The decade of 70s started with many favourable regional & global developments which gave impetus to the idea of South Asian cooperation. US had initiated a policy for cooperative regional security framework for South Asia. India looked upon it as an opportunity to wean away Pakistan from its western tilt. Pakistan too wanted to use it to enhance her regional prestige. At the same time, new rulers had taken over in India (Janata Party), Pakistan (Gen. Zia), Sri Lanka (Jayewardene) and Bangladesh (Gen. Rehman). They came with new global & regional approaches; new perceptions of each other and, moreover, wanted each others’ help to consolidate their position in the region. A strong awareness of need for regional unity, deep realization of interdependence and keen desire to resolve common problems regionally had gripped the people & statesmen of South Asia. India’s ‘Big Brother’ image had faded away and there was growing dissatisfaction about the World organizations and the big powers. The credit goes to Gen Zia-Ur-Rehman of Bangladesh who realized the pulse of the leaders of South Asian leaders and mooted the idea of South Asian Regional Cooperation in 1980. The proposal put up by Bangladesh was adopted by the foreign ministers of seven South Asian countries in 1983 as the Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation (SARC). Later, the Heads of State or Government at their First SAARC Summit held in Dhaka on 7-8 December 1985 adopted the Charter formally establishing the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Initially, seven nations of South Asia became members of SAARC and Afghanistan joined as its eighth member in 2005.
Following are objectives enshrined in the SAARC Charter :
- To promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life;
- To accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realise their full potential;
- To promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
- To contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems;
- To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
- To strengthen cooperation with other developing countries;
- To strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interests; and
- To cooperate with international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes.
The SAARC Charter also laid down following Principles of SAARC on which cooperation within the organisation is based :
- Cooperation within the framework of the Association is based on respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and mutual benefit;
- Such cooperation is to complement and not to substitute bilateral or multilateral cooperation;
- Such cooperation should be consistent with bilateral and multilateral obligations of Member States.
The SAARC follows General Provisions of working as under :
- Decisions at all levels in SAARC shall be taken on the basis of unanimity;
- Bilateral and contentious issues shall be excluded from the deliberations of the Association.
These provisions ensure that irrespective of the size or status of development, every member country has equal position and voice in the decision-making process. Unanimity guarantees wholehearted support by all the members in implementing the decision. Exclusion of contentious issues is a prudent and diplomatically wise decision. Because it was intended to bring the countries closer on non-controversial issues, so that it builds trust, creates a congenial atmosphere and forms a solid base for resolving other contentious issues in future. This was also a cautious approach as the leaders did not want the association to die prematurely before testing the fruits of cooperation.