So far, fifteen Summits have taken place-Dhaka (1985), Bangalore (1986), Kathmandu (1987), Islamabad (1988), Male (1990), Colombo (1991), Dhaka (1993), New Delhi (1995), Male (1997), Colombo (1998), Kathmandu (2002) and Islamabad (2004) Dhaka (2005), New Delhi (2007), and Colombo (2008). However, in the past several summits have been postponed or not held at all because of domestic and bilateral problems of member countries.
The SAARC has a fairly impressive record of meetings, seminars, studies and reports that it has sponsored. The Calendar of Activities released by the SAARC Secretariat from time to time, enumerates a large number of activities pertaining to such diverse developmental fields as agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture, health and sanitation, forestry, population, meteorology, postal services, drug trafficking and abuse, integrated rural development, transfer of technology, sports, transport, telecommunications, women’s development, trade and commerce, and others. S AARC’s activities are not confined to developmental issues only.
Even such an issue as terrorism, which has been hanging fire in Indo-Pak relations for several years and has serious political overtones, had earlier received attention. Despite deep-rooted divisions among the SAARC countries over this question, they could adopt a convention against terrorism. Its highlight was the identification of offences, which ‘shall be regarded as terroristic and for the purpose of extradition shall not be regarded as a political offence or as an offence inspired by political motives.’ The convention provides the necessary follow-up through the signing of bilateral extradition treaties.
This convention has not been implemented because Bangladesh and Pakistan have not ratified the same as they do not have the enabling domestic legislations against the terrorists. However, a new dimension was given to this Convention in the Islamabad Summit of2004. The first SAARC summit was held in Dhaka in December 1985. At this meeting, SAARC was formally launched.
This Summit was particularly important in two respects. In the first place, there was the use of expressions ‘Non-use of Force’ and ‘Peaceful Settlement of All Disputes’ It may be noted that similar expressions were used in the original Working Paper (1980) prepared by Bangladesh, but in the first Meeting of Foreign Secretaries (April 1981) they were dropped on account of Pakistan’s reservations. Pakistan’s no-war pact proposal to India came later in September 1981.
The use of these expressions in the SAARC document, therefore, made the no-war proposal virtually redundant. Secondly, the summit decided in favour of a Council of Ministers and a Secretariat thereby giving permanence to SAARC. At the second SAARC summit held in Bangalore in November 1986, the leaders forged a regional convention on suppression of terrorism, agreed to set up a regional food security reserve and decided to commission a study on the causes and consequences of natural disasters and the preservation of the environment. In response to the Afghan application for membership, the summit directed the Standing Committee to draw up the criteria for membership.
The third SAARC summit was held in Kathmandu in November 1987. In the summit, the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism was signed, which came into force on August 22, 1988. The fourth SAARC summit was held in Islamabad in 1988. At this sunimit, an integrated development plan called ‘SAARC 2000-A basic needs perspective’ was drawn.
The plan envisaged a regional perspective programme with a specific target in core areas like food, clothing, shelter, education, primary health care, population planning and environmental protection, to be met by the year 2000. The fifth SAARC summit was held in Male in November 1990.
At this summit, the leaders called for the welfare of the disabled and the girl child, convention on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances to deal effectively with the menace of drug abuse and suppression of illicit traffic in the region, enlargement of visa-free travel facility beyond the existing categories of members of Parliament and Supreme Court Judges to include the heads of national academic institutions, their spouses and dependent children, and, most importantly, the extension of the core areas of economic cooperation.
It was decided that by the end of February 1991 the regional study dealing with the contentious issue of trade, Manufactures and services should be completed. This was particularly important because everyone agreed that to meet the challenges posed to the global economy by the collapse of the socialist economies, new pattern of production, consumption and trade would have to be conceived, and that sooner it was realised the better it was for South Asia.
The sixth SAARC summit at Colombo was originally scheduled to be held in November 1991. But following the last moment decision of the Bhutanese King not to participate in the summit because of his pressing domestic problems, the meeting had to be postponed. This was unavoidable because both India and Nepal insisted that since the King of Bhutan was not participating, they too would not-.
They strongly felt that in the absence of any one member of the summit, the meeting, even if held, would amount to going against the collective spirit of SAARC. The summit was later held on December 21, 1991. Most of the issues in the Colombo declaration that was adopted at the summit were part of SAARC’s continuing agenda over the previous years.
The need to curb terrorist activities, the Maldivian initiative to seek international consensus on reinforcing the security of small states, the call to take effective steps to combat narco-terrorism in South Asia, the plea to articulate a collective stand on global and regional environmental issues fall in this category. The summit leaders also agreed that the inter-governmental group, already set up to study the prospects for regional cooperation in the areas of trade, manufactures and the services, should also examine the Sri Lankan proposal for the establishment of a SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement'(SAPTA) by 1997.
But the most significant of all the decisions taken at the Colombo Summit was the agreement that a special session of the SAARC Foreign Secretaries should be held in Colombo in 1992 to study the ways and means to streamline the working norms of the organisation. This study could cover a wide spectrum of proposals, including those designed to seek changes in the SAARC charter. Even the issue of establishing suitable ‘external linkages with other regional organisations such as ASEAN and EU could also be considered. The seventh SAARC summit was held at Dhaka in April 1993. In this summit, the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) was signed. The agreement was supposed to provide the member countries with the basic legal framework for step by step trade liberalisation amongst them through tariff, para tariff, non-tariff and direct trade deals. At the eighth SAARC summit held in New Delhi in 1995, the SAPTA was formally launched.
At the ninth SAARC summit at Male held in 1997, the SAARC Group of Eminent Persons was established. The group contemplated the creation of SAARC Economic Vision through creating a SAARC common market and effecting macro-economic policy coordination Encouraged by the progress made by SAPTA negotiations, at the tenth SAARC Summit meeting in Colombo in 1998, the SAARC leaders decided to set unpaid Committee of Experts to draft a treaty on South Asian Free Trade Area (S AFTA) The treaty was expected to lay down legally binding schedules for freeing trade among SAARC countries and to provide a predictable and transpire time path for achieving a free trade area in the region.
The eleventh SAARC Summit at Kathmandu was originally scheduled for November 1999 but had to be postponed because of the military coup in Pakistan on October 12, 1999. Eventually, the summit was held in January 2002. The highlight of the summit was the signing of a convention to prevent illegal trafficking of girl children and women for immoral purposes across the region. The delay in holding the summit, however, did not mean that SAARC remained inactive.
The sixth meeting of the Governing Board of the South Asian Development Fund (SADF) was held in Maldives on 22-23 May 2000 in which the activities of the Fund were reviewed and proposals for placing the Fund on a professional footing discussed. SAARC consortium examined proposals for cooperation in the SAARC region to promote the use of open and distance learning at all levels of education.
The growing people-to-people contact of all kinds was a notable development during the year. The third meeting of the SAARC Network of Researchers on Global, Financial and Economic issues was held at the SAARC Secretariat on October 31, 2000.
The 19th meeting of the SAARC Audio Visual Exchange Committee was held in Dhaka from 19-20 December 2000. In November 2000, a special SAARC Senior Officials’ Meeting was held in Colombo. The meeting finalised the calendar for holding the meetings of technical committee, I expert-level meetings of the South Asian Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) and the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
The SAARC Technical Committees are the primary mechanism for the implementation of the SAARC integrated programme of action (SIPA). ‘A regional meeting on Financing Renewable Energy for sustainable Development and Alleviation of Rural Poverty in South Asia’ was held in Colombo from 12- 14 June 2000, jointly with the World Energy Council.
The SAARC Law Conference, a recognised regional apex SAARC body, held its 8th Annual Conference in Nepal in September 2000. As part of its effort to improve the health sector in the South Asian region, SAARC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the WHO on August 23, 2000. The twelfth SAARC summit was held in Islamabad from 4-6 January 2004.
This summit was acclaimed by many as the two leaders of India and Pakistan met with great bonhomie that augured very well for both improvements in bilateral relations and of the development of SAARC process. This summit made far reaching recommendations in many areas of regional cooperation.
Firstly, it signed the SAARC Social charter which covers issues like poverty alleviation, population stabilisation, empowerment of women, youth mobilisation, human resource development, promotion of health and nutrition. All these are likely to have far reaching impact on the lives of millions of South Asians.
Secondly, while reaffirming reaffirming commitment to regional convention on combating terrorism signed in 1987, they signed an additional protocol to this convention to deal effectively with financing of terrorism.
Thirdly, the members signed the Framework Agreement of South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and implement the same by January 2006. And finally, the SAARC award was instituted to honour and encourage outstanding individuals and organisations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation and in other areas of regional cooperation.
The Thirteenth SAARC Summit was held in Dhaka on November 13, 2005. In the Summit, the agreement on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters, the Agreement on the Establishment of SAARC Arbitration Council and the Limited Agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, were signed by the member countries.
The Fourteenth SAARC Summit held in New Delhi on April 3-4,2007 was a historic moment for the member countries. The Heads of State or Government welcomed the entry of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into SAARC.
In addition, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, European Union, Republic of Korea and the United States of America, associated as Observers to SAARC. In the Fifteenth Summit held in Colombo, the leaders of the SAARC countries adopted the Colombo Declaration focusing on combating terrorism, energy, environment, water resources, poverty alleviation energy, transport, science and technology and education.