The member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, SAARC started functioning from 1985. The guiding principles of SAARC are:
1. Respect the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit.
2. It is no substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation but complements them.
3. Its obligation shall not be inconsistent with bilateral and multilateral obligation; the charter excluded bilateral and contentious issues from its deliberations.
Its Goals and Objectives:
1. It promotes quality of life and economic growt5h in the region.
2. It strengthens collective self-reliance.
3. It encourages active collaboration in economic, technical and scientific fields.
4. It aims at increasing people to people contact and sharing of information among the SAARC members.
As Sri Rajiv Gandhi said, it concerns itself with the problems of self-reliance, eradication of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and disease in the area.
Among the seven member States, India is in a pre-eminent position in terms of area, population and military strength. India is the only country in the region that has common land or maritime borders with all countries of SAARC. Pakistan was a part of British India till 1947; Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan till 1971. All countries except Nepal and Bhutan were under British colonial rule till they got Independence. Sri Lanka is only 30 miles away from the Indian shores. Nepal is geographically, historically and culturally lined with India. Bhutan is guided by India in its foreign policy since 1949; Maldives is a tiny island with a population of 2 lakhs. All the SAARC countries are linked together geographically, historically and culturally.
SAARC has a four tiered structure (i) the annual summit where heads of governments of member States meet (ii) Council of Ministers which meets once in six months (iii) Standing Committees of the Secretaries and (iv) Technical Committees of officials and experts.
The first summit was held in December in Bangladesh in 1985. The second summit met in New Delhi (India) in 1986. The third meeting was at Kathmandu (Nepal) in 1987. The fourth summit was he4ld in Islamabad (Pakistan) in 1988. The firth summit meet was in Lale (Maladives) in 1990. Colombo in (Sri Lanka) was the venue for the sixth summit in 1991. The seventh summit meet was held in Dacca (Bangladesh) in 1993. While the eight summit was hosted by New Delhi (India) in 1995 the ninth summit was held at Maldives in 1997.
SAARC has established a permanent secretariat in Kathmandu (Nepal) and it is functioning since 1987. The head of the State of the host country acts as Chairman till the next summit when the chairmanship is handed over to the next host country.
SAARC has come of age and has already reached certain notable agreements and conventions among the member States. They are:
1. Convention on food security reserve.
2. Convention on suppression of terrorism.
Sri Lanka made a proposal for the creation of a SAARC Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA).
The SAARC members took a historic decision to extend regional co-operation to the core economic areas. The member nations of SAARC are also interested in activities concerning mass media, bio-technology and environment. The Male Declaration wanted to make SAARC, ‘vibrant and result-oriented’. The SAARC wants to effectively check drug abuse and drug trafficking: it wants suppress terrorism and promote organized tourism. The member nations observed 1991 as, SAARC Year of Shelter, and 1992 as, ‘SAARC Year of the Disabled’. It observed the last decade of the twentieth century as ‘SAARC Decade of the Girl Child’ to prohibit discrimination against female children of the region.
SAARC has to go a long way to fulfill the aims and objectives of its charter.