Here is your short essay on SAARC

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The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an economic and political organisation of eight countries in Southern Asia. In terms of population, its sphere of influence is the largest of any regional organisation: almost 1.5 billion people, the combined population of its member states.

It was established on December 8, 1985 by India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan. In April 2007, at the Association's 14th summit, Afghanistan became its eighth member. In the late 1970s, Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman proposed the creation of a trade bloc consisting of South Asian countries. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was again mooted in May 1980.

The foreign secretaries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. The Committee of the Whole, which met in Colombo in August 1981, identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. New areas of cooperation were added in the following years.

The objectives of the Association as defined in the Charter are to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life: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 realise their full potential; to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia; to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another's problems; to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields; to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries; to strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest; and to cooperate with international and regional organisations with similar aims and puiposes.

The Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation was adopted by the Foreign Ministers in 1983 in New Delhi. During the meeting, the Ministers also launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in nine agreed areas, namely, Agriculture; Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; Health and Population Activities; Transport Postal Services Science and Technology; and Sports, Arts and Culture.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on 8 December 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping at the behest of India on November 13, 2005, and became a member on April 3,2007. With the addition of Afghanistan, the total number of member states were raised to eight (8). In April 2006, the United States of America and South Korea made formal requests to be granted observer status.

The European Union has also indicated interest in being given observer status, and made a formal request for the same to the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in July 2006. On August 2, 2006 the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union. On March 4, 2007, Iran requested observer status. Followed shortly by the entrance of Mauritius.

In August 1983, the ongoing process was given a political push. At the first Foreign Ministers' Conference in New Delhi, the South Asian Regional Cooperation (S ARC) Declaration was adopted. Following this the organisational structure of SAARC was final. Thereafter, the first summit meeting took place in Dhaka in December 1985 and SAARC was formally launched.

The leaders decided in favour of a Council of Ministers and a Secretariat, certifying their enduring commitment to the organisation. In February 1987, the SAARC Secretariat came into being with a secretary general and four directors. Later- the SAARC Council of Ministers was formed consisting of the foreign ministers of respective member states.

Organisational Structure

The New Delhi meeting of foreign ministers in 1983, the organisational structure of the SAARC assumed a clear form and shape. It developed as a four-tier structure. At the lowest level were the Technical Committees of experts and officials formulating programmes of action and organising seminars and workshops.

Next was the Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries to review and coordinate the recommendations of the Technical Committees, which was to meet at least once a year. Above this was the Foreign Ministers' Conference, also to be held which was to meet at least once a year to grant political approval to the recommendations of the Standing Committee. At the apex was the Summit Meeting to be held annually to give political significance to SAARC.

The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on January 16, 1987 and was inaugurated by Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal.

It is headed by a Secretary General appointed by the Council of Ministers from Member Countries in alphabetical order for a three-year term.

He is assisted by the Professional and the General Services Staff, and also an appropriate number of functional units called Divisions assigned to Directors on deputation from Member States The Secretariat coordinates and monitors implementation of activities, prepares for and services meetings, and serves as a channel of communication between the Association and its Member States as well as other regional organisations.

The Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of the Secretariat which was signed by Foreign Ministers of member countries on November 17, 1986, at Bangalore, India contains various clauses concerning the role, structure and administration of the SAARC Secretariat as well as the powers of the Secretary-General.

In several recent meetings the heads of state or government of member states of SAARC have taken some important decisions and bold initiatives to strengthen the organisation and to widen and deepen regional co operation. The SAARC Secretariat and Member States observe 8 December as the SAARC Charter Day.

Criticism

SAARC's inability to play a crucial role in integrating South Asia is often credited the political and military rivalry between India and Pakistan.

It is due to these economic, political, and territorial disputes that South Asian nations have not been able to harness the benefits of a unified economy. Over the years, PARC's role in South Asia has been greatly diminished and is now used as a more platform for annual talks and meetings between its members.

Politicai issues

SAARC has intentionally laid more stress on "core issues" mentioned above rather than more decisive political issues like the Kashmir dispute and the Sri Lankan civil war. However, political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings. SAARC has also refrained itself from interfering in the internal matters of its member states. During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.

Free trade agreement

Over the years, the SAARC members have expressed their unwillingness on signing a free trade agreement.

Though India has several trade pacts with Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, similar trade agreements with Pakistan and Bangladesh have been stalled due to political and economic concerns on both sides. India has been constructing a barrier across its borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In 1993, SAARC countries signed an agreement to gradually lower tariffs within the region, in Dhaka. Eleven years later, at the 12th SAARC Summit at Islamabad, SAARC countries devised the South Asia Free Trade Agreement which created a framework for the establishment of a free trade area covering 1.4 billion people. This agreement went into force on January 1,2006. Under this agreement, SAARC members will bring their duties down to 20 per cent by 2007.


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