South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) - An Overview

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a conference on Regional Economic Integration where the areas of concern- poverty, disease, environmental degradation, etc. were discussed and strategies were planned to minimize these issues at a faster pace.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is an intergovernmental organization for the development of economic and regional integration. The organization has the support of different countries known as member-state.

The below-table gives a quick overview on some of the important points concerning South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) 

SAARC Established in 1985 (December 8), Dhaka (Bangladesh)
Number of Member Countries in SAARC 8 Countries – India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan,Afghanistan, Pakistan.
Number of Observers in SAARC 9 Observers – Australia, European Union (E.U), Iran, Japan, Mauritius, South Korea, United States of America (USA), China, Myanmar.
SAARC Headquarters Kathmandu, Nepal
Launch of SAARC Satellite for South Asia 2017
SAARC Specialized Bodies
  1. South Asian University (SAU) – India
  2. South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) – Dhaka
  3. SAARC Development Fund (SDF) – Bhutan
  4. SAARC Arbitration Council (SARCO) – Pakistan                   
1st Secretary General of SAARC Abul Ahsan (Bangladesh)
Current Secretary-General of SAARC Esala Ruwan Weerakoon (Sri Lanka) – Took office from 1st March 2020.
Last Member to Join SAARC Afghanistan (April 2007)
Last SAARC Summit 19th SAARC Summit in Pakistan (Cancelled)

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SAARC comprises the following member states:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Bangladesh
  3. Bhutan
  4. India
  5. Maldives
  6. Nepal
  7. Pakistan
  8. Sri Lanka

SAARC was founded by seven states in 1985. In 2005, Afghanistan requested its accession to SAARC and formally applied for membership in the same year.

This organization was formed in Dhaka on December 8, 1985, and its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.

SAARC – Observer States

  1. Australia
  2. China
  3. European union
  4. Iran
  5. Japan
  6. Mauritius
  7. United States
  8. Korea

SAARC Potential Future Members

Myanmar has requested its status up-gradation from Observer to a unified member state. Similarly, Turkey and Russia have also applied for membership.

SAARC – Historical background

The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was first initiated in May 1980. The Foreign Secretaries of the then seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. Five key areas for regional cooperation were identified and with time other important areas were added later.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was set up when its Charter was formally adopted on 8 December 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

Also, learn more about the Bay of Bengal Initiative on Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation BIMSTEC), a multilateral organization that is of relevance to India from a Geo-political perspective.

SAARC – Objectives

The main motto of the organization is to work towards a common goal of achieving social, cultural, economic growth for all the people belonging to the above regions.

The Regional Integrated Programme of Action covers the following aspects:

  1. Agriculture and Rural Development
  2. Women, Youth, and Children
  3. Health and Population Activities
  4. Science and Technology and Meteorology
  5. Environment and Forestry
  6. Human Resource Development, and
  7. Transport

Working Groups have also been established in the following areas:

  1. Biotechnology
  2. Information and Communications Technology
  3. Intellectual Property Rights
  4. Energy
  5. Tourism

SAARC – Structure

SAARC has the following structure:

  1. Council – It is the apex policy-making body. The council is represented by government heads of the respective member countries.
  2. Council of Ministers – The Council of Ministers comprises the foreign ministers and they meet generally two times annually.

Council of Ministers – Functions

  1. Policy formulation
  2. Reviewing the progress of regional cooperation
  3. Identifying newer areas of cooperation, and
  4. Setting up additional mechanisms as required

Standing Committee

It comprises the foreign secretariat of the member countries. The major functions of the standing committee are stated below:

  1. To monitor and coordinate the programs
  2. To deal with modalities of financing
  3. To mobilize cooperation within and outside the region

Programming Committee

It comprises senior officials of the member governments. The major functions of this committee are as follows:

  1. Finalizing the annual meet schedule
  2. Budget scrutinization
  3. External activities assigned by the standing committee

Technical Committee

It consists of representatives of the member nations. The major functions of the committee are as follows:

  1. To formulate projects and monitor the same
  2. To submit reports


It is headed by the Secretary-general appointed by the Council of Ministers.The main functions of the Secretariat are as follows:

  1. Coordination and execution of activities conducted by SAARC
  2. Monitoring the SAARC meetings
  3. Work as a communication link between SAARC and other international summits and forums.

SAARC – Regional Centres

Regional Centres established in Member Countries are the supporting pillars to the secretariat for promoting regional cooperation. These Regional Centres are managed by respective Governing entities comprising representatives from Member States, SAARC Secretary-General, and the Ministry of Foreign/External Affairs of the host government.

SAARC – Specialized Bodies

The specialized bodies are created by the member states and their structure is different from the regional centers. The management is taken care of by the representatives of the member states, ministry of foreign affairs of the host government.

The different SAARC specialized bodies are given below:

  1. SAARC Arbitration Council (SARCO) – Pakistan
  2. SAARC Development Fund (SDF) – Bhutan
  3. South Asian University (SAU) – India
  4. South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) – Dhaka

SAARC – Latest News

  1. Recently SAARC member countries turned down Pakistan’s proposal to host the grouping’s pending summit meeting. 
  2. Indian Foreign Minister, S Jaishankar had recently noted that cross-border terrorism, obstructing trade, blocking connectivity are three key challenges that SAARC must overcome”.
  3. Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali had recently urged the SAARC member nations to explore all the viable options to convene the 19th summit of the eight-member regional body at an early date, underlining the need for deeper engagement to collectively fight COVID-19 and develop regional resilience to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
  4. India’s proposal to launch a COVID-19 Emergency Fund was given positive reception by SAARC nations. Within days, all the countries, except Pakistan, contributed to it voluntarily.


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