SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) : Countries, Objectives, Full Form, Functions, SAARC UPSC Notes

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• The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was started on December 8, 1985, when the SAARC Charter was signed in Dhaka.

• SAARC is a group of South Asian countries that work together on issues of politics and government.

In November 1980, the thought of cooperation between different parts of South Asia was first brought up. After talking with each other, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.

At the 13th annual meeting in 2005, Afghanistan joined SAARC for the first time.


• 8 members

 Afghanistan  Bangladesh  Bhutan  India  Maldives  Nepal  Pakistan  Sri Lanka

• Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar, the United States of America, and the European Union are all watching.

• Possible new members: Myanmar has said it wants to go from being a spectator to a full member of the group.

• The Association’s headquarters and secretariat are in Kathmandu, Nepal.


According to the SAARC Charter, the goals of the organisation are:

• To improve the welfare and quality of life of the people of South Asia;

• To speed up economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region, and to give everyone the chance to live in dignity and reach their full potential;

• To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;

• To contribute to mutual trust, understanding, and cooperation between the countries of South Asia.


• Cooperation within the association will be based on sovereign equality, territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, political independence, and mutual benefit.

• This cooperation will not replace bilateral or multilateral cooperation; instead, it will add to it.

• This cooperation should not go against bilateral or multilateral obligations.

• The charter says that decisions will be made by a unanimous vote.

Principal Organs of the Cooperation

• Meeting of Heads of State or Government: Heads of State or Government usually meet once a year at the Summit level.

• Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries: This group oversees and coordinates everything, sets goals, gathers resources, and approves projects and funding.

• SAARC Secretariat. On January 16, 1987, the SAARC Secretariat was set up in Kathmandu. Its job is to coordinate and keep an eye on how SAARC actions are done, to run the meetings of the association, and to be a way for SAARC and other international organisations to talk to each other.

The secretary-general, seven directors, and the general services staff are all part of the Secretariat.

o The Council of Ministers chooses the secretary-general on a rotating basis for a three-year term that cannot be extended.

The Specialised Bodies of SAARC

• SAARC Development Fund (SDF):

Its main goal is to pay for project-based cooperation in social areas like fighting poverty, building up communities, etc.

o SDF is run by a Board, which is made up of people from each Member State’s Ministry of Finance. The Board is run by the Governing Council of SDF, which is made up of the Finance Ministers of MSs.

• University of South Asia

South Asian University (SAU), which is in India, is a university with students from all over the world. The degrees and certificates given out by the SAU are the same as the ones given out by the National Universities and Institutions.

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• South Asian Regional Standards Organisation: The South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (SARSO) is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

It was set up to improve coordination and cooperation between SAARC member states in the areas of standardisation and conformity evaluation. Its goal is to create harmonised standards for the region so that trade within the region is easier and so that members can sell their goods on the global market.

• SAARC Arbitration Council: This is an intergovernmental body with an office in Pakistan. Its job is to provide a legal framework/forum in the region for the fair and efficient resolution of commercial, industrial, trade, banking, investment, and other disputes that the member states and their people bring to it.


• The region makes up 3% of the world’s land area, 21% of the world’s population, and 3.8% of the global economy.

• Eleven areas of cooperation have been named: agriculture, education, culture and sports, population, health, and child welfare, the environment, rural development, transport, tourism, science and technology, communications, preventing drug trafficking and drug abuse, and women’s development.

• The Himalayas and the Indian Ocean, which separate all of the member countries, make them ideal allies.

• In terms of society and history, all of the member countries have a lot in common. This makes the group more important and gives people many chances to work together.

• All the countries have problems in common, like poverty, unemployment, racial and religious strife, etc., and a regional platform can help deal with these problems much more forcefully.

• All of the countries border India, and it would be easy for them to set up a common market. This would boost trade within the area and help the economy grow. SAARC can grow in the same way that ASEAN has, which is one of the most successful groups of countries in the world.

Areas of Cooperation:

Human Resource Development and Tourism; Environment, Natural Disasters, and Biotechnology; Agriculture and Rural Development.

• Economic, Trade, and Finance

• Social Affairs

• Information and Fighting Poverty

• Energy, Transportation, Science, and Technology

• Education, Security, and Culture and Others

What are its Achievements?

• Free Trade Area (FTA): SAARC is a fairly new group on the world stage. The member countries have set up a Free Trade Area (FTA), which will make it easier for them to trade with each other and close the trade gap between some states by a large amount.

• In 1995, the South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement (SAPTA) went into force. Its goal was to help trade between the member countries.

• SAFTA is a Free Trade Agreement that only covers things and doesn’t include services like IT. A deal was made to get rid of customs duties on all goods sold between countries by 2016.

• SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS): To liberalise trade in services, SATIS uses the “positive list” method from GATS plus.

• SAARC University: Set up a SAARC university in India, as well as a food bank and an energy store in Pakistan.

How SAARC is important for India

• friends first: Putting the country’s closest friends first.

• From a geostrategic point of view, it is important because it can be used to counter China’s OBOR plan by involving Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka in the process of development and economic cooperation.

• Stability in the region: SAARC can help people in the region trust each other and live in peace.

• Global leadership role: By taking on more duties, it gives India a chance to show that it is a leader in the area.

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• This will be a game-changer for India’s Act East policy: linking South Asian and South East Asian economies will bring more economic unity and growth to India, especially in the Services Sector.


• SAFTA: In 2006, the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) started. It was meant to be the first step towards a Customs Union, a Common Market, and an Economic Union. According to the deal, SAARC countries lowered their taxes to 20% by 2009. In 2009, SAARC exports were worth $ 206.7 billion, but in 2012, they were worth $ 354.6 billion.

• SAARC Satellite: SAARC countries can use the SAARC satellite, which was launched by India. It is a satellite for guidance, and the Indian government paid for the whole cost of getting it into space.Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, which are all SAARC partners except for Pakistan, will use the satellite. The satellite has a 12 year mission. PM Modi said that the satellite was a great gift from India to South Asia and that it would help with business and development goals in South Asia. People have said that the launch of the satellite is a great step towards making the SAARC grouping work again.

• In 2016, the 2nd SAARC Anti-Terrorism Mechanism took place in New Delhi. Delegates from all 8 partner countries were there. Key problems about terrorism and steps that need to be taken to strengthen the SAARC antiterrorism mechanism were talked about. The members decided to make the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk (STOMD) and SAARC Drugs Offences Monitoring Desk (SDOMD) work, which will help fight terrorism more effectively.

• The SAARC culture capital for 2016–17 will be Mahashangarh, a site in Bangladesh that dates back to the 3rd century BC. The culture capital for 2017-18 will be Thimpu, which is the capital of Bhutan. As the cultural centre of the country, the historic place held festivals for a year with films, food, books, and dances.

• BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal are all part of BBIN. The goal of the subgrouping is to make sure that road travel in the sub-region is safe, good for the earth, and good for the economy. The only country that hasn’t signed the deal is Bhutan. Pakistan’s concerns kept the SAARC Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) from being signed at the 18th SAARC Summit. But the SAARC Declaration from the 18th meeting urged member states to take sub-regional steps to improve connectivity, so these four SAARC members worked on the BBIN MVA.

• Preventing disasters: South Asian Annual Disaster Management Exercise (SAADMEx): It is a disaster management drill for the SAARC area, and India is in charge of it. Its goal was to make member countries more ready (both individually and as a group) for rescue, relief, and response operations during catastrophes.


• Even though it has been around for more than 30 years, SAARC is still far behind other regional groups like EU and ASEAN. Several things have led to this situation, and most people think of SAARC as a group that doesn’t work.

It has not yet done what it said it would do. Even though SAFTA was signed, it hasn’t done much to improve trade within the area and hasn’t been able to reach its full potential.

• Even though SAARC has been around for more than 30 years, its members still don’t have a way to get from one place to another. This is a clear sign of the group’s failure. This should be a top concern because it could give trade in the area a huge boost.

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• SAARC is not moving forward because its members are paralysed by fear. India has done well in many areas, such as military power, economic growth, science, nuclear power, and so on. Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and other countries in the area feel like they are small compared to India.

The rivalry between India and Pakistan has kept SAARC from being successful.

Security and political differences between member countries make it hard to see how their economies and cultures can come together. The people have different ideas about things, which makes it hard for them to work together.

Civil society groups in the region haven’t been able to act as a link between the member states, which has also slowed growth and cooperation between the member countries.

Compared to ASEAN, trade between SAARC countries is not very high. This is because:

• Most South Asian countries are main producers and export a lot of the same things, so they have to compete with each other.

South Asian countries, with the exception of Sri Lanka, have high rates of tariff and non-tariff hurdles, which makes it hard for trade to grow within the region. The region also lacks transport and information links between its members, which makes it hard for trade to grow.

• The leaders of the member countries have different political views and aren’t willing to make trade complementarities, which makes trade between countries in the region low.

Way Forward

• If SAARC works, it can be a link between East Asia, which has a lot of people and technology, and West and Central Asia, which has a lot of natural resources and money. The wants of both the East and the West could be met by the large number of educated people in SAARC.

• India, as the biggest and most important country in the area, should address the real concerns of the other countries. It should work to even out the differences in power and earn the trust of the other member countries.

• The SAARC Charter should be changed, and the part about not talking about bilateral or conflicting issues on the platform should be taken out. A good way to settle disagreements could make conflict areas smaller and trust and partnership areas bigger.

• Member countries should change how they think about security and try to solve problems they all have in common, such as poverty, unemployment, economic slowdown, falling sex ratio, corruption, threats to the environment, and so on.

• By signing the agreements in a sub-regional style with other SAARC members, the organisation can make more progress and be more successful.

• If SAARC members work hard to make the group a good place to settle disagreements, it can help SAARC become a very successful regional group. SAARC countries should move away from the “state-centric model” and towards a “regional mindset” so that the whole area can grow and improve.

• All of the member countries should look into how the group could help keep peace and stability in the area.

• SAARC should be left to grow on its own, and more people-to-people touch should be made available to the people of South Asia, who make up a quarter of the world’s population.