South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
Note: As of April 2007, this file will no longer be updated.
Membership: Eight states―Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Six observers—China, Japan, European Union, Republic of Korea, United States, Iran
The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was first raised in November 1980. After consultations, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. This was followed a few months later by a meeting of the Committee of the Whole, which identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. The foreign ministers, at their first meeting in New Delhi in August 1983, adopted the Declaration on South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and formally launched the Integrated Program of Action (IPA) in the five agreed areas of cooperation: agriculture; rural development; telecommunications; meteorology; and health and population activities. Later, transport; postal services; scientific and technological cooperation; and sports, arts, and culture were added to the IPA. Afghanistan became the newest member of SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005. China and Japan were granted observer status at the same.
Purposes: The SAARC seeks to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia, strengthen collective self-reliance, promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in various fields, and cooperate with international and regional organizations.
Meetings of Heads of State or Government: Meetings are held at the Summit level, usually on an annual basis. To date, 14 Summits have convened: Dhaka (1985), Bangalore (1986), Kathmandu (1987), Islamabad (1988), Malé (1990), Colombo (1991), Dhaka (1993), New Delhi (1995), Malé (1997), Colombo (1998), Kathmandu (2002), Islamabad (2004), Dhaka (2005), and New Delhi (2007)
The Heads of State or Government during the Ninth SAARC Summit agreed that a process of informal political consultations would prove useful in promoting peace, stability, amity, and accelerated socio-economic cooperation in the region.
Council of Ministers: The Council, comprising the Foreign Ministers of Member States, generally meets twice a year. The Council may also meet in extraordinary circumstances by agreement of Member States.
Standing Committee of Foreign Secretaries: The Committee provides overall monitoring and coordination, determines priorities, mobilizes resources, and approves projects and financing. It may meet as often as deemed necessary but in practice normally meets twice a year and submits its reports to the Council of Ministers. The Standing Committee may also set up Action Committees comprising Member States concerned with implementation of projects per Article VII of the Charter. The Standing Committee is assisted by a Programming Committee, an ad hoc body, comprising senior officials, to scrutinize the Secretariat Budget, finalize the Calendar of Activities, and take up any other matter assigned to it by the Standing Committee. The Programming Committee also has been entrusted to consider the reports of the Technical Committees and the SAARC Regional Centers and submit its comments to the Standing Committee.
Secretariat: The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 16 January 1987. Its role is to coordinate and monitor the implementation of SAARC activities, service the meetings of the association and serve as the channel of communication between SAARC and other international organizations.
The Secretariat comprises the secretary-general, seven directors, and the general services staff. The secretary-general is appointed by the Council of Ministers on the principle of rotation, for a non-renewable tenure of three years.
2007: The Fourteenth Summit, held on 3 — 4 April, welcomed the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as a full fledged member of SAARC. China, Japan, European Union, Republic of Korea United States of America, and Iran were welcomed as observers.
At the summit, the members also discussed implementation strategies of the SAARC development fund, a SAARC food bank and the South Asia University.
The Heads of State or Government again underscored the importance of controlling terrorism in the region, calling on deepened cooperation and improvements on implementing the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and the Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention. Member states continued to stress the importance of achieving a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
The 15th Summit will be held in the Maldives in 2008.
2006: In April, both the United States and the Democratic Republic of Korea made formal requests to SAARC to be granted observer status. The European Union also expressed interest in receiving observer status and is expected to make a formal request to the SAARC Council of Ministers at its forthcoming meeting in July.
The first SAARC Conference of Home Ministers convened in Dhaka on 11 May. The agenda was dominated by issues of terrorism and the trafficking of humans and drugs. Ministers adopted a nine point resolution to fight terrorism and drug trafficking in the region by expediting the existing SAARC mechanism and sharing information and experiences among member states. They committed to strengthen cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Ministers discussed steps taken by member countries to implement two SAARC conventions related to terrorism and drug abuse, as well as methods to execute the Additional Protocol on the Financing of Terrorism. A proposal to establish a regional law enforcement agency—SAARCPOL—was referred to ministers for further study. The proposal will be discussed at the 2nd Home Ministers' meeting scheduled to convene in India in 2007, after a meeting of SAARC police chiefs in Pakistan in December 2006.
2005: On 22 February, Iran's foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi indicated Iran's interest in joining SAARC, stating that the country's borders with South Asia could provide the region with "East-West connectivity."
SAARC foreign ministers attended the 26th meeting of the Council of Ministers in Dhaka from 10-11 November. Ministers adopted the 22 SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) and reiterated their earlier decision to put the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) into effect on 1 January 2006. They discussed the question of according Afghanistan SAARC membership and considered at length China's request to establish ties with SAARC. They also approved three major trade-related agreements along with a draft of the Dhaka declaration, to be signed by leaders at the upcoming summit.
The 13th Annual SAARC Summit was held in Dhaka from 12-13 November. The summit dealt specifically with areas such as poverty alleviation, economic cooperation, counter-terrorism, disaster management, and the implementation of SAFTA. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was welcomed as the eighth member of SAARC. China and Japan were accorded observer status. Member countries adopted the 53-point Dhaka declaration aimed at focusing regional cooperation in South Asia to accelerate growth and progress. They expressed their determination to unite in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism, noting United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 in this regard. They also emphasized the need for an early conclusion of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Member states agreed to strengthen their cooperation in important areas such as exchange of information, coordination, and cooperation among their relevant agencies. Leaders expressed satisfaction at the ratification of the Additional Protocol to the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism by all member states and called for establishing effective mechanisms for its implementation. Recognizing the specific vulnerability of the sovereignty and independence of small states, they resolutely committed to protect the interest and security of these states through the pursuit of appropriate policies and actions. Other key events included endorsement of the SDGs and establishment of the SAARC Poverty Alleviation Fund. Member states also participated in bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit.
The 14th SAARC Summit was scheduled to convene in New Delhi in January 2007.
2004: The 24th meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers convened in Islamabad, Pakistan from 2-3 January. The Ministers reached a consensus regarding the text of an Additional Protocol to the 1987 SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism which addresses issues involving the funding of terrorism. The Protocol was designed to strengthen the Convention "by criminalizing the provision, collection or acquisition of funds for the purpose of committing terrorist acts" and by increasing efforts to prevent the financing of terrorism. Specifically, it encourages States to hold individuals or groups that have committed terrorist-related offenses liable domestically, and to implement practical measures and adapt domestic legislation to prevent and suppress terrorist financing. The Ministers also adopted several other documents, including the final draft of a document establishing a South Asian Free Trade Area and a Social Charter.
The Council of Ministers meeting was directly followed by the Twelfth SAARC Summit of the Heads of State and Government, which convened, also in Islamabad, from 4-6 January. At the Summit, leaders addressed means of increasing regional cooperation in the areas of economics; poverty alleviation; science and technology development; social, cultural and environmental issues; and terrorism prevention. They signed the Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism approved days earlier by the Council of Ministers. It will enter into force 30 days after the final instrument of ratification is deposited. Furthermore, counter- terrorism was a major topic addressed in the Summit Declaration. Heads of State and Government condemned terrorist violence in all forms and stated that terrorism continues to be a major threat in South Asia, as well as a challenge to all States worldwide. They also stressed that terrorism violates the United Nations and SAARC charters and reaffirmed their commitment to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression on Terrorism in addition to other relevant international conventions to which they are party.
Foreign ministers of the SAARC States met in Islamabad for the 25th session of the Council of Ministers meeting from 20-21 July. With Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri serving as chairman, the Ministers reviewed progress made in implementing decisions reached at the January Summit, including counter-terrorism efforts, and continued preliminary preparations for the 13th annual summit in 2005. They also engaged in discussion regarding poverty alleviation; financial cooperation; and energy, environmental; and social issues. They approved plans of action in some of these areas. Ministers also approved the nomination of Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorj of Bhutan as the next SAARC Secretary-General.
2002: The 22nd session of the Council of Ministers was held from 2-3 January in Kathmandu, Nepal. Among other topics, the ministers discussed implementation of the SAARC Regional Convention on Terrorism, stressing its significance in light of recent developments. They additionally issued recommendations on a range of other topics to the 11th Summit.
The 11th SAARC Summit was convened in Kathmandu on 4-6 January. In the Summit declaration, the Heads of State or Government were of the view that stability, peace, and security in South Asia should be promoted together with efforts to improve the global security environment. They underscored their commitment to general and complete disarmament including nuclear disarmament on a universal basis, under effective international control. They agreed that global nonproliferation goals could not be achieved in the absence of progress towards nuclear disarmament and in this context called upon all nuclear weapon States (NWS), whether party or non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to engage constructively through a transparent and credible process of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The leaders also recognized the linkage between disarmament and development.
The Heads of State or Government recognized that due to their particular vulnerability, small States require special measures for support from the international community for the safeguarding of their sovereign independence and territorial integrity. They reiterated that the real protection of small States should be firmly rooted in the scrupulous adherence to the UN Charter, and the rule of law and the strict adherence to universally accepted principles and norms related to sovereign rights and territorial integrity of all States, irrespective of size.
The Heads of State or Government were convinced that terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, is a challenge to all States and to all of humanity, and cannot be justified on ideological, political, religious, or on any other ground. The leaders agreed that terrorism violates the fundamental values of the United Nations and the SAARC Charter and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security in the 21st century. In this regard, they emphasized the need for the urgent conclusion of a Comprehensive Convention on Combating International Terrorism. They also emphasized that international cooperation to combat terrorism should be conducted in conformity with the UN Charter, international law, and relevant international conventions.
They also reiterated their support of UNSC Resolution 1373 of 28 September 2001 and affirmed their determination to redouble efforts, collectively as well as individually, to prevent and suppress terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Such efforts would include increased cooperation and full implementation of the relevant international conventions relating to terrorism to which they are parties. In this context, they called on all States to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts by criminalizing the collection of funds for such acts and refraining from organizing, instigating, assisting, or participating in terrorist acts in States or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts. The leaders reaffirmed that the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations had to be comprehensive and sustained.
The Heads of State or Government were unanimous in recognizing the distinct ominous link between terrorism, drug-trafficking, money laundering, and other trans-national crimes and emphasized the need to coordinate efforts at the national and regional levels to strengthen the global response to this serious challenge and threat to international security. They called upon the international community to assist Member States of SAARC to deal effectively with the adverse economic effects of terrorism in general and to meet the rising insurance and security-related costs in particular.
The Heads of State or Government reaffirmed their commitment to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, which, among other things, recognizes the seriousness of the problem of terrorism as it affects the security, stability, and development of the region. They also reiterated their firm resolve to accelerate the enactment of enabling legislation within a definite time-frame for the full implementation of the Convention, together with strengthening the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk and the SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk.
Also in January, Qama Rahim of Bangladesh became SAARC Secretary-General. He succeeded Sri Lanka's Nihal Rodrigo, who completed a three-year term.
On 21-22 August, the twenty-third session of the SAARC Council of Ministers was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. In recognition of the need to update the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism on account of the obligations devolving on Member States under UNSC Resolution 1373 and the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, the Council decided to hold a meeting of senior officials assisted by legal experts. The meeting of the senior officials, which is to be held in Sri Lanka, will also prepare the ground for a Ministerial-level meeting.
1998: In the declaration of the 10th SAARC Summit in July, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Member States were of the view that stability, peace, and security in South Asia could not be considered in isolation from global security environment. They noted that the great power rivalry, which the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had consistently opposed, no longer posed a serious threat and the danger of a global nuclear conflagration had abated. However, some States still sought to maintain huge arsenals of nuclear weapons and the NPT and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to which some SAARC Members were signatories, had not led to any progress towards nuclear disarmament nor prevented proliferation. The Member States underscored their commitment to the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and the need for promoting nuclear disarmament on a universal basis, under effective international control. They recognized that global nonproliferation goals could not be achieved in the absence of progress towards nuclear disarmament and in this context called upon all NWS, whether party or non-party to the NPT, to engage constructively through a transparent and credible process of negotiations at the CD. The Member States urged the CD to commence negotiations on a comprehensive, universal, and non-discriminatory international instrument prohibiting the use or the threat of nuclear weapons as well as eliminating such weapons in existing arsenals.
1997: In the declaration of the Ninth SAARC Summit in May, in Malé, Maldives, the Member States recognized the need for the international community to pursue nuclear disarmament as a matter of highest priority. In this regard, they recognized the need to start negotiations through the CD and to establish a phased program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time, including a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
1995: In the declaration of the Eighth SAARC Summit in May 1995, in New Delhi, India, the Member States noted that while the international community had successfully created a norm against chemical and biological weapons, it had, unfortunately, been unable to do the same with regard to nuclear weapons. They expressed the conviction that more needed to be done and at a far greater pace. They reiterated that the utmost priority was to be given to nuclear disarmament, given the danger posed by nuclear weapons. The Member States urged the CD to negotiate an international convention prohibiting the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances and to undertake negotiations for the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons within a specified period of time.
1993: In the declaration of the Seventh SAARC Summit in April, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the Member States noted a number of recent positive developments in the area of nuclear, chemical, and conventional disarmament, including the agreements on bilateral arms reductions between the United States and Russia. They expressed their hope that the implementation of the far-reaching arms reduction agreed to in the Washington Agreement of June 1992 and START II signed in Moscow in January 1993 would be successfully carried out. The Member States urged all NWS to collectively endeavor to attain the ultimate goal of complete elimination of nuclear arsenals in the shortest possible time.
1991: In the declaration of the Sixth SAARC Summit in December, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Member States assessed current international developments in the political sphere particularly those that affected the lives of the people of South Asia. They noted the changing power structures in international relations and the reduction of confrontations and tensions, particularly among the United States and USSR. These have contributed to the receding of the threat of nuclear confrontation and to agreements on disarmament measures. The Member States hoped that these developments would restrain the pursuit of military power in all areas of the world and expressed hope that the peace dividend would be used for promoting the further development of developing countries. They welcomed the trend towards popularly based democratic governments in different parts of the world, including in South Asia.
1990: In the declaration of the Fifth SAARC Summit in November, in Malé, Maldives, the Member States expressed the hope that the talks between the United States and USSR on arms control would culminate in the conclusion of an agreement for substantial reduction in their nuclear arsenals leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. While welcoming the measures being considered for arms reduction at the global level, they were convinced that the objective could be best achieved through the promotion of mutual trust and confidence among the Member States. They underlined the inherent relationship between disarmament and development and called upon all countries, especially those possessing the largest nuclear and conventional arsenals, to re-channel additional financial resources, human energy, and creativity into development. Member States expressed their support for the banning of chemical weapons and early conclusion of a CTBT. In this context, they welcomed the convening of the UN Conference in January 1991 to consider amendments to the Partial Test Ban Treaty to convert it into a CTBT.
1988: In the declaration of the Fourth SAARC Summit in December, in Islamabad, Pakistan, the Member States called for the early conclusion by the CD of a CTBT and a Convention to Ban Chemical Weapons. They declared their intention to continue their efforts to contribute to the realization of the objective of halting the nuclear arms race and eliminating nuclear weapons, as well as declared their resolve to support every effort to conclude a treaty prohibiting vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons.
1987: At the Third SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, there was disagreement over a proposal by Pakistan for a South Asian treaty banning nuclear weapons; the final declaration simply noted SAARC's resolve to "contribute" to nuclear disarmament. The States also called for the early conclusion in the Geneva CD of a CTBT and a Convention to Ban Chemical Weapons, declared their intention to continue their efforts to contribute to the implementation of the objective of halting the nuclear arms race and eliminating nuclear weapons, and declared their resolve to support every effort to conclude a treaty prohibiting vertical and horizontal proliferation of nuclear weapons.
1986: In the declaration of the Second SAARC Summit in November, in Bangalore, India, the Member States noted with deep disappointment that the promise held out by the US-Soviet Summit in Reykjavik could not be realized. They, however, noted with satisfaction that the proposals made at the Summit were still on the table and expressed the earnest hope that the negotiations would be resumed without delay so that a decisive step could be taken towards realizing the ultimate goal of eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. The Member States called for the early conclusion of a CTBT.
1985: The Heads of State or Government at their First SAARC Summit held in Dhaka on 7-8 December adopted the Charter formally establishing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
In the declaration of the First SAARC Summit the Member States expressed concern at the deteriorating international political situation and the unprecedented escalation of the arms race, particularly in its nuclear aspect. They recognized that mankind was confronted with the threat of self-extinction arising from a massive accumulation of the most destructive weapons ever produced and that the arms race intensified international tension and violated the principles of the UN Charter. The Member States called upon the NWS to undertake negotiations on a CTBT leading to the complete cessation of testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. In this connection, they welcomed the recent meeting between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev in Geneva and expressed the hope that the meeting would have a positive effect on international peace and security.
Point of Contact:
Secretary-General ― Q.A.M.A. Rahim (Bangladesh)
PO Box 4222
Tel: (97 71) 221785, 221794
FAX: (97 71) 227033, 223991
Telex: 2561 SAARC NP
This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2015.
The SAARC, established in 1985, seeks to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia, promote active collaboration and mutual assistance, and cooperate with international and regional organizations.