Public Diplomacy

Brief on SAARC

November 11, 2011


  • The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was created in 1985 as an expression of the region's collective decision to evolve a regional cooperative framework. Presently, there are eight member countries in SAARC namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also has nine Observers, namely China, EU, Iran, Republic of Korea, Australia, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar and USA.
  • India was the Chair of SAARC in 2007 and the year was the most productive year that SAARC had ever known. Each of Hon'ble Prime Minister's announcements at the 14th Summit in Delhi has been implemented. The operationalization of the SAARC Food Bank; the establishment of the SAARC Development Fund; setting up of the South Asian University; the SAARC Cultural Festival; the launching of negotiations to bring services into SAFTA; signing of the Convention of Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and our unilateral grant of zero duty access to SAARC LDCs from January 1, 2008 are significant steps to regional integration. SAARC's geographic contours also changed with the formal induction of Afghanistan in to SAARC as the eighth member.
  • The momentum generated by 14th Summit held in New Delhi coupled with India's commitment to discharge its responsibilities in an asymmetric and non-reciprocal manner, was carried over to the 15th SAARC Summit, held in Colombo (2-3 August 2008) and the 16th SAARC Summit held for the first time in Thimphu (28-29 April 2010).
  • The most visible manifestation of this new dynamism in SAARC has been the early operationalization of the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) and the inauguration of its permanent premises in Bhutan during the Sixteenth SAARC Summit in April 2010. India has transferred its full commitment of US $ 189.9 ($ 89.9 million as assessed contribution and $ 100 million as grant for the social window) to the SDF. Other Member States are also expected to remit their contributions to the SDF shortly. Two regional projects - on women's empowerment and maternal and child health care - under SDF are currently being implemented with technical assistance from India.
  • Cooperation in the field of higher education is set to touch a new horizon with the establishment of the South Asian University (SAU) at New Delhi in the near future. India will bear a major part of the cost of establishing the University, including 100% of the capital cost. The University is expected to be fully established by 2015. The Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, April 2010) appreciated the progress made towards establishing the University and the announcement of the CEO of the SAU Project Office to initialize the first academic session of the University with effect from August 2010.
  • In a bid to preserve the rich textile and handicraft traditions of the South Asian region, Prime Minister, at the Thirteenth SAARC Summit (Dhaka, November 2005), proposed the establishment of a SAARC Museum of Textiles and Handicrafts in New Delhi. The Museum would be an Intergovernmental Body on the lines of the other SAARC Regional Centres and will be housed in Delhi Haat, Pitampura. Premises for the Museum have been acquired in January 2010.
  • Taking forward the theme of regional connectivity, the Second Meeting of SAARC Transport Ministers held in Colombo (24-25 July 2009) directed that a Special Meeting of the Expert Group be convened to negotiate two draft Regional Agreements on Motor Vehicles and Railways in a time bound manner. The Sixteenth SAARC Summit in Thimphu, reiterating the centrality of connectivity to further deepen and consolidate regional integration, endorsed the recommendation to declare 2010-20 as the "Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity in SAARC" and agreed on the need to expedite negotiations with a view to finalizing the two agreements on Motor Vehicles and Railways.
  • Commendable progress has taken place in the full implementation of South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Intra-SAARC trade touched US $ 529 million in 2009, a considerable jump from the previous two years. Member States have appreciated India's gesture to give duty free access to LDCs from January 1, 2008, one year ahead of target date and unilateral reduction of its Sensitive List with respect to LDCs from 744 to 480.
  • The growing synergies in SAARC found expression in a cooperative position on Climate Change presented on behalf of Member States of SAARC to the UNFCCC Secretariat before the Copenhagen Summit in 2009.
  • Cabinet Secretaries from SAARC Member States met in New Delhi on 13-14 November 2009. They exchanged information and best practices on administrative reform initiatives with the aim of accelerating the process of eradication of poverty in the region. Member States noted with appreciation the presentation by India of two Concept Papers on Performance Management and Evaluation and Sharing of Best Practices in Information Technology and expressed the desire for enhanced cooperation. At the request of SAARC Cabinet Secretaries, Workshops on e-Governance (16-17 February 2010) and Government Performance Management (30-31 April 2010) for SAARC countries were held in New Delhi.
  • People-to-people activities in the SAARC region have also witnessed an increase in recent years. In 2009, India hosted the Third SAARC Bands Festival and the Second SAARC Festival of Literature in New Delhi, and the Second SAARC Folklore Festival in Chandigarh.
  • India has also funded regional development projects in the areas of telemedicine, tele-education, solar rural electrification, rainwater harvesting, seed testing laboratories and shuttle breeding of pulses using a hub-and-spokes approach. The projects, in various stages of implementation, have been greatly appreciated by the recipient SAARC countries.
  • SAARC has witnessed increasing cooperation on security matters especially in the last two years. The Thirty-First Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers (Colombo, February 2009) adopted the 'SAARC Ministerial Declaration on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism' to forge deeper collaboration to address the growing menace of terrorism in the region. The SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk (STOMD) and SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk (SDOMD) based in Sri Lanka enable exchange of information on terrorist and drug related cases. The infrastructure for the desks is being strengthened with financial assistance from the Government of India. Similarly, an internet based network among police authorities of Member States is being set up by India for exchange of open/unclassified information. The Declaration adopted at the Sixteenth SAARC Summit in Thimphu also included a strong statement on the threat of terrorism.
  • At the Third SAARC Interior/Home Ministers Meeting that took place in Islamabad on June 26, 2010 a SAARC Ministerial Statement on Cooperation against Terrorism was adopted. The Islamabad Statement, inter alia underlined the commitment of Member States to implement measures against the organization, instigation, financing and facilitation of terrorist activity; underscored the commitment to apprehend and prosecute or extradite persons connected with acts of terrorism; reiterated the taking of appropriate measures to ensure that respective territories were not used for terrorist installations or training camps or for the preparation or organization of terrorist acts intended to be committed against other States or their citizens; and reiterated contribution to efforts for the early adoption of the draft UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
  • In another significant achievement, the Standard Operating Protocol on Trafficking of Women & Children was finalized at the Third Meeting of the Regional Task Force to Implement the SAARC Conventions relating to Trafficking in Women & Children and Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia held in Shimla on 28-29 May, 2009.

    Sixteenth SAARC Summit, Thimphu (28 & 29 April, 2010)

  • The Sixteenth SAARC Summit was a historic event as it marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the organisation. This was also the first gathering of SAARC Leaders in Bhutan. The Summit adopted the Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration entitled, "Towards a Green and Happy South Asia", and a separate Statement on Climate Change.
  • In the Thimphu Declaration, SAARC Heads of State/Government decided to develop a 'Vision Statement' and set up a 'South Asia Forum', which would provide inputs for charting out its future course of the organisation and suggest, if necessary, improvements required in the existing mechanisms. The Summit Declaration strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and expressed deep concern over the threat which terrorism continued to pose to peace, security and economic stability of the South Asian region. It directed Commerce Ministers to continue coordinating SAARC positions on WTO Issues and the Doha Development Agenda during the Seventh WTO Ministerial Conference. The leaders emphasized deepening regional efforts on poverty alleviation and called for the expeditious mainstreaming of the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) in the national processes and completion of the Mid-term Review of the SDGs as scheduled. They further noted the useful finding and recommendations made by successive regional studies through the Regional Poverty Profiles and directed the relevant SAARC mechanisms to act on them.
  • The Thimphu Statement on Climate Change outlined regional actions on the issue of climate change. These included, inter alia, seeking Observer Status for SAARC at the UNFCCC and evolving a common position for the 16th Conference of Parties to be held in Cancun, Mexico; launching a number of studies to better understand changes brought about by global warming in the region; and establishing an Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change to develop a clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation as envisaged in the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change; and commissioning SAARC Inter-governmental Mountain, Marine and Monsoon Initiatives.
  • Two instruments, the SAARC Convention on Cooperation in Environment and Agreement on Trade in Services, were signed at the Summit. The Summit inter alia took decisions on regional cooperation relating to security, trade, climate change, energy and food security, poverty alleviation and disaster management. 17th SAARC Summit
  • The XVII SAARC Summit takes place in Addu City, in the southern atolls of the Maldives, situated in the Southern Hemisphere. This is the third time that Maldives hosts a SAARC Summit; it did so previously in 1997 (IX Summit) and 1990 (V Summit).
  • The theme for the Summit is "Building Bridges". This covers both the direct implication of connectivity between the SAARC Member States, and also the conceptual connotations of connecting peoples of the SAARC region in all facets, including social, economic, cultural, developmental aspects. This harmonizes with the observance of the current decade as the "SAARC Decade of Intra-Regional Connectivity".
  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, (SAARC) was created in 1985 in Dhaka with 7 members, as an expression of the region's collective decision to evolve a regional cooperative framework. With Afghanistan who joining the association in 2007, there are now eight member countries in SAARC namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • The renewed and reinvigorated engagement of India with SAARC over the past few years has been one of the main factors leading to the gradual and irreversible transition of the organization from a declaratory phase to one of implementation. This phenomenon has been further complemented by India's commitment to discharge its responsibilities in an asymmetric and non-reciprocal manner.
  • SAARC has 9 Observers, namely Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar and the USA.
    November 2011


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