History and mission of SAARC
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
comprises eight countries of South Asia, i.e. Afghanistan, Bangladesh,
Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. The idea of
regional cooperation in South Asia was first mooted in May 1980 by
Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman.
President Rahman addressed letters to the Heads of Government of the
countries of South Asia, presenting his vision for the future of the
region and the compelling arguments for regional cooperation in the
context of evolving international realities.
The Foreign Secretaries of seven countries in South Asia met for the
first time in Colombo in April 1981 and identified five broad areas for
A series of meetings followed in Nepal (Kathmandu/November 1981),
Pakistan (Islamabad/August, 1982), Bangladesh, India (Delhi/July 1983)
to enhance regional cooperation.
The next step of this process was the Foreign Ministers meeting in
New Delhi in 1983 where they adopted the Declaration on South Asian
Regional Cooperation (SARC).
During the next two years South Asian nations committed themselves to
form this South Asian alliance and the process culminated in the First
SAARC Summit held on 7-8 December in 1985 in Dhaka where the Heads of
State or Government of seven countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India,
Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka adopted the Charter formally
establishing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Preamble to the SAARC Charter
The preamble to the SAARC Charter spells out the intention of forming
this South Asian alliance as “We, the Heads of State or Government of
BANGLADESH, BHUTAN, INDIA, MALDIVES, NEPAL, PAKISTAN and SRI LANKA;
‘Desirous of promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the
region through strict adherence to the principles of the UNITED NATIONS
CHARTER and NON-ALIGNMENT, particularly respect for the principles of
sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence,
non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other
States and peaceful settlement of all disputes’ ‘Conscious that in an
increasingly interdependent world, the objectives of peace, freedom,
social justice and economic prosperity are best achieved in the SOUTH
ASIAN region by fostering mutual understanding, good neighbourly
relations and meaningful cooperation among the Member States which are
bound by ties of history and culture’ ‘Aware of the common problems,
interests and aspirations of the peoples of SOUTH ASIA and the need for
joint action and enhanced cooperation within their respective political
and economic systems and cultural traditions’” ‘Convinced that regional
cooperation among the countries of SOUTH ASIA is mutually beneficial,
desirable and necessary for promoting the welfare and improving the
quality of life of the peoples of the region; ‘Convinced further that
economic, social and technical cooperation among the countries of SOUTH
ASIA would contribute significantly to national and collective
self-reliance; ‘Recognising that increased cooperation, contacts and
exchanges among the countries of the region will contribute to the
promotion of friendship and understanding among their peoples; Do hereby
agree to establish an organisation to be known as SOUTH ASIAN
ASSOCIATION FOR REGIONAL COOPERATION hereinafter referred to as the
ASSOCIATION...’ Objectives Moreover, the cooperation of the SAARC is
also based on broader principles of respect for the principles of
sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence,
noninterference in internal affairs of the Member States and on mutual
benefit. Decisions are taken on the basis of unanimity and bilateral and
contentious issues are excluded from the deliberations of SAARC.
The highest authority of the Association rests with the Heads of
State or Government. The SAARC Charter provides that the Heads of State
or Government shall meet once a year or more often as and when
considered necessary by the Member States. The country which hosts the
summit holds the Chair of the Association.
The Association also convenes meetings at Ministerial level on
specialised themes Council of Ministers comprising the Foreign Ministers
of Member States, the Council of Ministers is responsible for
formulating policies, reviewing progress, deciding on new areas of
cooperation, establishing additional mechanisms as deemed necessary, and
deciding on other matters of general interest to the Association.
The Council meets normally twice a year and may also meet in
extraordinary sessions by agreement of Member States. Standing Committee
The Standing Committee comprising the Foreign Secretaries of Member
States is entrusted with the task of overall monitoring and coordination
of programmes, approving of projects and programmes, and modalities of
financing, determining inter-sectoral priorities, mobilising regional
and external resources, and identifying new areas of cooperation.
Usually this Committee meets twice a year preceding the Council of
Ministers and submits its reports to the Council of Ministers.
It may also meet in special session as and when necessary by
agreement among Member States. The Standing Committee is authorised to
set up Action Committees comprising Member States concerned with
implementation of projects involving more than two but less than seven
Member States. (Article VII of the SAARC Charter).
The Programming Committee (which is not a SAARC Charter body)
comprises senior officials of member States. It assists the Standing
Committee in scrutinising the Secretariat Budget, considers the reports
of the Technical Committees, SAARC Audio Visual Exchange (SAVE)
Committee, and Regional Centres finalising, and the Calendar of
The SAARC Technical Committees are responsible for determination of
the potential and the scope of regional cooperation in agreed areas,
formulation of programmes and preparation of projects, determination of
financial implications of sectoral programmes, formulation of
recommendations regarding apportionment of costs, implementation and
coordination of sectoral programmes, and monitoring of progress in
In addition to the Technical Committees, various Working Groups are
established to consider specific issues and make recommendations to the
appropriate SAARC bodies.
Currently five Working Groups are established in the areas of
Telecommunications and ICT, Biotechnology, Intellectual Property Rights
and tourism. SAARC Secretariat The SAARC Secretariat is based in
The Secretariat coordinates and monitors implementation of
activities, prepares and services meetings, and serves as a channel of
communication between the Association and its Member States as well as
other regional organizations.
The Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General, who is appointed
by the Council of Ministers from member countries in alphabetical order
for a three-year term. Dr. Sheel Kanta Sharma from India currently
serves as the Secretary General of SAARC.
The Secretary General is assisted by Directors on deputation from
Member States. Committee on Economic Cooperation The Committee of
Economic Cooperation consists of Secretaries of Commerce of member
states and it promotes regional cooperation in the economic field.
The Agreement on SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was
signed in Dhaka during the 7th SAARC Summit, in 1993.
It aims to promote and sustain mutual trade and the economic
cooperation among the South Asian States, through exchanging
Later, with the broad objective of moving towards a South Asian
Economic Union (SAEU), the SAARC Member States signed the Agreement on
SAARC Free Trade Area (SAFTA) on 6 January 2004 at the 12th SAARC Summit
held in Islamabad and came into force on 1 January 2006.
SAFTA has six core elements covering trade liberalization programme,
rules of origin, institutional arrangements, safeguard measures, special
and differential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs), and
dispute settlement mechanisms.
SAARC Summits since inception
Dhaka, Bangladesh 7-8 December 1985
Bangalore India 16-17 November 1986
Katmandu, Nepal 2-4 November 1987
Islamabad, Pakistan 29-31 December 1988
Male, Maldives 21-23 November 1990
Colombo, Sri Lanka, 21 December 1991
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 10-11 April 1993
New Delhi India, 2-4 May 1995
Male, Maldives 12-14 May 1997
Colombo, Sri Lanka, 29-31 July 1998
Katmandu, Nepal, 4-6 January 2002
Islamabad, Pakistan, 2-6 January 2004
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 12-13 November 2005
New Delhi, India, 3-4 April 2007
SAARC Social Charter
The signing of the Social Charter by the Heads of State/ Government
at the 12th SAARC Summit held in Islamabad in 2004, has been a major
development in SAARC.
The Social Charter aims at promoting the welfare of the peoples of
South Asia and accelerating economic growth and social progress through
poverty alleviation, improving health conditions of peoples, human
resource development, empowerment of women, and providing welfare to the
Although the Social Charter is not a binding document, it underpins
the SAARC Charter objective of ‘providing all individuals the
opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potentials’.
SAARC Regional Convention of Suppression of Terrorism The SAARC
Regional Convention of Suppression of Terrorism was signed during the
Third SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November 1987.
This was the result of a series of discussions held between Member
States for more than two years starting from very first SAARC Summit
held in Dhaka. This Convention recognizes dangers posed by the spread of
terrorism and its harmful effects on peace & cooperation and also the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States.
This Convention came into force on 22 August 1988. Later, an
Additional Protocol to this Convention was signed during the 12th SAARC
Summit in Islamabad on 06 January 2004. This Additional Protocol updates
the Convention by adding terrorist financing and has been ratified by
all Member States.
SAARC Regional Agenda The Agenda of Regional Cooperation under SAARC
has expanded over the years and are broadly covered under the Regional
Integrated Programme of Action (RIPA). In addition, a number of issues
are given high priority.
At the 12th SAARC Summit held in Islamabad in 2004, the Heads of
States/Government recognized ‘poverty alleviation’ as the greatest
challenge facing the peoples of South Asia and declared poverty
alleviation as the overarching goal of all SAARC activities.
Co-operation with the International Organizations SAARC has
established institutionalized arrangements for cooperation with a number
of other regional groupings and international and regional
It has entered into cooperative arrangements through the signing of
MOUs with organizations like the EC, UNCTAD, ESCAP, UNIFEM, APT, ITU,
UNDP, UNDCP, UNEP, UNIFEM, CIDA, WHO, ADB, PTB, UNAIDS, UNICEF, World
SAARC has recently agreed with ASEAN Secretariat for a Partnership
Work Plan (2004-2005) in a number of areas including trade, HIV/AIDS,
energy and tourism. SAARC has a dialogue forum with ASEAN and EU on the
sidelines of the UN General Assembly sessions.
People to People Contacts
Under the SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme, some specifically identified
categories of persons along with their spouses and dependent children
are entitled to travel within the SAARC region without visa.
Although the Visa Scheme is yet to attain the depth and coverage of
regional visa schemes like the Schengen visa, it has proved to be
effective in generating credibility about the SAARC process.
SAARC as an institution has always emphasized the need for
strengthening people-to-people contacts through greater participation of
NGOs, including professional bodies in the private sector, to promote
socio-economic and cultural co-operation in South Asia.
SAARC has formulated a set of guidelines and procedures for granting
recognition to regional NGOs and professional bodies. SAARC Charter Day
The SAARC Secretariat and Member States observe 8th December as the
SAARC Charter Day.
SAARC designated years SAARC has designated years to draw special
focus on specific social issues and has contributed to raising
awareness, mobilizing resources and adopting/adapting national programs.
SAARC designated years
1989 Year of Combating Drug Abuse and Drug Trafficking
1990 Year of Girl Child
1991 Year of Shelter
1992 Year of Environment
1993 Year of Disabled persons
1994 Year of the Youth
1995 Year of Poverty Alleviation
1996 Year of Literacy
1997 Year of Participatory Governance
1999 Year of Biodiversity
2002-2003 Year of Contribution of Youth to Environment
2004 Year of Awareness for TB & HIV/AIDS
2006 South Asia Tourism Year SAARC has also declared decades on
1991-2000 Decade of the Girl Child
2001-2010 Decade of the Rights of the Child
The following professional / trade bodies have been granted
recognition by SAARC on the given dates: - SAARC Chamber of Commerce and
Industry (SCCI), received recognition in December 1992 - SAARC LAW -
consists of members of the legal profession of the SAARC Countries,
received recognition in July 1994 - South Asian Federation of
Accountants (SAFA), received recognition in May 1997 - SAARC Federation
of University Women (SAARCFUW), received recognition in May 1997; -
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation of Architects (SAARCH),
received recognition in May 1997; - Association of Management
Development Institutions in South Asia (AMDISA), received recognition in
May 1997 - SAARC Cardiac Society, received recognition in July 1998
(Head Quarters in Dhaka) - SAARC Diploma Engineers Forum (SDEF),
received recognition in January 2002 - SAARC Teachers’ Federation (STF),
received recognition in January 2002 - Foundation of SAARC Writers and
Literature (FSWL), received recognition in January 2002 - Federation of
State Insurance Organizations of SAARC Countries (FSIO), received
recognition in January 2002 -Radiological Society of SAARC Countries (RSSC),
received recognition in January 2002 - SAARC Surgical Care Society (SSCS),
received recognition in January 2002 - South Asia Free Media Association
(SAFMA)- August 2004
The Official website of the SAARC Secretariat at
The Official website of SAARC Information Centre at