ISLAMABAD : The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) opened its 12th summit Sunday in the capital of Pakistan, Islamabad. This is the first summit between South Asian leaders in two years.
The regional bloc comprises the seven countries of South Asia: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It is an association based on the consciousness that in an increasingly interdependent world, the objectives of peace, freedom, social justice and economic prosperity are best achieved in the South Asian region by fostering mutual understanding, good neighborly relations and meaningful cooperation among the member states which are bound by ties of history and culture. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was first mooted in May 1980. Months later, after consultations, the foreign secretaries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981. This was followed by a meeting of the committee of the entire member states in Colombo in August-September 1981, which identified five broad areas for regional cooperation. In August 1983, the foreign ministers from South Asia, at their first meeting in New Delhi, adopted the Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation and formally launched the Integrated Program of Action (IPA) initially in five agreed areas of cooperation, namely, agriculture; rural development; telecommunications; meteorology; and health and population Activities. 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). The regional group hopes to turn the home of half the world's poor into an economic powerhouse, but the two-decade old alliance has proved ineffectual thanks to bickering between India and Pakistan. With the aim of promoting cultural ties and economic and social development among the member states, which comprise about one-fifth of the world's population, the organization is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal, and a secretary-general is selected from the member states on a rotating basis.
Frustrated by delays in even getting summits off the ground, the five smaller members of the grouping -- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka -- are taking the bilateral route to boost trade. SAARC initiator Bangladesh hopes the bloc can now sit down to the serious business of improving the living standards of impoverished South Asians.