SAARC: Introduction, Objectives, Principles, Structure

    South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a regional organization that was created when its charter was formally adopted on 8 December 1985 by the heads of state or governments of Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Bhutan, and Bangladesh in their first SAARC Summit held in Dhaka on 7-8 December 1985.

    Afghanistan became the 8th member country of SAARC when it was added to the association in 2007. SAARC was formed with the view to enhancing the quality of life of the people and to finding solutions to the common problems of peoples of South Asia.

    Objectives of SAARC

    The objectives of the SAARC as enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter are:

      1. To promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life.
      1. To accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential.
      1. To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia.
      1. To contribute to mutual trust, understanding, and appreciation of one another’s problems.
      1. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields.
      1. To strengthen cooperation with other developing countries.
      1. To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest.
      1. To co-operate with international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes.

    Principles of SAARC

    The principles of SAARC as laid down in Article 2 of the Charter are:

      1. Co-operation within the framework of the association shall be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and mutual benefit.
      1. Such cooperation shall not be a substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation but shall complement them.
      1. Such cooperation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations.
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    SAARC Areas of Cooperation

      • Human resource development and tourism
      • Agriculture and rural development
      • Environment, natural disasters, and biotechnology
      • Economic, trade, and finance
      • Social affairs
      • Information and poverty alleviation
      • Energy, transport, science, and technology
      • Education, security, and culture
      • Cabinet secretaries meeting
      • Public service commission of member states

    Institutional Structure of SAARC

    SAARC Summit

    SAARC Summits are usually held biennially and hosted by a member state in alphabetical order. In the summit, the heads of state or governments of member states come together, and the meeting is the highest decision-making authority. So far, 18 summits have been held of which Nepal has hosted the 3rd, 11th, and 18th summits.

    Council of Ministers

    The Council of Ministers comprises the ministers of foreign affairs of member states. The council meets preceding the summit and between the two summits. It reviews the progress of the implementation of decisions taken by summits. The reports of the Council of Ministers are submitted to meetings of the heads of state or government for consideration or approval.

    The functions of the Council of Ministers include:

      • Formulation of policies of the Association
      • Review of progress of cooperation under SAARC
      • Decision on new areas of cooperation
      • Establishment of the additional mechanism under SAARC
      • Decision on other matters of general interest to SAARC

    Standing Committee

    The Standing Committee comprises the foreign secretaries of the SAARC member states. The committee meets as often as necessary. The Committee reports to the Council of Ministers on regular matters; and, as needed, asks for specific decisions on policy matters from the Council.

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    Functions of the Committee include:

      • Overall monitoring and coordination of program of cooperation under different areas
      • Approval of projects and programs, including modalities of their financing
      • Determination of inter-sectoral priorities
      • Mobilization of regional and external resources
      • Identification of new areas of cooperation based on appropriate studies
      • Programming Committee

    The Programming Committee consisting of the heads of SAARC Divisions of member states assists the standing committee. The Programming Committee meets prior to the meetings of the Standing Committee.

    Technical Committee

    Technical Committees comprises representatives of member states. Different technical committees work on their respective areas to provide support to SAARC activities. There are committees on Agriculture and Rural Development, Health and Population Activities, Women, Youth and Children, on Science and Technology, on Transport, and on Environment.

    Technical Committees are responsible for the implementation, coordination, and monitoring of the programs in their respective areas of cooperation.

    Working Groups

    Working Groups formulate and oversee programs and activities within the framework of SAARC to strengthen and promote regional cooperation in their respective areas. There are Working Groups on Energy, Information and Communication Technology, and Tourism.

    Action Committees

    The Standing Committee sets up Action Committees comprising member states concerned with the implementation of projects involving more than two but not all member states.

    Nepal’s Role in SAARC

      • As one of the founding members, Nepal had played a vital role in the formation of SAARC. Thus, SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16th January 1987.
      • Nepal has hosted the 3rd, 11th and 18th SAARC Summits successfully.
      • Nepal has signed all SAARC conventions, protocols and agreements, and has ratified most of them.
      • Nepal has made significant contributions to the conclusion of SAARC conventions on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, terrorism, women and children.
      • Nepal has played a crucial role to fight against regional terrorism and to stop smuggling.
      • Nepal has established the SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV Center in Bhaktapur and SAARC Information Center in Kathmandu.
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