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 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) [51] of the global economy, as of 2015.

SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. [52] Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu , Nepal. The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration . [82] 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 v • d • e

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 establish 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 diplomatic consultations headed by Bangladesh between South Asian U.N. representatives at the UN headquarters in New York, from September 1979 to 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 in Dhaka by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 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. [6]

Officially, the union was established in Dhaka with Kathmandu being union's secretariat-general. [10] The first SAARC summit was held in Dhaka on 7–8 December 1985 and hosted by the President of Bangladesh Hussain Ershad . [31] 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 . [31]

Members and observers

Economic data is sourced from the International Monetary Fund , current as of April 2015, and is given in US dollars . [53]


Country Population [54] (2016) GDP(Nominal) GDP(PPP) GDP per Capita(PPP) GDP Growth Rate(2014) Exports(2014) Foreign Direct Investment(2013) Foreign Exchange Reserves(million) Defense Budget(% of GDP)
(2014) [13]
Literacy Rate(Given Age & above) Life Expectancy Population below Poverty Line Primary School Enrollment [14] Secondary School enrollment [18] Population undernourished(%)
(2015) [84]








Afghanistan 34,656,032 $21.3 bn $63.5 bn $1,976 3.2% $0.3 bn N/A $6,442 N/A 28.1%(Age 15) 60 15.8% N/A 54% 26.8% 0.465






Bangladesh 162,951,560 $205.3 bn $572.6 bn $3,581 6.2% $31.2 bn $0.66 bn $24,072 $2.2 bn(1.2%) 57.7%(Age 15) 70 31.5% 92% 54% 16.4% 0.570






Bhutan 797,765 $2.2 bn $6.3 bn $8,158 6.4% $0.7 bn $63 mln N/A N/A 52.8%(age 15) 68 23.7% 91% 78% N/A 0.605






India 1,324,171,354 $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) 67 21.9% 94% 69% 15.2% 0.609






Maldives 427,756 $3.0 bn $5.2 bn $14,980 4.5% $0.28 bn N/A $356 N/A 99%(age 15) 77 16% N/A N/A 5.2% 0.706


__ __
Nepal 28,982,771 $21.6 bn $70.7 bn $2,488 5.5% $1.0 bn $10 mln $5,439 N/A 66%(age 15) 68 25.2% 98% 67% 7.8% 0.548






Pakistan 193,203,476 $250 bn $928.0bn $4,886 4.2% $25.1 bn $0.709 bn(2014) $16,305 $7.4 bn(3.5%) 55%(age 15) 66 22.6% 72% 34% 22% 0.538






Sri Lanka 20,798,492 $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 . [15]

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. [17] [18] 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. [19]

The SAARC member states imposed a stipulation for Afghanistan to hold a general election ; the non-partisan elections were held in late 2005. [19] Despite initial reluctance and internal debates, Afghanistan joined SAARC as its eighth member state in April 2007. [19] [15]


States with observer status include [20] Australia , [21] China , the European Union , [22] Iran , Japan , [22] Mauritius , [23] Myanmar , South Korea and the United States . [15]

On 2 August 2006, the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to three applicants; [24] the US and South Korea (both made requests in April 2006), [24] as well as the European Union (requested in July 2006). [25] On 4 March 2007, Iran requested observer status, [26] followed shortly by Mauritius.

Potential future members

Myanmar has expressed interest in upgrading its status from an observer to a full member of SAARC. [27] Russia has applied for observer status membership of SAARC. [28] [82] [81] Turkey applied for observer status membership of SAARC in 2012. [28] [82] [81] South Africa has participated in meetings. [31]


The SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu on 17 January 1987 and was inaugurated by Late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal . [55]

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. After 31 December 2015, there 6 regional centers were stopped by unanimous decision. These are SMRC, SFC, SDC, SCZMC, SIC, SHRDC. [56]

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

Apex and Recognised Bodies

SAARC has six Apex Bodies, [15] they are-

Amjad Hussain B Sial is the current Secretary General of SAARC.

SAARC also has about 17 recognised bodies. [15]

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. During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.

The 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan was called off as India , Bangladesh , Bhutan and Afghanistan decided to boycott it. [57] [58] It was for the first time that four countries boycotted a SAARC summit, leading to its cancellation. [59] [60]

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. [34] 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.

SAFTA was envisaged to gradually move towards South Asian Economic Union, but the current intra-regional trade and investment relation are not encouraging and it may be difficult to achieve this target. The SAARC intra-regional trade stands at just five per cent on the share of intra-regional trade in overall trade in South Asia . Similarly, foreign direct investment is also dismal. The intra-regional FDI flow stands at around four per cent of the total foreign investment. [52]

The Asian Development Bank has estimated that inter-regional trade in SAARC region possessed potential of shooting up agricultural exports by $14 billion per year from existing level of $8 billion to $22 billion.The study by Asian Development Bank states that against the potential average SAARC intra-regional trade of $22 billion per year, the actual trade in South Asia has been only around $8 billion. The uncaptured potential for intra-regional trade is therefore $14 billion per year, i.e. 68%. [52] [52]

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. [52]



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

  • To encourage individuals and organisations based in South Asia to undertake programmes and activities that complement the efforts of SAARC
  • To encourage individuals and organisations in South Asia contributing to bettering the conditions of women and children
  • To honour outstanding contributions and achievements of individuals and organisations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation, environment protection and regional cooperation
  • To honour any other contributions and achievement not covered above of individuals and organisations in the region.

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. [52]

SAARC Literary Award

Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area

The SAARC Literary Award is an annual award conferred by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature ( FOSWAL ) since 2001 [52] [52] which is an apex SAARC body. [52] 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. [52]

Nepali poet, lyricist and translator Suman Pokhrel is the only poet/writer to get this award twice. [52]

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. [64]

Previous Winners:

  • 1997: Outstanding Social Service in Community Welfare – Mohammed Sukur Salek (Bangladesh)
  • 1998: New Inventions and Shanu — Najmul Hasnain Shah (Pakistan)
  • 2001: Creative Photography: South Asian Diversity – Mushfiqul Alam (Bangladesh)
  • 2002: Outstanding contribution to protect the Environment – Masil Khan (Pakistan)
  • 2003: Invention in the Field of Traditional Medicine – Hassan Sher (Pakistan)
  • 2004: Outstanding contribution to raising awareness of TB and/or HIV/AIDS – Ajij Prasad Poudyal (Nepal)
  • 2006: Promotion of Tourism in South Asia – Syed Zafar Abbas Naqvi (Pakistan)
  • 2008: Protecting the Environment in South Asia – Uswatta Liyanage Deepani Jayantha (Sri Lanka)
  • 2009: Outstanding contribution to humanitarian works in the aftermath of Natural Disasters – Ravikant Singh (India)
  • 2010: Outstanding contribution for the Protection of Environment and mitigation of Climate Change – Anoka Primrose Abeyrathne (Sri Lanka)


SAARC does not have an official anthem like some other regional organisations (e.g. ASEAN). [106] A poem by poet-diplomat Abhay Kumar spurred a search for a better SAARC anthem. [41] Nepal's foreign minister has expressed the need for an SAARC anthem to connect SAARC nations. [104] 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. [106]

Secretaries-General of SAARC

# Name Country Took office Left office
1 Abul Ahsan Bangladesh 16 January 1985 15 October 1989
2 Kant Kishore Bhargava
Recipients of SAARC Literary Award 2013
17 October 198931 December 19913 Ibrahim Hussein Zaki Maldives 1 January 199231 December 19934 Yadav Kant Silwal Nepal 1 January 199431 December 19955 Naeem U. Hasan Pakistan 1 January 199631 December 19986Nihal Rodrigo Sri Lanka 1 January 199910 January 20027 Q. A. M. A. Rahim Bangladesh 11 January 200228 February 20058 Chenkyab Dorji Bhutan 1 March 200529 February 20089 Sheel Kant Sharma India 1 March 200828 February 201110 Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed Maldives 1 March 201111 March 201211 Ahmed Saleem Maldives 12 March 201228 February 201412 Arjun Bahadur Thapa Nepal 1 March 201428 February 201713Amjad Hussain B Sial Pakistan 1 March 2017Incumbent

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 [43] Maldives Addu Mohammed Nasheed
18th 26–27 November 2014 [18] Nepal Kathmandu Sushil Koirala
19th 9–10 November 2016 Pakistan Islamabad Cancelled
20th TBA

Current leaders of SAARC

See also


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