Published on 21st Jan, Edition 04, 2013


The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an organization of South Asian nations, providing for the promotion of economic and social progress, cultural development within the South Asia region and also for friendship and cooperation with other developing countries. It is dedicated to economic, technological, social, and cultural development emphasizing collective self-reliance. SAARC was established on December 8, 1985 and its seven founding members are Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Afghanistan joined the organization in 2007. Meetings of heads of state are usually scheduled annually; meetings of foreign secretaries, twice annually.

1st 7-8 December 1985 Bangladesh
2nd 16-17 November 1986 India
3rd 2-4 November 1987 Nepal
4th 29-31 December 1988 Pakistan
5th 21-23 November 1990 Maldives
6th 21 December 1991 Sri Lanka
7th 10-11 April 1993 Bangladesh
8th 2-4 May 1995 India
9th 12-14 May 1997 Maldives
10th 29-31 July 1998 Sri Lanka
11th 4-6 January 2002 Nepal
12th 2-6 January 2004 Pakistan
13th 12-13 November 2005 Bangladesh
14th 3-4 April 2007 India
15th 1-3 August 2008 Sri Lanka
16th 28-29 April 2010 Bhutan
17th 10-11 November 2011 Maldives
18th 2013 Nepal
2nd 16-17 November 1986 ` SECRETARIAT

The SAARC secretariat was established in Kathmandu on January 16, 1987. 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 organizations.

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.

Political issues

The dispute over Kashmir’s accession to India has been standing in the way of the lasting peace and prosperity of the Indian subcontinent. Southern Asia can become unified just as Europe has become unified as the European Union. Political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC’s meetings which have refrained 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 area

SAPTA was envisaged primarily as the first step towards the transition to a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) leading subsequently towards a customs union, common market and economic union. In 1995, the sixteenth session of the council of Ministers (New Delhi, 18-19 December 1995) agreed on the need to strive for the realization of SAFTA and to this end an Inter-Governmental Expert Group (IGEG) was set up in 1996 to identify the necessary steps for progressing to a free trade area. The tenth SAARC summit (Colombo, 29-31 July 1998) decided to set up a Committee of Experts (COE) to draft a comprehensive treaty framework for creating a free trade area within the region, taking into consideration the asymmetries in development within the region and bearing in mind the need to fix realistic and achievable targets. The SAFTA agreement was signed in January 2004 during twelfth SAARC summit held in Islamabad. The agreement entered into force in January 2006, and the trade liberalization programme commenced from July 2006.

Visa exemption scheme

The SAARC visa exemption scheme was launched in 1992. The leaders at the fourth summit (Islamabad, 29-31 December 1988), while realizing the importance of having people to people contacts, among the peoples of SAARC countries, decided that certain categories of dignitaries should be entitled to a special travel document, which would exempt them from visas within the region. As directed by the summit, the council of ministers regularly kept under review the list of entitled categories. Currently the list included 24 categories of entitled persons, which include dignitaries, judges of higher courts, parliamentarians, senior officials, businessmen, journalists, sportsmen etc. The visa stickers are issued by the respective member states to the entitled categories of that particular country. The validity of the visa sticker is generally for one year. The implementation is reviewed regularly by the immigration authorities of SAARC member states.


The twelfth summit (Islamabad, January 2004) approved the institution of the SAARC award to honour and encourage outstanding individuals and organizations within the region. The main objectives of the SAARC award are: to encourage individuals and organizations based in South Asia to undertake programmes and activities complementing the efforts of SAARC, to encourage individuals and organizations in South Asia contributing to the improvement of the conditions of women and children, to honour outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals and organizations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation, environment protection and regional cooperation making the SAARC award the most prestigious award in the region and to honour any other outstanding contributions and achievements, not covered above, of individuals and organizations in the region.


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