The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is a geopolitical organization, established on 8th December 1985, at the behest of the then Bangladesh’s President General Ziaur Rehman. It comprises of eight member countries namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It’s headquarters are located in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The member countries are bound by the ties of history and culture, share common problems, interest, and aspirations among its people. The South Asian region is one of the most densely populated but scarcely educated regions of the world. It is resourceful but mismanaged and ill-maintained area. SAARC was established with an intend to promote the development through mutual cooperation and assistance.
According to the charter of SAARC, it aims to provide a platform to the governments of South-Asian countries to negotiate and resolve mutual differences for the sake of public welfare and mutual development by fostering mutual understanding, cooperation and good neighborly relations among the developing countries of South Asia.
However, SAARC has been unable to establish its credentials as an economic and regional trade hub. A number of reasons can be attributed as the cause of the aforementioned fact. The member countries have displayed a considerable trust deficit towards each other which made SAARC one of the latest integrated regions in the world.
Lasting peace and prosperity in the Indian subcontinent has been elusive because of the various ongoing conflicts 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 cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.
The 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan was called off as India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan decided to boycott it. It was for the first time that four countries boycotted a SAARC summit, leading to its cancellation.
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 the 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 Twelfth Summit approved the SAARC Award to support individuals and organisations within the region. The main aims of the SAARC Award are:
- To encourage individuals and organisations based in South Asia to undertake programmes and activities that complement the efforts of SAARC
- To encourage individuals and organisations in South Asia contributing to bettering the conditions of women and children
- To honour outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals and organisations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation, environment protection and regional cooperation
- To honour any other contributions and achievement not covered above of individuals and organisations in the region.