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What is SAARC history and objectives

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2014 | Comment

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and geopolitical organisation of eight South Asian nations. It plays the role of a guiding force for the member countries. For the last two months, SAARC has been frequently making headlines with several new developments being proposed by its member nations.

What is SAARC

History of SAARC

It was back in 1980 when the concept of regional political and economic cooperation in South Asia was first thought of and fired the public imagination. Even before that, the idea was discussed in three major conferences: Asian Relations Conference (New Delhi), Baguio Conference (Philippines) and Colombo Powers Conference (Sri Lanka), which were held between 1947 and 1954. Ex-president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rahman was the one who made a formal proposal on May 2, 1980. The first SAARC summit was held in Dhaka on 8 December 1985, when the organisation was established. Afghanistan is the only new inclusion that happened since SAARC was established.

Objective of SAARC

SAARC’s edifice is built upon a foundation of a strong set of objectives. Every decision SAARC takes and every policy it frames is guided by the overall objectives it had set for itself in the charter. Although promoting “welfare economics” and “collective self-reliance” among the South Asian nations are the commonly quoted objectives, yet there are some equally important focus areas which need a mention. “Accelerating economic growth” and cultural development in South Asia is one of the priorities, which come under the broader goal of improving quality of life.

Giving every individual the “opportunity to live in dignity and to realise their full potentials” also finds a place in the list of objectives. “Understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems” is one of the rare objectives that one finds in any regional grouping. SAARC also seeks collaboration in the field of economics, culture, technology and science. The member countries aim to strengthen “cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests.”

SAARC Recognised Bodies

As an organisation, SAARC mainly operates through six apex bodies which ensure regional cooperation on multiple levels:

  • SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI): The entity encourages intra-regional trade by creating business linkages among the entrepreneurs. Its primary focus is on the holistic growth of service sector and small & medium enterprises.
  • SAARCLAW (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Law): The desire to establish an association within the SAARC region “to disseminate information” and “promote an understanding of the concerns and developments” prompted the birth of SAARCLAW in 1991. This association of legal communities of SAARC nations was established in Colombo.
  • South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA): In 1984, this organisation came into existence with an objective of strengthening and serving the accountancy profession in the South Asian Region.
  • South Asia Foundation (SAF): A non-profit and non-political organisation founded by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Madanjeet Singh in 2000, SAF encourages regional cooperation through UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institutions of Excellence. The institutions offer courses on varied subjects ranging from Climate and Green Energy to Human Rights and Visual Arts.
  • South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC): Founded in 2005, this regional forum aims at “ending all forms of violence against children in South Asia.”
  • Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL): It’s the first non-government organisation working towards nurturing and strengthening cultural connectivity through interactions among SAARC nations.

SAFTA

In a landmark move, SAARC nations unanimously decided to form South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA). Although the agreement was reached at the 12th SAARC summit in 2004, it came into force on 1 January 2006. The agreement not only created a free trade area of 1.8 billion people in SAARC nations (except Afghanistan), but also removed trade barriers to increase the level of economic cooperation.

SAARC Secretariat

The SAARC Secretariat in Kathmandu (Nepal) facilitates and monitors implementation of activities of the organisation and acts as a communication channel between SAARC and its member states. Presently, the Secretariat is headed by Nepal’s ex-foreign secretary – Arjun Bahadur Thapa.

Achievements & Criticism of SAARC

According to the declaration of the 16thSAARC Summit (April 2010), SAARC’s “scope and substance of cooperation had expanded to diverse fields.” The SAARC Summits have indeed created a platform for closed-door bilateral talks exclusive to the participating nations. These meetings have somewhat led to the progress in regional cooperation.

The scope of regional cooperation in SAARC has proliferated, and it has started to engage political, economic, social, cultural and other aspects in its dialogue. Even the member nations’ interactions with the Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the corporate sectors seem to be developing gradually.

However, SAARC is seen as a failure by many analysts. According to observers, it has “achieved very little” over the last three decades. Besides deteriorating regional security environment and growth of terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan, inter-state disputes are also a nagging concern for the grouping. Social and economic sectors have registered a dismal growth, and so is the intra-regional trade.

There’s a need for India and other member states to collectively tackle challenges such as poverty, energy crisis, and terrorism among others. India should take the centre stage and remove the perceived mistrust and a sense of insecurity among the member nations. But first, India and Pakistan should focus on improving bilateral ties.

WBSG24.07.2014