1. Objectives of SAARC:

i. Promote welfare of the people

ii. Promote mutual trust and understanding

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iii. Accelerate economic growth

iv. Collaborate with regional and international organisations with similar objectives

v. Collaborate in socio-economic, cultural and scientific fields

But, it also showed commitment to non­interference in internal affairs and respect for the sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of member states. It emphasised that decision must be taken on the basis of consensus leaving aside bilateral or contentious issues.

2. Areas of Cooperation:

SAARC countries have identified some areas of cooperation.

The 11 stated areas of cooperation are agriculture and forestry, health and population, meteorology, rural development; telecommunications; transport; science and technology; postal services; sports, arts, and culture; women in development; and drug trafficking and abuse.

Other concerns, such as tourism and terrorism, however, have also been targeted. The charter stipulates that decisions are unanimous and that “bilateral and contentious issues” are to be avoided.

Social Charter:

The charter deals with poverty alleviation, health issues, education, human resource development and youth mobilisation, promotion of the status of women, promotion of the rights and well being of the child, population stabilization and drug addiction, rehabilitation and reintegration.

The charter urges all the member-states to attach importance to social development and economic growth.

It stresses that legislative, executive and administrative frameworks should be provided for the progressive realization of social and economic goals. It asks the SAARC states to maintain a social policy and strategy to ensure an overall and balanced social uplift of their people.

3. India’s Role:

India realizes the importance the regional organizations are to play in foreseeable future. Since its formation, India has played vital role and at times as a ‘big brother’ in establishing cooperation between members.

In later years SAARC sought to tackle issues such as women’s participation, drug trafficking, tackling terrorism etc.

It urged resumption of North- South dialogue to normalize the distribution of world trade, titled in favour of the developed countries. It established Food Security Reserves (1988) and adopted convention on Narcotic drugs (1990).

4. SAFTA: South Asian Free Trade Area:

The members of SAARC at its 12th summit held in Islamabad (2004) signed a historic Agreement on Free Trade by agreeing to create a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2006. It plans to establish a system of common market, currency and free flow of goods and services between the member states.

Nevertheless the agreement puts faith in preferential treatment of Least Developed Countries. The scheme encompasses two stages. Firstly the scheme will begin from 2006. Secondly the member states will subsequently reduce tariffs from 0 to 5% till 2015.

The member states are not bound to abide by the terms of the agreement and are left free to pull out of the treaty at any time, after it comes into force from January 1, 2006.

5. The SAFTA Agreement:

The agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) came into effect from January 1, 2006, ushering in an era of free trade in goods among the seven South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member-countries. It paves the way for a full-fledged South Asia economic union in the future.

As per the agreement terms, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have to scale down their customs duties to the level of 0-5 percent by 2013. On the other hand, the four “least developed” members in the SAARC group—Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan—are expected to follow suit by 2018.

India, being the larger economy among the seven members, has to provide certain concessions to the four least developed countries (LDCs). This would include a compensation mechanism for the revenue loss that they may incur owing to the cut in their import duties.

As per the agreement provisions, the trade liberalisation programme would not be applicable to the tariff lines included in the ‘sensitive’ list of items

Accordingly, India, which ratified the agreement at the Cabinet meeting on December 29, 2005, has finalized two lists for the purpose. For Pakistan and Sri Lanka, it has prepared a list containing 884 items, while that for Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, the list contains 763 items.

The four LDCs within the SAARC have to be provided technical assistance by the other three members in training of human resources, improvement of the legal system and administration, custom procedures and trade facilitation.

6. Problems Facing the Organization:

The primary idea of setting up SAARC was to promote economic, social and cultural development and to strengthen collective self reliance through joint action. The disputed bilateral issues were to be sidelined from SAARC deliberations.

The coopera­tion was to be based on the principles of sovereign equality of member states, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal matters of other states and mutual benefits.

However, the reality is somewhat different. Its progress on many issues have been slow and marred by confrontations among member states. Economic disparity and unbalanced development acts is a major hindrance in realizing the potential of the organization.

The commercial rivalries and conflicting interests often paralyze the prospects for moving ahead. The growing stature of India is also a cause of apprehension among some members. The organization has failed to evolve in ASFAN way.

Nevertheless, the move towards SAFTA, declining hostility between India and Pakistan growing acknowledgement of fair Indian stand, seems to move the organization ahead with renewed vigour and commitment.

7. Facts and Definition:

Indo-Pak Relation in the Context of SAARC:

There is no denying the fact that escalated tension and conflict between India and Pakistan have severely hampered the prospects of SAARC. The futility of Kargil war and infiltration in Kashmir has become more than evident.

At its best, the member states have interest in ensuring a cordial relation not only in economic realm but also political one. Because, an organization cannot hope to benefit the least, if two of its members are continuously engaged in strife and tension.