South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

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A backgrounder

LEARNING WITH THE TIMES - Saarc founded in 1985 in Dhaka Oct 03 2016 : The Times of India

When was the concept of regional cooperation among South-Asian countries first conceived?

Calls for regional cooperation among the South Asian countries started even before their independence. In March-April 1947, the Asian Relations Conference was hosted in New Delhi by Jawaharlal Nehru, who at that time was the head of India's provisional government overseeing the transition of power from the British Raj.The main objective of the conference was to rebuild traditional connections and re-establish the trade routes between countries of the region that was destroyed during colonial rule. The people leading various independence movements across Asia realised that rebuilding those traditional relations could make them a significant force in the changing political and economic situation of that time. This conference was followed by the 1950 Baguio Conference in Philip pines and the Colombo Powers Conference in 1954, but no concrete step was taken.

When was Saarc formed and who initiated the proposal?

Former Bangladesh president Ziaur Rahman was the main architect of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) initially consisting of seven countries -Bangla desh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pa kistan and Sri Lanka.

It was later joined by Afghanistan. It is be lieved that Rahman was inspired by the idea of Asean. During his 1977 visit to India, he discussed the idea with Morarji Desai, then prime minister of India. During the inaugural speech of the 1977 meeting of the Colombo Consultative Committee, King Birendra Bikram Shah of Nepal called for regional cooperation among South Asian countries to address water sharing issues and this was supported by Rahman who also proposed the idea of cooperation in other fields.The idea was further discussed in the Commonwealth and Non-Aligned Summits held in 1979.Both India and Pakistan were reportedly initially sceptical but were later convinced to join the group and Saarc was officially founded in 1985 in Dhaka.

What were the main objectives of the organisation and what did it achieve?

Inspired by Asean, the main objective of the organisation is economic and social cooperation to accelerate economic growth in the region and lift a considerable proportion of the population from abject poverty . These countries, home to over one-fifth of humanity , also have the largest numbers of the poor. There were also several other provisions of cooperation in agricultural, technical and scientific fields while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member countries. Considering the recent history of conflict, the organisation has not achieved anything substantial and trade between its member states is far lower than other similar regional economic blocs. Many experts, however, maintain that despite the differences and conflicts, the organisation at least provides a platform for dialogue between its member states, which may lead to more concrete cooperation plans in the future.

What are the other similar regional blocs?

The primary objective of almost all trading blocs is some level of regional integration of their economies to take advantage of geographical proximity and this is how they work in most regions.Asean, formed in 1967, is the trade bloc of ten Southeast Asian countries. Similarly Mercosur is the sub-regional economic bloc of Latin American countries with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay , Uruguay and Venezuela as its permanent members. Established in 1973, Caricom is an organisation of 15 Caribbean nations and dependencies, which apart from economic integration of its members also coordinates their foreign policy to have more negotiating power. Nafta is the free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico while the European Union is the largest of such blocs.

Important meetings

September 2016: Top security experts' meeting

The Indian Express, September 21, 2016

SAARC security experts to discuss anti-terrorism mechanism

The meeting was not attended by Director General of Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan Aftab Sultan, amid the ongoing hostility between India and Pakistan over terror attack in Uri.

Top security experts from South Asian countries, except Pakistan, met in New Delhi for two days to mull ways to strengthen the anti-terrorism mechanism in the region.

Uri Attack: Muslim Community Urges Centre To Give Befitting Reply To Pak

The meeting was recommended by the SAARC Ministerial Declaration on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, adopted by the 31st Meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers in Colombo, in 2009.

It was hosted by Director of Intelligence Bureau Dineshwar Sharma and intelligence chiefs of all other SAARC nations — Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives besides India — participated.

The meeting was in line with the high priority India attaches for regional cooperation in anti-terrorism activities and given that terrorism remains the single biggest threat to peace, stability and progress in the region and beyond.

The meeting provides a platform for discussing and identifying measures to tackle this menace threatening our societies.

The meeting reviewed the functioning of the existing anti-terrorism mechanisms in the region including the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk (STOMD) and the SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk (SDOMD), intelligence sharing and police cooperation.

It also discussed related issues such as combating corruption, cyber crimes, terror financing and money laundering. The high-level meeting is expected to draw recommendations to strengthen the existing mechanisms and discuss potential new areas of cooperation.

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