Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

The Future of Regional Co-Operation: A South Asian Perspective

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

The Future of Regional Co-Operation: A South Asian Perspective

Article excerpt

The future of regional cooperation is of considerable importance for all of us as we advance further into the 21st Century. Despite the many disappointments and setbacks that have dogged the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) since its inception, it nevertheless offers an invaluable platform for building a stable and prosperous neighbourhood in South Asia.

The foreign policy of India has three major objectives:

1) The preservation of the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country;

2) The widening and deepening of the process of socio-economic development of our people: and

3) Ensuring that India's position is duly reflected in all global/regional decisions which concern it.

India's involvement in SAARC is of critical significance in the pursuit of all the three goals.

Origin of SAARC: Objectives and Organs

In the closing years of the 1970s - a decade of great turmoil and conflict in South Asia and the world - the late President Ziaur-Rahman of Bangladesh mooted, for the first time, the creation of a trade bloc consisting of seven South Asian countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Extensive discussions among the Foreign Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of these seven countries between 1980 and 1985 finally led to the establishment of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) on 8 December 1985 at the first Summit of the organization in Dhaka, when its Charter was formally adopted by the Heads of State/Government of all the seven founding members. Afghanistan joined as the eighth full member of SAARC in 2007.

Given the huge disparities in the size and economies of the member countries, the SAARC Charter provides that decisions in all its fora are taken on the basis of unanimity; that bilateral and contentious issues are explicitly excluded from its deliberations; and that cooperation is based on sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence and non-interference in one another's internal affairs. The goals of SAARC are to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia; to improve their quality of life, to accelerate economic growth, social progress, collective self-reliance and cultural development in the region; and to contribute to mutual trust and active collaboration in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields. It also seeks to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries as well as with international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes.

SAARC's decision making mechanism is multi-tiered. The proposals for regional cooperation are first mooted within the framework of the Integrated Programme of Action by Technical Committees currently overseeing eleven agreed areas: Agriculture, Rural Development, Telecommunications, Meteorology, Health and Population Activities, Transport and Tourism, Postal Services, Science and Technology, Energy, Education and Sports, Arts and Culture. Their proposals are reviewed in ascending stages by the Programming Committee comprising the Heads of SAARC Divisions, the Standing Committee comprising the Foreign Secretaries, and the Council of Ministers comprising the Foreign Ministers of the Member States, all of whom meet at least twice a year. The final policy decisions are made by the Summits of SAARC Heads of State/ Government which are meant to be annual but for various reasons have been less frequent. In the twenty-nine years of its existence, SAARC has so far held only seventeen summits, the last being in Maldives in November 2011 - nearly three years ago.

The Eighteenth Summit is expected to be held in November this year in Kathmandu, if things proceed according to plan.

The SAARC Secretariat located in Kathmandu is headed by a Secretary General appointed from and by the Member States by rotation for a three-year term, and assisted by one Director from each member country. …

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