Research Analyst
Feb 7 - 13, 2011

The 20th century saw the end of colonial rule and the rise of freedom to several countries of the world. This followed the rise of regional alliances. Even super power like USA along with Canada and Mexico established Nafta (North American Free Trade Area).

The dawn of Asean (Association of South East Asian Region) achieved tangible results in East Asia. Similarly, European network through European Union (EU) emerged as a great power in the world. Similarly, there are several networks of regional bodies in Saarc and Latin America. The basic objectives behind these were to supplement each other for achieving high goals of prosperity for their people through networking for cooperation and achieving high standard of living of people.

On December 08, 1985, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was established and December 08, 2010 marked the celebration of its 25th anniversary.

This piece reviews the principles, objectives, current members, observers, summits held, work packages, initiatives and institutions, Saarc as number one in the world, unique features of Saarc, Saarc exports and challenges to Saarc.


For developing four basic principles of Saarc, the focus was on establishing sound and solid framework of cooperation in Saarc on bilateral and multilateral basis. The four basic principles governing Saarc were agreed as: (1) maintaining sovereign equality (2) ensuring territorial integrity of each Saarc Constituent (3) respecting political independence and (4) non-interference in the internal affairs of other states for extending mutual benefits for each other.

Everybody in Saarc expects that members in general and India in particular will revisit and refresh the memories to implement the above principles in real life situation in tangible form so that fuller respect and dignity is given to the members on which the Saarc was founded.


Two categories of objectives were developed namely, Inter-Saarc and Intra-Saarc. The five objectives to be pursued on Inter-SAARC basis included Welfare to people, Economic growth, Collaboration in four areas (namely: Economic, Social, Cultural and Scientific), Collective Self-Reliance and Mutual Trust and fuller understanding amongst the Saarc countries. Three

Intra-SAARC objectives included cooperation in national forums, strengthening domestic countries and fuller understanding on international and regional issues.

Unfortunately, due to domination of some vested interest collaboration in political area was not included. Therefore, the political problems facing India and various other countries in Saarc have remained outside the domain of Saarc. It is high time that all the Saarc countries in their forthcoming summit meeting planned to be held in Male in November 2011 may address the foregoing objectives and develop a practical action plan to ensure that the dismal performance of Saarc should be turned into ray of shining hope in future. All members of Saarc are urged to positively respond in this respect.


Till now, eight (8) members constitute Saarc namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Nine (9) current observers of Saarc include Australia, China, Burma, European Union, Iran, Japan Mauritius, South Korea, and United States. Intention has also been expressed by other three countries to join Saarc as observers. These include Indonesia, Russia and South Africa.

So far, 16 Saarc summits have been held. These included:

Ist Dhaka 7 - 8 December, 1985
2nd Bangalore 16 - 17 November, 1986
3rd Kathmandu 2 - 4 November, 1987
4th Islamabad 29 - 31 December, 1988
5th Male (Maldives) 21 - 23 November, 1990
6th Colombo 21st December, 1991
7th Dhaka 10 - 11 April, 1993
8th New Delhi 2 - 4 May, 1995
9th Male 12 - 14 May, 1997
10th Colombo 29 - 31 July, 1998
11th Kathmandu 4 - 6 January, 2002
12th Islamabad 2 - 6 January, 2004
13th Dhaka 12 - 13 November, 2005
14th New Delhi 3 - 4 April, 2007
15th Colombo 1 - 3 August, 2008
16th Thimphu 28 - 29 April, 2010

The 17th Summit is planned to be held in Male in November 2011.


In order to make Saarc a functionally alive and vibrant regional body, ten (10) work packages have been developed. India: Business information data networking, HRM, S & T, Social dimension in business development; Pakistan: Trade investment; Sri Lanka: Women Entrepreneurship; Bangladesh: Telecommunication; Nepal: Travel & Tourism; Maldives: Tourism; Bhutan and Nepal: Energy.


Significant initiatives announced include SAPTA (South Asian Preferential Trading Area) & SAFTA (South Asian Free Trading Area) and establishment of Saarc University in New Delhi. Enabling environments are awaiting true and genuine implementation of these initiatives. The challenge lies with the political leadership of all Saarc countries to translate the above initiatives into reality. The earlier this is done the better. It will be in the interest of Saarc region and people of the region.

Several institutions have been established to ensure Saarc to serve as a vibrant institution. The wish list and initiatives undertaken include people to people contact, regional agricultural infrastructure institution set up in Bangladesh, establishment of several funds for regional projects, provision of jobs special funds, South Asia Development Fund and other fund.

In 1992, Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry was established in Islamabad. It is suggested that a review of the progress of achievements relating to above initiatives be critically reviewed in November 2011 in the Saarc countries meeting at the Summit level planned to be held in Male.


It is interesting to note that Saarc is number one in the world due to several reasons. It has geo-economic region consisting of 1.5 billion people, its total GDP surpassed US$4 trillion. Its combined average growth in GDP is around 7 per cent. It has Sapta as a common market and is very big. It has the single largest block for commerce with 425 million people and it has the singular honour to have the largest single block in the world.


Saarc has ten (10) unique features which make it prominent in the world. It has the oldest ancient living civilizations of the world. It has the world's sleeping giant. It is a home of people of all regions, faiths and ideologies. It has a common market with economic force. It has the largest irrigation area in the world. It has the largest English speaking area in the world. It has the largest labour force with 425 million people. It is the home of the unemployed labour force and, therefore, opportunities for job openings and self-employment present a promise of the future. It has the second largest railway network in the world, after USA.


A comprehensive paper is needed to be contributed for comparing economic performance of Saarc in the world. However, based on World Development Report 2010, Saarc's share in the global exports was 1.37 per cent, although its population is 21 per cent of the world. This indicator shows that there is a vast scope of Saarc to translate her potential to increase her share of exports in the world.


Significant eight (8) challenges facing SAARC include poverty alleviation, significant reduction in unemployment, promoting literacy on wider scale, ensuring proper governance, expanding educational network across the board, accelerating the tempo of development, steady reduction of defence expenditure to divert the savings for social development and enabling environment so that people can freely move without any visa and even without passport within Saarc countries and also promote mutual trade. Political problems should be tackled through composite dialogue on periodical basis for ascertaining the solutions.


Saarc as a regional body has a tremendous potential. If people to people contact is encouraged and trade is developed, Saarc can realize her potential to a great extent. The challenges lie with all the stakeholders particularly political leaderships to share thoughts in the forthcoming Male Summit planned in November 2011 and may consider the foregoing suggestion to usher in a new era of prosperity of people of Saarc and write a golden chapter in its history. These challenges can be met provided, to begin with, political leadership demonstrate their commitment and help develop enabling environments to see positive and productive domino effect.