The 30th Year of SAARC – South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (1985)
Posted on: June 5, 2015.

After completing 29 years of operations since its inception in 1985, SAARC is currently in its 30th year of operations.

The first talks about regional co-operation happened in two separate events in 1977—a discussion between the 7th President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman and the then Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai in India and a speech given by King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal in Katmandu, calling for close regional co-operation among South Asian nations in sharing river waters. The first idea of an intergovernmental instrument for economic and geopolitical co-operation involving the eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) in South Asia and the Indian Subcontinent was put forth by Ziaur Rahman on 2 May 1980.

In a seven-nation meeting at Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April 1981, officials from the foreign ministries of all seven nations convened for the first time, to discuss the issue. While Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and The Maldives readily endorsed Bangladesh’s proposal, Pakistan and India were initially skeptical, suspecting ulterior motives. Eventually, five broad areas for regional co-operation were identified after the South Asian foreign ministries held a series of diplomatic consultations at United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York City, United States, from August to September 1981. Newer areas or regional co-op would be added in forthcoming years.

Two years hence, in an international conference in 1983, the foreign ministers of the inner seven countries (excluding Afghanistan, allegedly a Central Asian country) adopted the Declaration on SAARC and formally launched the Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in the five initial areas for regional cooperation: Agriculture, Health and Population Activities,  Meteorology, Rural Development and Telecommunications. The international conference was headed by the then Indian Minister of External Affairs, P.V. Narasimha Rao, in New Delhi, India.

The first and inaugural summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from 7-8 December 1985 during which the organization was established by the governments of the first seven member states: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Indian declaration was signed by then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Kant Kishore Bhargava became the first Indian SAARC Secretary-General (1989–91).

Afghanistan became the eighth member state to join the organization in April 2007, with which all the eight target nations became SAARC members. Furthermore, SAARC may accommodate potential further members: while Myanmar is interested in becoming an official SAARC member state, Russia and Turkey have applied for lateral participations and South Africa has participated in SAARC meetings.

The 18th and latest SAARC Summit was hosted at SAARC headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 26-27 November 2014. The 19th and next SAARC Summit will be hosted in Islamabad, Pakistan in 2016. India hosted the 2nd, 8th and 14th Summits. Though the SAARC summits convene once every 2-3 years, official leadership meetings are held each year and officials from the foreign ministries meet twice each year.

Regional Co-operation

Regional Co-operation within SAARC is localized to SAARC Regional Centres established in each of the inner seven member states. The Regional Centres are managed by a Governing Board that comprises of three sub-units:

  • Representatives from each SAARC Member State
  • The SAARC Secretary-General
  • Host Government officials from the Ministry of Foreign/External Affairs.

In addition, the Director of the Centre acts as a Member Secretary of the Governing Board which reports to the Programming Committee. The SAARC Secretariat—inaugurated in Katmandu in 1987 by King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal—is supported by the SAARC Regional Centres established in Member States, to promote regional co-operation.

SAARC Regional Centres & their locations:

Dhaka, Bangladesh
Agricultural Centre (SAC)
Meteorological Research Centre (SMRC)

Kathmandu, Nepal
Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC)
Information Centre (SIC)

New Delhi, India
Documentation Centre (SDC)
Disaster Management Centre (SDMC)

Islamabad, Pakistan
Human Resources Development Centre (SHRDC)
Energy Centre (SEC)

Male, Maldives
Coastal Zone Management Centre (SCZMC)

Thimphu, Bhutan
Forestry Centre (SFC)

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Cultural Centre (SCC)

SAARC Awards

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