South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

In November 1980, the concept of South Asia's regional cooperation was first proposed.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April 1981, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding nations—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—met for the first time. A meeting of the Committee of the Whole, which identified five major areas for regional cooperation, was held a few months later. 

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Declaration and the Integrated Program of Action (IPA) in the five agreed-upon areas of cooperation—agriculture, rural development, telecommunications, meteorology, and health and population activities—were both officially launched by the foreign ministers at their first meeting in New Delhi in August 1983. 

Later, the IPA was expanded to include transportation, postal services, cooperative research and development in science and technology, sports, the arts, and culture. In 2005, at the 13th annual summit, Afghanistan joined SAARC as a new member. At the same time, observer status was granted to China and Japan.


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) aims to advance the welfare of South Asians, increase communal self-reliance, encourage proactive cooperation and mutual aid in various areas, and work with global and regional organizations.

Significance of SAARC

  • The SAARC region is one of the most populous and productive regions. It makes up 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the world's land area, 21% of its population, and 3.7% of its economy.
  • Due to their shared political, social, and cultural spheres of influence, the SAARC nations coordinate their efforts.
  • Problems like poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal conflicts, industrial and technological backwardness, low GDP, and poor socio-economic conditions are shared by the SAARC nations, as are solutions to those problems. By establishing shared development areas, these countries raise their standard of living.

Importance of SAARC for India

  • SAARC has fundamentally altered India's Act East Policy. It connects Southeast Asian and South Asian economies, promoting economic prosperity primarily in the services sector in India and furthering economic integration.
  • Priority to the nation's close neighbours.
  • The SAARC countries contribute to developing peace and mutual trust in the area, fostering stability.
  • To counter China's OBOR initiative, SAARC can involve Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka in economic cooperation and development.
  • SAARC allows India to demonstrate its regional leadership by taking on additional responsibilities.

Challenges with SAARC

  • The escalating tensions and conflicts between India and Pakistan severely hamper SAARC's future.
  • SAARC gatherings only happen sometimes. Biennial meetings should be replaced with more interactions between member countries. Annual meetings of SAARC members are required.
  • Due to the broad area of cooperation, energy and resources are diverted.
  • The SAARC Free Trade Agreement's implementation needs to be more satisfactory.

Way Forward with SAARC

  • SAARC could serve as a platform to demand more environmentally friendly development options, to unite in opposition to trade tariffs or to demand better conditions for South Asian workers worldwide in a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans.
  • The history and present-day identities of the countries in South Asia are reflected in SAARC as an organization. This is a naturally made geographical identity. Similarly, South Asia is united by a shared linguistic, cultural, religious, and gastronomic heritage.
  • The member nations should investigate SAARC's potential to uphold peace and stability in the region.
  • Considering South Asia is home to a quarter of the world's population, SAARC should be allowed to develop naturally, and more interpersonal interaction should be provided.

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