For some years, the leaders of seven countries of South Asia—namely, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives—had discussed setting up an organization for cooperation among themselves to safeguard their common interests by political and economic development.
At last, the Foreign Ministers of these countries met at Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, in May 1985, to discuss the preliminary matters regarding the formation of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It was decided in the meeting that a summit of the Heads of Governments of seven countries would be held in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh on 7 and 8 December in 1985. The Standing Committee of the Foreign Secretaries of the seven countries approved the draft declaration for the formal announcement.
The draft declaration laid stress on the importance of setting up such an organization. It called for the greatest possible use of human resources and taking the concept of SAARC to the level of the common people. It also referred to the global arms race and the economic crisis. It put importance on regional cooperation on a firm footing to promote economic development and collective self-reliance. It proposed promotion of peace, prosperity and stability of the South Asian Region, It also proposed that the organization would take a common stand on important international issues which may affect their interests. It also recommended that two expert committees should be formed to tackle international terrorism and drug trafficking in the region, and a permanent Secretariat should be set up for SAARC.
The first summit meeting of SAARC was inaugurated by General Ershad. the then President of Bangladesh, in Dhaka, on 7 December 1985. It was attended by the Heads of Government of 7 countries. At the end of the two- day summit meeting, the Draft Declaration was adopted, and the formation of the SAARC was announced. It was decided that all the States, big or small, will have equal status. It will work to promote the common interests of the seven countries. It will contribute to the welfare of the people and try its best for the speedy economic growth, social progress, and cultural development of the region. Due respect will be given to the sovereign status, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. There will be active collaboration in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields.
The second summit meeting was inaugurated by Rajib Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India, in Bangalore on 16 November 1986. It was attended by the kings of Nepal and Bhutan, Presidents of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. They announced the urgency of stopping the arms race of the superpowers and banning of a nuclear test, and great stress was laid on controlling terrorist activities and increasing cooperation through contact in the region. The summit meeting ended successfully with the decision of setting up the SAARC Secretariat at Kathmandu of Nepal.
A seminar of SAARC was held in New Delhi in 1987. It was organized by the Indian Council of South Asian Corporation in Delhi. Here stress was laid on early completion of jobs like road and rail links across SAARC countries. It was decided that bilateral problems should be solved through a regional approach. The Indo-Sri Lanka accord was a bright example of regional cooperation.
The third SAARC Conference was held in Nepal in 1987, and SAARC Writers’ Seminar was held in Kolkata in the same year. Some writers of SAARC countries met together in Kolkata on 28 June to devise means to contribute their services to the development of the Association. For this purpose, it was felt necessary to translate the literature of each country and form a joint publishing establishment of SAARC.
The fourth SAARC Summit was held in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, in 1988. This has been the most important summit conference because here met the then two young Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan—Rajib Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto. In this summit, it was decided for the first time that steps would be taken to promote commerce, production and distribution among the SAARC countries.
The fifth SAARC Summit was scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in 1989. But on account of political disturbances, it could not be held there, and so it was held in Male’ the capital of Maldives, in November 1990. Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, suggested that political issues and bilateral disputes in the region should be discussed in the SAARC meeting. Chandra Sekhar, the then Prime Minister of India, opposed this. He said SAARC had not been established for this purpose. It was formed for cooperation for the development of the region. His speech was highly appreciated by the other members.
Thereafter summit meetings have since been made to continue the activities of SAARC and strengthen the bond of South Asian Association. It will undoubtedly encourage other developing countries to promote such regional cooperation.