South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

  Member states   Observer states
  Member states
  Observer states
Official languages English
Demonym South Asian
Member states
   Secretary-General Arjun Bahadur Thapa[1]
Establishment 8 December 1985
   Total 5,099,611 km2 (7th)
1,968,971 sq mi
   Water (%) 6.8
   2015 estimate 1,713,870,000[2] (1st)
   Density 336.1/km2
870.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2015 estimate
   Total US$9.9 trillion [3] (3rd)
GDP (nominal) 2015 estimate
   Total US$ 2.9 trillion[3] (5th)
Time zone (UTC+4:30 to +6)
Calling code
Internet TLD .asia[lower-alpha 1]

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia. Its member states include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. SAARC comprises 3% of the world's area, 21% of the world's population and 9.12% of the global economy, as of 2015.

SAARC was founded in Dhaka in 1985.[4] Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu. The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.[5] It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006. SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

Historical background

Maldives Bangladesh Bhutan Nepal Sri Lanka India Myanmar Thailand Cambodia Laos Vietnam Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines Singapore Afghanistan Pakistan Turkmenistan Iran Azerbaijan Kazakhstan Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan Uzbekistan China Russia Turkey Japan Mongolia South Korea Bahrain Kuwait Oman Qatar Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation Mekong–Ganga Cooperation Association of Southeast Asian Nations Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Turkic Council Economic Cooperation Organization Gulf Cooperation Council Asia Cooperation Dialogue
A clickable Euler diagram showing the relationships between various Asian regional organisations vde

The idea of co-operation in South Asia was discussed in at least three conferences: the Asian Relations Conference held in New Delhi on April 1947; the Baguio Conference in the Philippines on May 1950; and the Colombo Powers Conference held in Sri Lanka in April 1954.[6]

In the ending years of the 1970s, the seven inner South Asian nations that included Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka agreed upon the creation of a trade bloc and to provide a platform for the people of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust, and understanding. President Ziaur Rahman later addressed official letters to the leaders of the countries of the South Asia, presenting his vision for the future of the region and the compelling arguments for region.[7] During his visit to India in December 1977, Rahman discussed the issue of regional cooperation with the Indian Prime Minister, Morarji Desai. In the inaugural speech to the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee which met in Kathmandu also in 1977, King Birendra of Nepal gave a call for close regional cooperation among South Asian countries in sharing river waters.[8] After the USSR's intervention in Afghanistan, the efforts to established the union was accelerated in 1979 and the resulting rapid deterioration of South Asian security situation.[8] Responding to Rahman and Birendra's convention, the officials of the foreign ministries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.[8] The Bangladeshi proposal was promptly endorsed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives but India and Pakistan were sceptical initially.[8] The Indian concern was the proposal’s reference to the security matters in South Asia and feared that Rahman's proposal for a regional organisation might provide an opportunity for new smaller neighbours to renationalise all bilateral issues and to join with each other to form an opposition against India. Pakistan assumed that it might be an Indian strategy to organise the other South Asian countries against Pakistan and ensure a regional market for Indian products, thereby consolidating and further strengthening India’s economic dominance in the region.[8]

However, after a series of quiet diplomatic consultations between South Asian foreign ministers at the UN headquarters in New York from August to September 1980, it was agreed that Bangladesh would prepare the draft of a working paper for discussion among the foreign secretaries of South Asian countries.[8] The foreign secretaries of the inner seven countries again delegated a Committee of the Whole in Colombo on September 1981, which identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. New areas of co-operation were added in the following years.[9]

In 1983, the international conference held by Indian Minister of External Affairs P.V. Narasimha Rao in New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the inner seven countries adopted the Declaration on South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and formally launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) initially in five agreed areas of cooperation namely, Agriculture; Rural Development; Telecommunications; Meteorology; and Health and Population Activities.[10]

Officially, the union was established in Dhaka with Kathmandu being union's secretariat-general.[11] The first SAARC summit was held in Dhaka on 7–8 December 1985 and hosted by the President of Bangladesh Hussain Ershad.[12] The declaration signed by King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, President of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq, Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, King of Nepal Birendra Shah, President of Sri Lanka JR Jayewardene, and President of Maldives Maumoon Gayoom.[12]

Members and observers

Economic data is sourced from the International Monetary Fund, current as of April 2015, and is given in US dollars.[13]


Country Population(Million) GDP
GDP per Capita
GDP Growth Rate
Foreign Direct Investment
Foreign Exchange Reserves(million) Defense Budget(% of GDP)
Literacy Rate(Given Age & above) Life Expectancy Population below Poverty Line Primary School Enrollment [15] Secondary School enrollment [16] Population undernourished(%)








 Afghanistan 32.007$21.3 bn$63.5 bn$1,9763.2%$0.3 bnN/A$6,442N/A28.1%(Age 15)6015.8%N/A54%26.8% 0.465






 Bangladesh 159.857 $205.3 bn$572.6 bn$3,5816.2%$31.2 bn$0.66 bn$24,072$2.2 bn(1.2%)57.7%(Age 15)7031.5%92%54%16.4% 0.570






 Bhutan 0.779$2.2 bn $6.3 bn$8,1586.4%$0.7 bn$63 mlnN/AN/A52.8%(age 15)6823.7%91%78%N/A 0.605






 India 1,276.2 $2308.0 bn$7996.6 bn$6,266 7.3% $464.0 bn$31.0 bn $351,557$45 bn(1.9%)74.4%(age 15)6721.9%94%69%15.2% 0.609






 Maldives 0.38$3.0 bn $5.2 bn$14,9804.5%$0.28 bnN/A$356N/A99%(age 15)7716%N/AN/A5.2% 0.706


__ __
   Nepal 28.4$21.6 bn $70.7 bn$2,4885.5%$1.0 bn$10 mln$5,439N/A66%(age 15)6825.2% 98%67%7.8% 0.548






 Pakistan 190.4$250 bn$928.0bn$4,8864.2%$25.1 bn$0.709 bn(2014)$16,305$7.4 bn(3.5%)55%(age 15)6622.6%72%34%22% 0.538






 Sri Lanka 21.7$80.4 bn $233.7 bn $11,068 7%$11.8 bn$0.9 bn$8,314$1.4 bn(2.3%)98.1%(age 15)75 8.9% 94%99% 22% 0.756






The member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.[18]

SAARC was founded by seven states in 1985. In 2005, Afghanistan began negotiating their accession to SAARC and formally applied for membership on the same year.[19][20] The issue of Afghanistan joining SAARC generated a great deal of debate in each member state, including concerns about the definition of South Asian identity because Afghanistan is a Central Asian country.[21]

The SAARC member states imposed a stipulation for Afghanistan to hold a general election; the non-partisan elections were held in late 2005.[21] Despite initial reluctance and internal debates, Afghanistan joined SAARC as its eighth member state in April 2007.[21][22]


States with observer status include[23] Australia,[24] China, the European Union,[25] Iran, Japan,[25] Mauritius,[26] Myanmar, South Korea and the United States.[27]

On 2 August 2006, the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to three applicants;[28] the US and South Korea (both made requests in April 2006),[28] as well as the European Union (requested in July 2006).[29] On 4 March 2007, Iran requested observer status,[30] followed shortly by Mauritius.

Potential future members

Myanmar has expressed interest in upgrading its status from an observer to a full member of SAARC.[31] Russia has applied for observer status membership of SAARC.[32][33][34] Turkey applied for observer status membership of SAARC in 2012.[32][33][34] South Africa has participated in meetings.[35]


Secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu, Nepal

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

Regional Centres

The SAARC Secretariat is supported by following Regional Centres established in the Member States to promote regional co-operation. These Centres are managed by Governing Boards comprising representatives from all the Member States, SAARC Secretary-General and the Ministry of Foreign/External Affairs of the Host Government. The Director of the Centre acts as Member Secretary to the Governing Board which reports to the Programming Committee.

Regional Centre Location Country Website
SAARC Agricultural Centre (SAC) Dhaka Bangladesh Official website
SAARC Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC) Dhaka Bangladesh Official website
SAARC Forestry Centre (SFC) Thimphu Bhutan Official website
SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Thimphu Bhutan Official website
SAARC Documentation Centre (SDC) New Delhi India Official website
SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC) New Delhi India Official website
SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre (SCZMC) Malé Maldives Official website
SAARC Information Centre (SIC) Kathmandu Nepal Official website
SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC) Kathmandu Nepal Official website
SAARC Human Resources Development Centre (SHRDC) Islamabad Pakistan Official website
SAARC Energy Centre (SEC) Islamabad Pakistan Official website
SAARC Cultural Centre (SCC) Colombo Sri Lanka Official website

Apex and Recognised Bodies

SAARC has six Apex Bodies,[36] they are-

Hemant Batra is the current incumbent Secretary General of SAARCLAW.

SAARC also has about 17 recognised bodies.[36]

Political issues

Lasting peace and prosperity in the Indian subcontinent has been elusive because of the various ongoing conflicts in the region. Political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings which have refrained from interfering in the internal matters of its member states.[38] During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.[39][40]

South Asian Free Trade Area

Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

SAFTA 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 the 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 realisation 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 on 6 January 2004 during Twelfth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad, Pakistan. The Agreement entered into force on 1 January 2006, and the Trade Liberalisation Programme commenced from 1 July 2006. Under this agreement, SAARC members will bring their duties down to 20 percent by 2009. Following the Agreement coming into force the SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC) has been established comprising the Commerce Ministers of the Member States.[41] In 2012 the SAARC exports increased substantially to US$354.6 billion from US$206.7 billion in 2009. Imports too increased from US$330 billion to US$602 billion over the same period. But the intra-SAARC trade amounts to just a little over 1% of SAARC's GDP. In contrast, in ASEAN (which is actually smaller than SAARC in terms of the size of the economy) the intra-bloc trade stands at 10% of its GDP.

SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme

The SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme was launched in 1992. The leaders at the Fourth Summit (Islamabad, 29–31 December 1988), while realising 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.[42]



The Twelfth Summit approved the SAARC Award to support individuals and organisations within the region. The main aims of the SAARC Award are:

The SAARC Award consists of a gold medal, a letter of citation, and cash prize of US $25,000 (15 lakhs). Since the institution of the SAARC Award in 2004, it has been awarded only once and the Award was posthumously conferred upon the late President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh.[43]

SAARC Literary Award

Recipients of SAARC Literary Award 2013

The SAARC Literary Award is an annual award conferred by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) since 2001[44][45] which is an apex SAARC body.[46] Shamshur Rahman, Mahasweta Devi, Jayanta Mahapatra, Abhi Subedi, Mark Tully, Sitakant Mahapatra, Uday Prakash, Suman Pokhrel and Abhay K are some of the prominent recipients of this award.[47]

Nepali poet, lyricist and translator Suman Pokhrel is the only poet/writer to get this award twice.[48]

SAARC Youth Award

The SAARC Youth Award is awarded to outstanding individuals from the SAARC region. The award is notable because of the recognition it gives to the Award winner in the SAARC region. The award is based on specific themes which apply to each year. The award recognises and promotes the commitment and talent of the youth who give back to the world at large through various initiatives such as Inventions, Protection of the Environment and Disaster relief. The recipients who receive this award are ones who have dedicated their lives to their individual causes to improve situations in their own countries as well as paving a path for the SAARC region to follow. The Committee for the SAARC Youth Award selects the best candidate based on his/her merits and their decision is final.

Previous Winners:


SAARC does not have an official anthem like some other regional organisations (e.g. ASEAN).[49] A poem by poet-diplomat Abhay Kumar spurred a search for a better SAARC anthem.[50] Nepal's foreign minister has expressed the need for an SAARC anthem to connect SAARC nations.[51] Nepal at the 18th summit in Kathmandu in November 2014 planned to introduce proposal for an SAARC Anthem in the agenda of summit when heads of all member states meet here.[49]

Secretaries-General of SAARC

# Name Country Took office Left office
1 Abul Ahsan  Bangladesh 16 January 1985 15 October 1989
2 Kant Kishore Bhargava  India 17 October 1989 31 December 1991
3 Ibrahim Hussein Zaki  Maldives 1 January 1992 31 December 1993
4 Yadav Kant Silwal    Nepal 1 January 1994 31 December 1995
5 Naeem U. Hasan  Pakistan 1 January 1996 31 December 1998
6 Nihal Rodrigo  Sri Lanka 1 January 1999 10 January 2002
7 Q. A. M. A. Rahim  Bangladesh 11 January 2002 28 February 2005
8 Chenkyab Dorji  Bhutan 1 March 2005 29 February 2008
9 Sheel Kant Sharma  India 1 March 2008 28 February 2011
10 Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed  Maldives 1 March 2011 11 March 2012
11 Ahmed Saleem  Maldives 12 March 2012 28 February 2014
12 Arjun Bahadur Thapa    Nepal 1 March 2014 (present)

SAARC summits

No Date Country Host Host leader
1st 7–8 December 1985 Bangladesh Dhaka Ataur Rahman Khan
2nd 16–17 November 1986 India Bengaluru Rajiv Gandhi
3rd 2–4 November 1987 Nepal Kathmandu Marich Man Singh Shrestha
4th 29–31 December 1988 Pakistan Islamabad Benazir Bhutto
5th 21–23 November 1990 Maldives Malé Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
6th 21 December 1991 Sri Lanka Colombo Ranasinghe Premadasa
7th 10–11 April 1993 Bangladesh Dhaka Khaleda Zia
8th 2–4 May 1995 India New Delhi P V Narasimha Rao
9th 12–14 May 1997 Maldives Malé Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
10th 29–31 July 1998 Sri Lanka Colombo Chandrika Kumaratunga
11th 4–6 January 2002 Nepal Kathmandu Sher Bahadur Deuba
12th 2–6 January 2004 Pakistan Islamabad Zafarullah Khan Jamali
13th 12–13 November 2005 Bangladesh Dhaka Khaleda Zia
14th 3–4 April 2007 India New Delhi Manmohan Singh
15th 1–3 August 2008 Sri Lanka Colombo Mahinda Rajapaksa
16th 28–29 April 2010 Bhutan Thimphu Jigme Thinley
17th 10–11 November 2011[52] Maldives Addu Mohammed Nasheed
18th 26–27 November 2014[53] Nepal Kathmandu Sushil Koirala
19th 9–10 November 2016 PakistanIslamabad Canceled

Current leaders of SAARC

See also


  1. .asia is representative of all of Asia; member states also have their own TLDs.


  1. "Nepal's Arjun Bahadur Thapa is SAARC's new Secretary General". Biharprabha News. IANS. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  2. "World Urbanization Prospects — Population Division — United Nations".
  3. 1 2 "Report for Selected Countries and Subjects".
  4. "Rest in peace SAARC: The tug of war between India and Pakistan".
  5. "Charter of SAARC". SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  7. "History and mission of SAARC". Daily News. Colombo. 1 August 2008. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Muhammad, Jamshed Iqbal. "SAARC: Origin, Growth, Potential and Achievements" (PDF). National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research in Islamabad. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  9. "A Brief on SAARC." South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. No date. See for a complete historical account of SAARC e.g. Michael, Arndt (2013). India's Foreign Policy and Regional Multilateralism (Palgrave Macmillan), pp. 57–112.
  10. "History and Evolution of SAARC". Jang Media Research Unit. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  11. "About SAARC". SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  12. 1 2 "1st Summit Declaration" (PDF). SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  13. "Report for Selected Countries and Subjects".
  14. "The World Factbook".
  15. "Net enrolment rate, primary, both sexes (%) - Data".
  16. "Gross enrolment ratio, secondary, both sexes (%) - Data".
  17. UN
  18. "South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation". SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 27 June 2014.
  19. "Afghanistan keen to join SAARC". rediff web services. 28 August 2005. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  20. "Afghanistan inducted as 8th member: 14th Saarc summit begins". Dawn. 4 April 2004. Retrieved 11 November 2013.
  21. 1 2 3 Sáez, Lawrence (2012). The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC): An emerging collaboration architecture. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 58–. ISBN 978-1-136-67108-1.
  22. "South Asia: Afghanistan Joins World's Largest Regional Grouping." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 3 April 2007.
  23. "Cooperation with Observers". SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
  24. "Sri Lanka, 7 - 30 - 2008: Australia and Myanmar to admit as SAARC observers - Sri Lanka official". ColomboPage.
  25. 1 2
  26. "The Island-News".
  27. "Cooperation with Observers". SAARC Secretariat. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  28. 1 2 "SAARC to grant observer status to US, S Korea, EU." Hindustan Times. 2 August 2006.
  29. Waliur Rahman. "US and S Korea to observe SAARC." BBC News, 11 April 2008.
  30. "Iran requests for observer status in SAARC". China Daily. 4 March 2007.
  31. SAARC and Myanmar: Observer Research Foundation
  32. 1 2 "Russia, Turkey seek observer status in SAARC". The Economic Times. IANS. 16 February 2014.
  33. 1 2 SAARC The Changing Dimensions: UNU-CRIS Working Papers United Nations University, Comparative Regional Integration Studies
  34. 1 2 Russia keen to join SAARC as observer, Oneindia News
  35. "SAARC nations call for transparency in social sector".
  36. 1 2 "South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation — Apex and Recognised Bodies".
  37. "SAARCLAW — South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation in Law".
  38. See for this aspect Michael, Arndt (2013). Sovereignty vs. Security: SAARC and its Role in the Regional Security Architecture in South Asia. Harvard Asia Quarterly Summer 2013, Vol. VX, No.2: 37-45
  39. Jhawar, Shiv (2004). Building a Noble World. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-9749197-0-6.
  40. "The Nobel Peace Prize for 2012". Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  41. "South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation — Area of Cooperation".
  42. "South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation — SAARC Visa Exemption Scheme".
  43. "South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation — SAARC Award".
  44. FOSWAL Website
  45. Five Writers honoured at SAARC Litearure Festival, Hindustan Times 11 March 2013
  46. Official website of SAARC:Apex and Recognized Bodies
  47. Mahasweta Devi to get SAARC Literary Award 30 March 2007
  48. Hindustan Times, New Delhi, Saturday, 14 February 2015
  49. 1 2 Will SAARC have an anthem like ASEAN? Hindustan Times, 3 November 2014
  50. Indian diplomat's poem spurs search for SAARC anthem IANS 9 January 2014
  51. Nepal foreign minister expresses need for an anthem to connect SAARC nations Business Standard, 6 June 2014
  52. "Maldives holiday reviews — Travel Guides — Maldives Traveller".
  53. "Press Releases, 18th SAARC Summit Declaration, November 27, 2014". SAARC. Retrieved 2 December 2015.

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