South Asian countries viz., India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bagladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives bear a geographical proximity on the basis of their culture, ethnicity and economy. They are also called seven sisters of South Asia. They comprise one fifth of the world population with an average of income of Rs. 1800 p.m. This is one of the poorest regions of the world inhabited by 44 percent of the world’s poor. More then 500 million people of our region live below poverty line. Fifty percent of the world’s child labour population is found in this region. Illiteracy is an outstanding problem here. Industrialization has failed to narrow the gulf of disparity between rural and urban population. Defence expenditure in the region had gone up by 60% during the last decade; woman trafficking is an outstanding problem
In view of the above mentioned problems common to the South Asian countries and looking to the global integration of national economies and encouraged by the success of regional economic integration in many parts of the world, the seven nations came forth to form “a body named “SOUTHEAST ASSOCIATION FOR REGIONAL COOPERATION which came into existence in December, 1985 at Dhaka, capital of Bangadesh with its secretariat in Kathmandu. Main objectives laid down by SAARC charter as are follows:
1. To improve the quality of life and promote welfare of thee people.
2. To accelerate economic growth and social and cultural development in the region.
3. To promote self reliance among the countries of the region.
4. To generates mutual trust and understand and appreciate the problems of each other.
5. To strengthen cooperation with other developing countries.
6. To cooperate on matters of common interest in international forum.
7. To strengthen cooperation with regional and global organizations.
Record of SAARC in promoting regional integration has been disappointing and SAARC summits held from time to time, thirteen times in its life span of twenty one years have proved to be merely talk shops. Main reason behind the ineffectiveness of this forum is the stained relations between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has been interested more in bringing its bilateral dispute with India over Kashmir into the SAARC ambit. According to Pakistan there can be no economic progress unless political issues are resolved. In view of India’s size and strength of its economic some member nations fear that India might use the organization to dominate the South Asian market. In the 12th SAARC summit held in Islamabad in January 2004 attended by all the seven members a framework agreement on SAFTA. (South Asia Free Trade Area) was signed with zero customs duty on the trade of practically all products in the region by the end of year 2012.
The fourteenth SAARC summit was held in New Delhi under the chairmanship of Prime Minister of India Dr. Man Mohan Singh on April 4 and 5, 2007. Afghanistan was admitted as the eighth member of the oraganisation and United States of America, European Union, Japan, china and South Korea attended the proceeding as visitors while. Iran was admitted as another visitor for the forthcoming summit to be held in Maldive. Before being elected chairman of the summit Dr.Man Mohan Singh stressing the need for mutual cooperation and communication announced the provision of trade facilities, opening of the market and easing communication and visa restrications for its neighbouring countries.
He also announced that by the end of year 2007 under-developed neighbours such as Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh shall to be allowed free trade with India. In his inaugural address Dr. Man Mohan Singh announced the reduction in import reduction in import restrictions on sensitive commodities for under-developed member nations of the conference. He also announced unilateral withdrawal of a number of restrictions on visa for students, scholars, professionals, correspondents and patients of South Asian countries. To keep pace with the increasing demand for energy to maintain sustainable economic growth of the region Dr. Man Mahon Sigh proposed the formation of South Asian Energy Commission so that with the installation of power grids a regular supply of energy could be ensured. He also suggested that there should be direct link of air routes between the capital cities of all the members nations for better communication.
On the conclusion of the summit a joint statement of the member nations was issued wherein emphasis was laid to jointly face the challenges of poverty and natural calamities. Necessity for regional cooperation in criminal matters and treaty for legal assistance for each other was also felt. Pakistan gave its concurrence for free trade among the member nations as envisaged under the provisions of SAPTA. It was also decided that SOUTH ASIA UNIVERSITY shall be established in India for providing higher education to deserving scholars from the member countries.
Fourteenth summit of the SAARC was successfully concluded but there was hardly any headway and the entire proceeding may be summed up as formalities. For the SAARC to deliver the goods the political animosities and suspicions of motivation shell have to be kept aside and the process of mutual trade and cooperation will have to be started. According to the joint statement, all the member nations were committed to the eradication. For any progress in these matters mutual trust is the first requirement.
Fifteenth SAARC summit will be held in Maldiv. Let us hope that Indo-pak relations win improve by that time and the organiasation will be in a better position to discharge its functions as per expectations of the member nations.