SAARC Full Form is South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. SAARC comprises 7 countries from South Asia namely; Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. SAARC was established in 1985 and has the Secretariat in Kathmandu, Nepal. It is a geopolitical and economic organization and takes the 3rd place in the world in terms of combined economy.
The primary aim of SAARC is to promote collective self-reliance, socio-cultural development and welfare economics among the South Asian Countries. Official SAARC meetings take place every year where leaders from all the 7 countries converge to discus strategies. The organization has established good relationship with various multilateral entities like the UN and EU to develop external relations for the benefit of the member nations.
SAARC Full Form – Important Information:
In order to strengthen socio-economical and political ties among some of the prominent nations in the Indian Subcontinent, SAARC was conceived. Like other geopolitical organizations like ASEAN, SCO, etc, SAARC aims to bring together nations in the Indian subcontinent so as ensure coordination and development among the participating members. SAARC consists of some of the fastest growing economies in the world, including India that became the World’s fastest growing economy in the last quarter of 2014 thereby replacing People’s Republic of China.
SAARC is aimed at promoting positive economic development, strive for self-reliance among South Asian countries, and encourage socio-cultural exchanges among the participating members. The Charter of SAARC lays down its objectives for example, it endeavors to promote welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their lifestyle; promotes coordination in economic, cultural and social and scientific fields; encourages cooperation among south Asian countries on international forums; reaffirms their determination to promote such cooperation within an institutional framework, and recognizes increased cooperation, contacts and exchanges among the countries of the region, etc.
SAARC provides co-operation in Agriculture, Biotechnology, Rural, Information, communication, Media, Energy, Poverty Alleviation, Security, and Tourism, Social Assistance etc. The historical and contemporary relevance of SAARC nations are immense and in order to fully understand the purpose and consequences of SAARC, there are ten things you must certainly know about SAARC, as an organization and a major political role player in the Indian subcontinent.
History of SAARC:
SAARC has an interesting history behind its inception. It was primarily based on the idea that there should co-operation among south Asian countries, which go through more or less similar political, socio-economical issues. During three conferences namely, the Asian relations, the Baguio Conference; and the Colombo Powers Conference, the leaders of South Asian countries conceptualized the idea of having a geopolitical organization.
Eventually other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, etc agreed upon the tentative proposal being presented during different dialogues, encouraging work towards co-operation among South Asian countries. Initially however, Pakistan showed apprehensions regarding establishment of such organization as it saw it as an attempt of India to gather South Asian countries to its sides and obstruct Pakistan’s policies. Later, all these apprehensions were dismissed.
In 1983, the SAARC declaration was officially adopted during an International conference organized by Indian Minister of External Affairs P.V. Narasimha Rao in New Delhi. However, it was only in 1985 that SAARC was established in Dhaka and Nepal was declared to be the Secretariat General. The first summit was hosted by Dhaka, with dignitaries like King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye; Rajiv Gandhi, prime Minister of India; the King of Nepal, Birendra Shah, etc attending the event.
Members of the SAARC:
SAARC is limited to South Asian countries and today consists of eight members in total. The member states are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The latest member to the organization is Afghanistan, which joined in 2007. Membership of Afghanistan was a big deal for SAARC, as Afghanistan holds a strategic position in Asia. It is, after all, heart of Asia.
Apart from members, there are countries that have been given the status of ‘observers’. Such countries are Australia, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Myanmar, China, South Korea, the United States and The European Union. Recently, Russia and Turkey have applied for observer status in SAARC.
SAARC’S Regional Centers and Apex Bodies:
Apart from General Secretariat in Kathmandu, SAARC has established many regional centers in different member nations. Governing Boards consisting of representatives from all the Member States, SAARC Secretary-General, and the Ministry of Foreign/External Affairs of the Host Government administer these centers.
There is SAARC Disaster Management Centre in New Delhi, SAARC Energy Centre in Islamabad, SAARC Forestry Centre in Thimpu, SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre in Male, SAARC Meteorological Research Centre in Dhaka, SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre in Kathmandu, etc.
Apart from regional centers, SAARC has six Apex bodies, which discharge important functions in the furtherance of the objective of SAARC. There are SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry, South Asia Foundation, South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children, South Asian Federation of Accountants, Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation In Law.
Together, the regional centers and Apex Bodies help SAARC nations in establishing stronger co-operation amongst each other in a more effective and organized manner.
SAARC VISA Exemption Scheme:
In order to further the objective of socio-cultural exchanges amongst SAARC nations, it was important to ease accessibility among such nations so that people find it more comfortable to connect with each other. It was to promote this object that SAARC VISA Exemption Scheme was introduced in the year 1992. In 1988, the Fourth Summit held in Islamabad realized the importance of inter-regional exchanges and decided that some dignitaries should be entitled to this scheme, which will exempt them from visas from the region.
The scheme is regularly revised by SAARC and currently entitles 24 categories of dignitaries of such exemption, which include Dignitaries, Businessmen, Judges of higher courts, Parliamentarians, Journalists, Sportsmen etc
SAARC has put in much endeavor to bolster inter-nation interaction and development and this is evident from the high number of awards and international appreciation ascribed to it from time to time. Its role as a South Asian galvanizing force has been internationally acknowledged.
However, SAARC ensures that those who have contributed much in the regional development of SAARC nations are acknowledged too. Such acknowledgment would encourage others to participate and invest their resources in the furtherance of the object of the organization. Therefore, SAARC has introduced several awards.
The SAARC award is the most prestigious award presented to individuals and organizations, which have undertaken programs for the development of south Asian region.
Another award is SAARC Literary Award, which is annual award presented by SAARC Writers and Literature. Some of the notable recipients of this award are Abhi Subhedi, Uday Prakash, Abhay K, Mark Tully, etc.
The SAARC Youth Award is another award presented to outstanding performers in SAARC region. It recognizes contribution of youth in the field of innovation, Disaster Management, etc.
Since its inception, SAARC has organized 18 summits. The First summit was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in the year 1985 and was presided by Ataur Rahman Khan. The summit marked the signing of the SAARC charter, and establishment of research groups to study issues like terrorism and drug trafficking in the region. In this very summit, the official emblem of SAARC was adopted.
The summit was followed a summit in Delhi in 1986, which was Presided by Rajiv Gandhi. The last summit organized was held in Bhutan in 2014 and was presided by Jigme Thinley. The next summit is scheduled to be held in Islamabad in 2016.
Secretaries-General of SAARC:
SAARC have had many eminent personalities take on the post of Secretary-general. The first Secretary-General was Abul Ahsan from Bangladesh. He was a pass out from Dhaka University and Fletcher School of Law and Economics. He excelled in civil examinations and joined Foreign Service in 1961.
From 1992-1993, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki took the task of Secretary-General. He is an eminent politician from Maldives, who has been educated in India, Australia and the United States and is commended for his cosmopolitan outlook.
Sheel Kant Sharma was the ninth Secretary-General to SAARC. He has been former envoy to Austria. Having obtained Master of Science (Nuclear) from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and PhD from the same institute, he is considered as one of the most knowledgeable and eminent persons in the field of energy.
South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA):
SAARC, as an organization, attempts to bridge social and economic gaps among the member nations. It is needed to ensure that these south Asian countries grow together harmoniously and coordinately. With the purpose of bridging the economical gap, South Asian Free Trade Area was conceptulaized in the year 1995. It was an attempt towards a “Common Market and Economic Union”.
The tenth SAARC Summit in 1998 finally decided to officially set up a Committee of Experts that took up the arduous task of producing a comprehensive draft on SAFTA, which shall create free trade area within SAARC region. Implementation of SAFTA has been significantly successful as the SAARC exports increased significantly to US$354.6 billion in 2009 and imports increased to US$602 billion over the same period.
Discussions and Publications
There is no gainsaying that SAARC region is highly susceptible to political conflicts and much have arisen from bloody historical pasts, as in case of India and Pakistan. There is Afghanistan that is going through violent Talibani resistance, which still mark its presences in the swaths of the country.
While discussions tabled in meetings are generally limited to economical and socio-cultural backgrounds, political discussions are extremely limited to the extent they do not unnecessarily impeach upon the member nation’s sovereignty. The general principle is that SAARC nations should not interfere in each others’ political matters.
Thus, SAARC plays a little role in discussions of political subjects though it actively participates in inter-cultural and inter-economical exchanges.
Apart from discussion, SAARC also comes up with major publications. Comparative Study on Public Service Commissions, Domestic Regulations on Trade in Services, Regional Study On The Causes And Consequences Of Natural Disasters And The Protection And Preservation Of The Environment, Brief on SAARC 2009, Gender Initiatives in SAARC : A primer, Regional Study on Green House Effect and its Impact on the Region and Taking SAARC Development Goals (SDG) Forward, etc.
These publications provide comprehensive understanding of the regional conditions, which have long affected the interaction between SAARC nations. These publications are published by SAARC Secretariat Publications and the last publication was on April 22, 2015.
The Economic foothold of SAARC
SAARC nations together form a powerhouse, giant economy. During the period spanning between 2005-10, the average growth rate of GDP of SAARC stood at 8.8% per annum. SAARC nations consist around 9.12% of global economy as of the year 2015. In the year 2015, foreign exchange reserves of SAARC nations stand as high as USD 411 billion. In fact, India is the major role player in the SAARC and much of the economics of SAARC is affected by India.
It is evident that SAARC plays a major role in the economics of the world and is becoming strategic player, especially many member nations like India are developing faster. India has recently become the fastest growing economy, replacing the long-established position of China.
Although there are certain lags in the inter-SAARC nation trade, the development provides a positive picture that SAARC nations can come up with a comprehensive draft on trade, which can solve the problems of dependency on powerful, developed nations. SAARC nations can afford to be great companions in achieving the road of self-reliance and freedom from economic assistance from developed nations.
It must have become clear that SAARC has established itself as a strong, reliant organization that provides a guiding framework to South Asian countries that are most affected with serious social-economical and political problems. Despite all these problems, these countries pose great impact upon global economy and perhaps are future forerunners of global economy.
Together, these countries have enough strength to establish a strong network, powerful enough to convince international forums to make decisions for the benefit of areas, which are probably most overlooked in the world. This Association might not have created much buzz like ASEAN and others but its efforts deserve appreciation. It gives a strong call to powerful nations and presents a picture that these countries need not always require their assistance. They have nations, which understand better the problems they go through.