cooperation among eight member nations that are primarily located in South Asia continent.[10] Its secretariat is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal.[11]

The idea of regional political and economical cooperation in South Asia was first coined in 1980 and the first summit held in Dhaka on 8 December in 1985 led to its official establishment by the governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[12][13] In the intervening years, its successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states.[12] Afghanistan was the first to have been accessed in the physical enlargement of the SAARC in 2007.[14]

The SAARC policies aim to promote welfare economics, collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia, and to accelerate socio-cultural development in the region.[15] The SAARC has developed a role in external relations around the world. Permanent diplomatic relations have been established with the EU, the UN (as an observer), and other multilateral entities.[15] On annual scheduled basis, the official meetings of leaders of each nation are held; meetings of foreign secretaries, twice annually.[15] The 18th SAARC Summit would be held at Kathmandu, Nepal in November 2014.[16]


The idea of regional co-operation in South Asia was discussed in at least three conferences: the Asian Relations Conference held in New Delhi on April 1947; the Baguio Conference in the Philippines on May 1950; and the Colombo Powers Conference held in Sri Lanka on April 1954.

In the ending years of 1970s, the seven inner South Asian nations that included Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka agreed upon the creation of a trade bloc and to provide a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. Efforts towards establishing the union was first mooted by the Late King Birendra Shah of Nepal. President Ziaur Rahman later addressed official letters to the leaders of the countries of the South Asia, presenting his vision for the future of the region and the compelling arguments for region.[12] During his visit to India in December 1977, President Ziaur Rahman discussed the issue of regional cooperation with the Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. In the inaugural speech to the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee which met in Kathmandu also in 1977, King Birendra of Nepal gave a call for close regional cooperation among South Asian countries in sharing river waters.[17] After the USSR's intervention in Afghanistan, the efforts to established the union was accelerated in 1979 and the resulting rapid deterioration of South Asian security situation.[17] Responding to the President Zia Rehman and King Birendra's convention, the officials of the foreign ministries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.[17] The Bangladesh's proposal was promptly endorsed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives but India and Pakistan were skeptical initially.[17] The Indian concern was the proposal’s reference to the security matters in South Asia and feared that President Zia Rehman's proposal for a regional organization might provide an opportunity for new smaller neighbors to renationalized all bilateral issues and to join with each other to gang up against India. Pakistan assumed that it might be an Indian strategy to organize the other South Asian countries against Pakistan and ensure a regional market for Indian products, thereby consolidating and further strengthening India’s economic dominance in the region.[17]

However, after a series of quiet diplomatic consultations between South Asian foreign ministers at the UN headquarters in New York from August to September 1980, it was agreed that Bangladesh would prepare the draft of a working paper for discussion among the foreign secretaries of South Asian countries.[17] The foreign secretaries of inner seven countries again delegated a Committee of the Whole in Colombo on September 1981, which identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. New areas of co-operation were added in the following years.[18]

In 1983, the International conference held by Indian Minister of External Affairs PVN Rao in New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the inner seven countries adopted the Declaration on South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and formally launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) initially in five agreed areas of cooperation namely, Agriculture; Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; and Health and Population Activities.[19]

Officially, the union was established in Dhaka with Kathmandu being union's secretariat-general.[20] The first SAARC summit was held in Dhaka on 7–8 December 1985 and hosted by the President of Bangladesh Hussain Ershad.[13] The declaration signed by King of Bhutan Jigme Singye, President of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, King of Nepal Birendra Shah, President of Sri Lanka JR Jayewardene, and President of Maldives Maumoon Gayoom.[13]


In 2005, Afghanistan began negotiating of joining the SAARC and applied for the membership the same year.[21][22] The issue of Afghanistan joining the SAARC generated a great deal of debate in each state, and many analysts raised questions about the notion of the malleability of South Asian identity because of Afghanistan being a Central Asian country.[23]

The SAARC member states imposed a stipulation for Afghanistan to hold a general election; the non-partisan elections were held in late 2005.[23] In 2007, Afghanistan joined the SAARC as an eighth member state, despite initial reluctance and internal debates.[23] The inclusion of Afghanistan as SAARC member was announced in New Delhi on 4 April 2007 by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[23]

SAARC Charter[edit]

Objectives of SAARC[edit]

The objectives and the aims of the Association as defined in the Charter are:[25]


The principles are as follows

Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping on April 2007,[26] 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.[27][28] On 2 August 2006 the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union.[28] On 4 March 2008, Iran requested observer status.[29] Followed shortly by the entrance of Mauritius. Myanmar has expressed interest in upgrading its status from an observer to a full member of SAARC,[30] while Russia is interested in becoming an observer.[31][32]


Secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu, Nepal

The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987 and was inaugurated by Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal.

It is headed by the Secretary General appointed by the Council of Ministers from Member Countries in an alphabetical order for a three-year term. He is assisted by the Professional and the General Service Staff, and also an appropriate number of functional units called Divisions assigned to Directors on deputation from Member States.[33] 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 organisations.[33]

The Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the Secretariat[33] 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. Nepal’s former foreign secretary Arjun Bahadur Thapa is current Secretary General of SAARC.[1]

Council of Ministers[edit]

The Council of Ministers meets twice a year. Extraordinary session of the Council may be held by agreement among the Member States.

Regional Centres[edit]

The SAARC Secretariat is supported by following Regional Centres established in Member States to promote regional co-operation. These Centres are managed by Governing Boards comprising representatives from all the Member States, SAARC Secretary-General and the Ministry of Foreign/External Affairs of the Host Government. The Director of the Centre acts as Member Secretary to the Governing Board which reports to the Programming Committee.

Apex and Recognised Bodies[edit]

SAARC has six Apex Bodies,[35] namely, SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI), SAARCLAW (South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation In Law),[36] 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)

Hemant Batra is the current incumbent Secretary General of SAARCLAW.

SAARC also has about 17 recognised bodies.[35]

Political issues[edit]

Lasting peace and prosperity of the Indian subcontinent has been elusive due to the various ongoing conflicts and in the region. Political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings which have refrained from interfering in the internal matters of its member states. During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater co-operation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.[37][38]

South Asian Free Trade Area[edit]

Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

SAFTA was envisaged primarily as the first step towards the transition to a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) leading subsequently towards a Customs Union, Common Market and Economic Union. In 1995, the Sixteenth session of the Council of Ministers (New Delhi, 18–19 December 1995) agreed on the need to strive for the realisation of SAFTA and to this end an Inter-Governmental Expert Group (IGEG) was set up in 1996 to identify the necessary steps for progressing to a free trade area. The Tenth SAARC Summit (Colombo, 29–31 July 1998) decided to set up a Committee of Experts (COE) to draft a comprehensive treaty framework for creating a free trade area within the region, taking into consideration the asymmetries in development within the region and bearing in mind the need to fix realistic and achievable targets. The SAFTA Agreement was signed on 6 January 2004 during Twelfth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan. The Agreement entered into force on 1 January 2006, and the Trade Liberalization Programme commenced from 1 July 2006. Under this agreement, SAARC members will bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2009. Following the Agreement coming into force the SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC) has been established comprising the Commerce Ministers of the Member States.[39]

SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme[edit]

The SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme was launched in 1992. The leaders at the Fourth Summit (Islamabad, 29–31 December 1988), while realising the importance of having people to people contacts, among the peoples of SAARC countries, decided that certain categories of dignitaries should be entitled to a Special Travel document, which would exempt them from visas within the region. As directed by the Summit, the Council of Ministers regularly kept under review the list of entitled categories. Currently the list included 24 categories of entitled persons, which include Dignitaries, Judges of higher courts, Parliamentarians, Senior Officials, Businessmen, Journalists, Sportsmen etc. The Visa Stickers are issued by the respective Member States to the entitled categories of that particular country. The validity of the Visa Sticker is generally for one year. The implementation is reviewed regularly by the Immigration Authorities of SAAR Member States.[40]


SAARC Award[edit]

The Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, January 2004) approved the institution of the SAARC Award to honour and encourage outstanding individuals and organisations within the region. The main objectives of the SAARC Award are:

The SAARC Award comprises a gold medal, a letter of citation and cash prize of US $ 25,000. Since institution of SAARC Award in 2004, it has been awarded only once and the Award was posthumoulsy conferred upon Late President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh.[41]

SAARC Literary Award[edit]

SAARC Literary Award is an annual award conferred by the Foundation of SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) since 2001[42][43] which is an apex SAARC body.[44] Shamshur Rahman, Mahasweta Devi, Jayanta Mahapatra, Mark Tully are some of the prominent recipients of this award.[45]

SAARC Youth Award[edit]

The SAARC Youth Award is awarded to outstanding individuals from the SAARC region. The award is notable due to the recognition it gives to the Award winner in the SAARC region. The award is based on specific themes which apply to each year. The award recognises and promotes the commitment and talent of the youth who give back to the world at large through various initiatives such as Inventions, Protection of the Environment and Disaster relief. The recipients who receive this award are ones who have dedicated their lives to their individual causes to improve situations in their own countries as well as paving a path for the SAARC region to follow. The Committee for the SAARC Youth Award selects the best candidate based on his/her merits and their decision is final.

Previous Winners:

SAARC Anthem[edit]

SAARC does not have an official anthem yet as other regional organizations such as ASEAN. However a poem by poet-diplomat Abhay K has spurred search for an official SAARC Anthem [46]

Members of SAARC[edit]

MaldivesNepalSri LankaBhutanBangladeshIndiaThailandMyanmarAfghanistanPakistanCambodiaVietnamLaosTurkmenistanIranTajikistanUzbekistanAzerbaijanTurkeyKazakhstanKyrgyzstanChinaRussiaBruneiIndonesiaMalaysiaPhilippinesSingaporeKuwaitBahrainOmanQatarSaudi ArabiaUnited Arab EmiratesJapanMongoliaSouth KoreaArmeniaGeorgiaIraqIsraelJordanLebanonNorth KoreaPalestineSyriaTaiwanTimor-LesteYemenBay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic CooperationMekong–Ganga CooperationSouth Asian Association for Regional CooperationAssociation of Southeast Asian NationsEconomic Cooperation OrganizationTurkic CouncilShanghai Cooperation OrganizationGulf Cooperation CouncilAsia Cooperation Dialogue
A clickable Euler diagram showing the relationships between various Asian regional organisations vde

Current members[edit]



Potential future members[edit]


Secretaries-General of SAARC[edit]

Bangladesh Abul Ahsan16 January 1985 to 15 October 1989
India Kishore Kant Bhargava17 October 1989 to 31 December 1991
Maldives Ibrahim Hussain Zaki1 January 1992 to 31 December 1993
Nepal Yadav Kant Silwal1 January 1994 to 31 December 1995
Pakistan Naeem U. Hasan1 January 1996 to 31 December 1998
Sri Lanka Nihal Rodrigo1 January 1999 to 10 January 2002
Bangladesh Q.A.M.A. Rahim11 January 2002 to 28 February 2005
Bhutan Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji1 March 2005 to 29 February 2008
India Sheel Kant Sharma1 March 2008 to 28 February 2011
Maldives Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed1 March 2011 to 11 March 2012
Maldives Ahmed Saleem12 March 2012 to 28 February 2014[57]
Nepal Arjun Bahadur Thapa01 March 2014- 2017[16]

SAARC summits[edit]

NoDateCountryHostHost leader
1st7–8 December 1985 BangladeshDhakaAtaur Rahman Khan
2nd16–17 November 1986 IndiaBangaloreJayanth M Gowda
3rd2–4 November 1987   NepalKathmanduMarich Man Singh Shrestha
4th29–31 December 1988 PakistanIslamabadBenazir Bhutto
5th21–23 November 1990 MaldivesMaléMaumoon Abdul Gayoom
6th21 December 1991 Sri LankaColomboRanasinghe Premadasa
7th10–11 April 1993 BangladeshDhakaKhaleda Zia
8th2–4 May 1995 IndiaNew DelhiP. V. Narasimha Rao
9th12–14 May 1997 MaldivesMaléMaumoon Abdul Gayoom
10th29–31 July 1998 Sri LankaColomboChandrika Kumaratunga
11th4–6 January 2002   NepalKathmanduSher Bahadur Deuba
12th2–6 January 2004 PakistanIslamabadZafarullah Khan Jamali
13th12–13 November 2005 BangladeshDhakaKhaleda Zia
14th3–4 April 2007 IndiaNew DelhiManmohan Singh
15th1–3 August 2008 Sri LankaColomboMahinda Rajapaksa
16th28–29 April 2010 BhutanThimphuJigme Thinley
17th10–11 November 2011[58] MaldivesAdduMohammed Nasheed
18thNovember 2014[16]   NepalKathmanduSushil Koirala

Governance and Leadership of SAARC[edit]

Hamid Karzai in February 2009.jpgHamid KarzaiPresident AfghanistanIndependent
Sheikh Hassina Cropped UNCTAD.JPGSheikh HasinaPrime Minister BangladeshAwami League
Tshering Tobgay.jpgTshering TobgayPrime Minister BhutanPeople's Democratic Party
Nawaz Sharif detail, 981203-D-9880W-117.jpgNawaz SharifPrime Minister PakistanPakistan Muslim League (N)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in WEF ,2009 (cropped).jpgManmohan SinghPrime Minister IndiaIndian National Congress
No image.svgAbdulla YameenPresident MaldivesProgressive Party of Maldives
Sushil Koirala.jpgSushil KoiralaPrime Minister   NepalNepali Congress
WEF on the Middle East Arab and foreign Ministers Crop.jpgMahinda RajapaksaPresident Sri LankaSri Lanka Freedom Party

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nepal’s Arjun Bahadur Thapa is SAARC’s new Secretary General". IANS. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Directorates. "Directors of SAARC-Afghanistan". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  3. ^ "Directors of SAARC-Bangladesh". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  4. ^ "Directors of SAARC-Bhutan". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  5. ^ "Directors of SAARC-India". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "Directors of SAARC". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  7. ^ "Directors of SAARC-Nepal". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  8. ^ "Directors of SAARC-Pakistan". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "Directors of SAAR- Sri Lanka". Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  10. ^ SAARC Summit. "SAARC". SAARC Summit. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  11. ^ SAARC Secretariat. "SAARC Secretariat". SAARC Secretariat. SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  12. ^ a b c Editorial (1 August 2008). "History and mission of SAARC". Daily Star, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c SAARC Summit press, 1st Summit. "1st Summit Declaration". SAARC Summit press, 1st Summit. SAARC Summit press, 1st Summit. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  14. ^ SAARC 14th Summit Declaration, press. "14th Summit Declaration". Declaration of the Fourteenth SAARC Summit. SAARC 14th Summit Declaration, press. 
  15. ^ a b c Charter of SAARC. "Charter of SAARC". Charter of SAARC. Retrieved 10 November 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c "Kathmandu, Nepal to host 18th SAARC Summit in November 2014". IANS. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Muhammad, Jamshed Iqbal. "SAARC: Origin, Growth, Potential and Achievements". National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research in Islamabad. NIHCR in Islamabad. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  18. ^ "A Brief on SAARC." South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. No date. See for a complete historical account of SAARC e.g. Michael, Arndt (2013). India's Foreign Policy and Regional Multilateralism (Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 57–112.
  19. ^ Jang Media. "History and Evolution of SAARC". Jang Media Research Unit. Jang Media Group. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  20. ^ About SAARC. "About SAARC". About SAARC. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  21. ^ Staff (August 28, 2005). "Afghanistan keen to join SAARC". rediff web services. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  22. ^ Staff reporter (4 April 2004). "Afghanistan inducted as 8th member: 14th Saarc summit begins". Dawn news, 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  23. ^ a b c d Sáez, Lawrence (2011). The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) : an emerging collaboration architecture. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-57628-4. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Charter of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Article 1.
  26. ^ "South Asia: Afghanistan Joins World's Largest Regional Grouping." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3 April 2007.
  27. ^ Waliur Rahman. "US and S Korea to observe SAARC." BBC News, 11 April 2008.
  28. ^ a b "SAARC to grant observer status to US, S Korea, EU." Hindustan Times. 2 August 2006.
  29. ^ "Iran requests for observer status in SAARC." People's Daily, 5 March 2009.
  30. ^ a b SAARC and Myanmar: Observer Research Foundation
  31. ^ a b c SAARC The Changing Dimensions: UNU-CRIS Working Papers United Nations University – Comparative Regional Integration Studies
  32. ^ a b c Russia keen to join SAARC as observer: Oneindia News
  33. ^ a b c "Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the Secretariat." South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, 17 November 1986.
  34. ^
  35. ^ a b
  36. ^
  37. ^ Jhawar, Shiv (2004). Building a Noble World. p. 44. 
  38. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012". Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ [1] FOSWAL Website
  43. ^ [2] Five Writers honoured at SAARC Litearure Festival, Hindustan Times March 11, 2013
  44. ^ [3] Official website of SAARC:Apex and Recognized Bodies
  45. ^ Mahasweta Devi to get SAARC Literary Award March 30, 2007
  46. ^ Indian diplomat's poem spurs search for SAARC anthem IANS January 9, 2014
  47. ^ "Cooperation with Observers". South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  48. ^
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^
  51. ^ "Cooperation with Observers". South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  52. ^ "Russia, Turkey seek observer status in SAARC". The Economic Times. 16 February 2014. 
  53. ^ "Russia, Turkey seek observer status in SAARC". Yahoo News. 16 February 2014. 
  54. ^ "Russia, Turkey seek observer status in SAARC". Yahoo News. 16 February 2014. 
  55. ^ "Russia, Turkey seek observer status in SAARC". The Economic Times. 16 February 2014. 
  56. ^ SAARC hi nations call for transparency in social sector – Thaindian News
  57. ^ SAARC website | China Xi Jinping || 1 January 2014 to 28 March 2011
  58. ^

External links[edit]