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What is SAARC? Structures, Principles, and Countries

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an organization of South Asian countries, established in 1985. It constitutes based on the economic, technological, social and cultural development of the region. The 7 founding member countries of SAARC are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Afghanistan became a member of SAARC in 2007. The headquarters of SAARC is located in Kathmandu, Nepal. SAARC cooperates with 11 sectors ‍such as Agriculture, 2. Education, 3. Culture, 4. Sports, 5. Health, 6. Population and Child Welfare, 7. Environment and Climate, 8. Rural development, 9. Tourism, Transport, Science and Technology, Communication, 10. Women development, 11. and prevention of drug trafficking and drug abuse.
On December 8, 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka.
The concept of South Asian Regional Cooperation was first introduced in 1980. In April 1981, the foreign secretaries of the 7 founding countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka met in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The first Secretary General of SAARC was Abul Hasan of Bangladesh.
SAARC currently has nine observer countries Such as (1) Australia, (2) China, (3) the European Union, (4) Iran, (5) Japan, (6) the Republic of Korea, (7) Mauritius, (8) Myanmar, and (9) the United States of America.

Structure of SAARC

The SAARC Charter provides for a five-tiered institutional structure for the organization. These structures are,
1. Summit of Heads of Member Countries:
As per the SAARC Charter, Summit of Heads of Member Countries is supposed to be held every year. According to the rules, the SAARC summit cannot be held without the representation of all member states or governments.
2. Conference of Foreign Ministers:
The foreign ministers of the member states usually meet twice a year. Various agendas and decisions are formulated at foreign ministers’ conferences.
3. Standing Committee:
The Standing Committee consists mainly of the Foreign Secretaries of the member states. The main function of the committee is to plan, approve, supervise and coordinate the areas of cooperation.
4. Technical Committee:
SAARC programs are managed through a number of specific areas of cooperation. These programs are implemented through technical committees. The technical committee consists of representatives from each member state.
5. Secretariat:
Section 8 of the SAARC Charter provides for the establishment of the SAARC Secretariat. SAARC Secretariat was established in Kathmandu but started its official activities in 1987. The Secretariat plays a strong role in acting as the focal point of SAARC activities.
The main function of the Secretariat is to coordinate and monitor the implementation of SAARC activities and act as a channel of communication between SAARC and other international organizations. The Secretariat consists of a Secretary-General, 7 Directors and some general staff.

SAARC Principles

SAARC’s policy will be mutual cooperation. Besides, respect for the principles of sovereign protection, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs and mutual benefit.
Other principles of SAARC are:
1. Any decision of SAARC must be unanimous.
2. Bilateral disputes cannot be raised in this organization.
3. Member States shall respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, none shall interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Moreover, they shall be respectful of each other.
4. SAARC will play a role in keeping the hopes and aspirations of the countries of the region.

Objectives of SAARC

To improve the welfare and quality of life of the people of South Asia. Accelerating economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region. To provide opportunities for every citizen to live in equal dignity and realize their full potential.
To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among countries. Mutual trust, understanding and contribution to solving each other’s problems. To promote cooperation and mutual assistance in economic, social, cultural, technological and scientific fields. Strengthening cooperation with developing countries and international or regional organizations. To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest.

SAARC Specialized Agency

1. SAARC Development Fund (SDF): Its primary objective is to finance project-based cooperation for poverty alleviation, development etc. It is governed by a board consisting of representatives of the finance ministries of the member states.
2. South Asian University (SAU): South Asian University (SAU), an international university of SAARC, is located in India. Degrees and certificates awarded by it are equivalent to corresponding degrees and certificates awarded by national universities.
3. South Asian Regional Standards Organization: The Secretariat of the South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) is located in Dhaka. It was established to achieve and enhance coordination and cooperation in standardization and conformity assessment among SAARC member countries. It also aimed to facilitate intra-regional trade, and create harmonized standards for the region to gain access to global markets.
4. SAARC Arbitration Council: It is an intergovernmental organization with its headquarters in Pakistan. The SAARC Arbitration Council was formed to provide a legal framework within the region for the fair and efficient settlement of industrial, commercial, banking, investment and other bilateral disputes.

SAARC Regional Organizations

  1. SAARC Agricultural Information Centre: It was established in 1988 in Dhaka.
  2. SAARC Meteorological Research Centre: It started operations on 1 January 1995. It is located in Agargaon, Dhaka.
  3. SAARC University: It is located in New Delhi, India.
  4. SAARC Cultural Centre: Its headquarters is located in Sri Lanka.
  5. SAARC Center for Human Resource Development: It is headquartered in Islamabad, Pakistan.
  6. SAARC Information Centre: The headquarters is located in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
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