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SAARC member countries in a nutshell

Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country, located in Central Asia. Afghanistan achieved a matter of national unity in 1747 and became a Constitutional Monarchy in 1931. The modern history of Afghanistan started when it got independence from the United Kingdom in 8 August 1919.


Apartment complex in Kabul

In 1973 the Monarchy was overthrown in a bloodless coup, and a republic was established. The republic failed to survive and in late December of 1979 thousands of soviet troops were air lifted into the country. The war against the Soviets lasted many years, before the ceasefire just a few years ago.

All the citizens of the country are called Afghans. The staple food of the villagers and town's people is bread and rice. Among other basic foods are cheese, chicken, lamb, eggs, onions, spiced tea, melons, cucumbers, and other fruit.

Large amounts of meat, rice, and vegetables are consumed by the Afghans. Rice is often served with meat, herbs, and sauces. Other popular items include filled and fried pastries as well as rose-water-flavored drinks.

For centuries, Afghanistan has been a mosaic of people with diverse cultures, religions and languages. Afghanistan's ethnically and linguistically rich and mixed population reflects its location at the crossroads of Central, South and Southwest Asia. Communities with separate religions, languages, and ethnic backgrounds have lived side by side for generations.


Presidential Office in Malé

Afghanistan still remains a country of dynamic diversity. The main ethnic groups are Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq, Baluch, Nuristani, and Kizilbash.

Afghanistan is an Islamic country. An estimated 80% of the population is Sunni, following the Hanafi School of jurisprudence. The remainder of the population is predominantly Shi'a. Pashto and Dari are Afghanistan's official languages. Afghanistan's Consitution stipulates that all other languages are "official" in the areas in which they are spoken by a majority of the population.

Dari is spoken by more than one-third of the population and Pashto is spoken throughout Kabul and eastern and southern Afghanistan. Many Afghans are multi-lingual. Tajik and Turkic languages are spoken widely in the north. Smaller groups throughout the country also speak more than 70 other languages and numerous dialects.

Maldives

The civilizations of Maldives as far as can be estimated, dates back more than 2000 years. Archeological findings from many ancient sites in Maldives show ruins of old Buddhist structures, some dating back to 3rd and 4th centuries. The evidence shows that at the time of conversion to Islam in 1153 A.D. the population of Maldives was mainly Buddhist.


Bhutan Parliament in winter

Throughout its history, Maldives has remained independent, although the Portuguese occupied the country for 15 years in the 16th century. From 1887, Maldives was a British protectorate until it became fully independent on 26 July 1965.

The archipelago of the Republic of Maldives is made up of a chain of 1190 small and low-lying islands, stretching over 800 kms from north to south. Out of them only 198 islands are inhabited.

The population of Maldives is 270,101 (2000 census). Maldivians comprise a mixed race, unified through sharing a common history, language and religion. Dhivehi is the official language. Islam is the strength and backbone of the country, permeating the entire fabric of the Maldivian culture, polity and civil society.

The Maldives political system is a unique blend of its history, traditions, Islamic faith and modern democratic principles. It has evolved over a period of many years, the first written constitution having been proclaimed in 1932, though unwritten constitutional principles had been in existence long before then.

A republican form of government in 1968 replaced the constitutional monarchy, with an Executive President as the Head of State. A new Constitution, that is more comprehensive and in tune with the country's democratic principles was adopted by the country on 1 January 1998.


Parliament of India

The mainstay of the Maldives economy today comprises fisheries and tourism. Nearly 19% of the labour force is engaged in the fisheries sector, which account for over 6% of the GDP. Tourism, which became a major industry since the mid-eighties accounts for 33% of the GDP.

Industrial activity consists of a traditional and a modern sector. The traditional sector consists of boat building, mat-weaving, rope making, black-smithing, handicrafts and other cottage industries.

The activities in the modern sector include fish canning, manufacture of garments construction of fiberglass boats, production of cleaning fluids, and bottling of aerated water.

Bhutan

The Bhutanese call their country Druk-yul, the land of the Drukpas (the people) and of the Druk (Thunder Dragon as in the national flag of Bhutan). The ancient history of the kingdom remains shrouded in mystery.


Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Nepal

Since the 8th century A.D., however, it is clear that Buddhism has played a large part in shaping the course of Bhutan's history. Although Bhutan was unified under a central authority in the 17th century, evidence strongly suggests that it had existed as an independent entity from very early times.

Bhutan's population currently stands at 638,000 people. The people of Bhutan may be divided into two main groups - the Drukpas, who are of Mongoloid origin and are Buddhists, and the Lhotsampas, or the southerners, of Nepali origin, mainly Hindus.

Bhutan is a monarchy, ruled by the Wangchuck dynasty, which was founded in 1907 by King Ugyen Wangchuck. Over the years, the monarchs of Bhutan have been the fountainhead of far-reaching and often dramatic changes in the legislative, judicial and administrative systems in the country.

With over 80% of the people dependent on subsistence farming, the Bhutanese economy is predominantly rural. The share of the agriculture sector in the gross domestic product has dropped to less than 50% with the increase in the contribution of hydroelectric power generation and sale which now accounts for over 30 percent. The country has the potential to generate 30,000 MW of power from its rivers. Besides electricity, Bhutan exports calcium carbide, wood products and cement.

India

The roots of Indian civilisation stretch back in time to pre-recorded history. The earliest human activity in the Indian subcontinent can be traced back to the Early, Middle and Late Stone Ages. India gained independence from the British on 15 August 1947. The freedom struggle was led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, also known as The Mahatma, who is revered as the Father of the Nation.


Parliament of Bangladesh

India has one of the world's most diverse populations, with most of the major races represented. Today, India has over one billion people. There are fifteen languages recognised by the Indian Constitution and these are spoken in 1600 dialects. Hindi, the fourth most widely spoken language in the world, is the language of 30% of the population and the official language of India.

The Constitution of India, which envisages a parliamentary form of government, is federal in structure with unitary features. The President of India is the Constitutional Head of the Executive of the Union.

The Constitution provides that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head, to aid and advise the President, who shall in exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice. Real executive power, thus, vests in the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as head.

The Legislature of the Union is called the Parliament, and consists of the President and two Houses, known as the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha).

India ranks among the top ten industrial nations of the world and has an increasingly powerful middle class. The Indian economy is potentially very strong with its large industrial output, technological knowledge and extensive reservoir of skilled manpower. Major exports include cotton goods, iron, raw jute and jute products, coffee, electrical goods, leather, handicrafts, diamonds, chemicals and software. The major imports are machinery, petroleum, chemicals, cereals, copper, and zinc.

The majority of Indians (64%) earn their livelihood from the land with agriculture accounting for about 35 % of national income.

Nepal

The documented history of Nepal begins with the Changu Narayan temple inscription of King Manadeva I (464 A.D.) followed by Malla rulers among other important ones. Before Nepal's emergence as a unified nation in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the designation of Nepal was applied only to the Kathmandu Valley.

Nepal had been segmented into more than 52 small principalities. Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Great King of Gorkha was the maker of modern Nepal who united the country by 1769 by conquering Kathmandu Valley and making it the Capital.


Parliament of Pakistan

Nepal has a population of about 23.9 million made up of over 61 ethnic groups living in different regions speaking 70 languages and dialects. Nepali is the national language. Hinduism is the official religion of Nepal and Hindus constitute over 85% of the population. Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Nepal about 563 B.C. and Buddhists account for 7.8% of the population. A small minority of Nepalese adheres to Islam and Christianity.

After 1951, Nepal has exercised multi-party democracy except during the period of about three decades from 1961 to 1990 when a party-less panchayat system existed. But again, following the democratic movement of 1990, Nepal restored a multiparty system with a constitutional monarchy. His Majesty The King is the Head of State and the Prime Minister serves as Head of Government.

Constitutionally, there are two houses of parliament namely Pratinidhi Sabha (House of Representatives) and Rastriya Sabha (National Assembly). The House of Representatives consists of 205 members elected by the people for a five year term.

The National Assembly comprises 60 members, 10 of whom are nominated by His Majesty the King while remaining 50 are elected, 35 by members of the Pratinidhi Sabha and 15 by members of local bodies.

The mainstay of the Nepalese economy is agriculture, which accounts for 41% of the GDP with more than 80% of the people dependent on it. The main crops grown are paddy, maize and wheat. Manufacturing, trade and tourism follow farming as the main economic activities of the country.

Hand knitted woolen carpets and readymade garments are flourishing industries in the country whose total share in the exports figures is almost 32 percent. Petroleum products, chemicals and drugs, food and live animals, vehicles, machinery and equipment are the major imports of Nepal.

Bangladesh

Bangladesh emerged as an independent country on 16 December 1971. Its official name is the 'People's Republic of Bangladesh'. Dhaka is the capital of the Republic and Bangla is the state language. The Independence and National Day of Bangladesh is 26 March.

The population of the country currently stands at around 126 million. About 80 percent of the people live in rural areas. Sixty percent of the people depend on agriculture for their livelihood.


Parliament of Sri Lanka

The four major religions in the country are Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. The Muslims constitute about 88% of the population and Hindus about 10%. The constitution guarantees religious and cultural freedom to all citizens of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is a unitary, independent and sovereign republic comprising three basic organs: the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. The President is the Head of State and is elected by the members of Parliament. The President acts in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.

Bangladesh has primarily an agrarian economy. Agriculture is the single largest sector in the economy producing about 30% of the country's GDP and employing around 60% of the total labour force.

The country has a considerable number of large, medium and small-sized industries in both the public and private sectors based on both indigenous and imported raw materials. Among them are jute, cotton, textiles, fertilizer, engineering, shipbuilding, steel, oil-refinery, paper, newsprint, sugar, chemicals, cement and leather.

Pakistan

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan appeared on the world map on 14 August 1947 under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam (the Great Leader), who is revered as the Father of the Nation. Pakistan is divided into four provinces: Sindh, Baluchistan, Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province. Islamabad is the capital of the country.

The population of Pakistan (1998 estimate) is 130.58 million. The national language is Urdu, while the official language is English. The leading religion of Pakistan is Islam, which is the faith of about 95 percent of the people.

Hinduism and Christianity form the leading minority religions. Other religious groups include the Sikhs, the Parsis and a small number of Buddhists. Pakistan has a federal structure. The Parliament consists of the Lower House (National Assembly) and the Upper House (Senate).

Agriculture and related activities engage 46.1 percent of the workforce and provide 25 percent of GDP. The main exports include cotton textiles, cotton yarn and thread, clothing, raw cotton, rice, carpets and rugs, leather, fish and petroleum products. The main imports include machinery, electrical equipment, petroleum products, transportation equipment, metal and metal products, fertilizer and foodstuffs.

Sri Lanka

Lanka means "resplendent" (from the Pali "alankara"). Stone-age implements found on the island date back at least ten millennia, while evidence is available that the domestication of plants may have taken place around 15,000 B.C.

Given Sri Lanka's central location on the trade routes of the ancient world and the attraction then of her "products", pearls, timber, gems and ivory, and later spices, the island had become a center of East-West commerce well before the Christian era.

The direct influence of European maritime powers was felt beginning from the 16th century with the arrival of the Portugues, Dutch and later British. Sri Lanka gained independence from the British on 4 February 1948.

The population of Sri Lanka (1998 estimate) is 18.77 million. The country is a multi-ethnic nation. The Sinhalese, of Indo-Aryan origin, comprise 74 percent of the population; the Sri Lankan Tamils, of Dravidian origin, who migrated to the island thereafter: 12.6 percent; the Indian Tamils, descendants of migrant workers from South India recruited in the last century by the British: 5.5 percent; the Moors, descendants from Arab traders who arrived in the island from about the 12th century AD: 7.1 percent; and others, who include Burghers, descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese: 0.8 percent. Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages while English is the national language. Four major religions are freely practiced in Sri Lanka. Buddhists account for 69.3 percent of the population, Hindus for 15.5 percent, Christians for 7.6 percent and Muslims for 7.5 percent.

At the time of independence, Sri Lanka adopted a Westminster system of Parliamentary government with a House of Representatives, a Senate and a Cabinet headed by a Prime Minister.

The British monarch was retained as constitutional head of state, and was represented in the Island by a Governor-General. In 1972, a Republican Constitution was adopted with a single legislature (the National State Assembly) and a constitutional President thus formally severing links with the British Crown. Following the amendment of Constitution in 1978, an Executive Presidential system of government prevails.

The President of Sri Lanka is both the Head of State and Head of Government. The President is directly elected by the people for a term of six years. The supreme legislative body is a unicameral parliament consisting of 225 members elected by a system of proportional representation.

A multi-party system prevails and many smaller parties are allied to either the government or the opposition group. The leader of the majority party in the parliament is elected as the Prime Minister.

Ninety percent of the economy of the country at independence depended on the export of the three plantation crops of tea, rubber and coconut. Since the late 1970s, the economy has been progressively liberalized. Industrial policy has shifted from import substitution to export-oriented production.

The service center now accounts for 52% in the sectoral composition of the GDP; the manufacturing sector for 16.5%; agriculture for 21.1%; construction for 7.6%; and mining for 1.9%.

Colombo is the largest Tea Auction Centre in the world since London auctions ceased to function in June 1998. Other exports include textiles and garments, coconut products, spices, cocoa, coffee, essential oils, gems, fishery products, rubber, machinery, footware and leather products and petroleum by-products.

Major imports include rice, wheat and sugar, fertilizer, crude oil and investment goods such as raw materials, building materials, transport equipment and machinery.

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