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  • Last Updated : 10 Oct, 2022
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The regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of governments in South Asia are known as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The SAARC region accounts for 3% of the world’s land area, 21% of its population, and 4.21% ($3.67 trillion) of the world’s economic output. The SAARC was established on December 8, 1985, in Dhaka. Nepal’s Kathmandu is home to its secretariat. The group encourages the growth of regional and economic cooperation. The SAARC has established contacts with multilateral organizations, including the European Union, and maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the UN as an observer.

SAARC- Members:

Eight countries that makeup SAARC:

  • Afghanistan 
  • Bangladesh 
  • Bhutan
  • India
  • Maldives
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka

Currently, SAARC has nine observers, including:

United States of America, Australia, China, European Union, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, and Myanmar.

Objectives of SAARC:

  • To advance the welfare of South Asians and raise their standard of living.
  • To hasten regional economic growth, social advancement, and cultural development while giving everyone the chance to live honorably and reach their full potential.
  • To encourage and build South Asia’s nations’ shared independence. To promote mutual understanding, trust, and respect for one another’s difficulties.
  • To encourage active cooperation and reciprocal help in the realms of economics, society, culture, technology, and science.
  • To improve collaboration with other emerging nations.
  • To work together more closely in international forums on issues of shared interest and to collaborate with regional and international groups that share their goals.

Principal Organs of SAARC:

Heads of State and Government meeting

  • The summit level typically has meetings once a year.

Committee of Permanent Foreign Secretaries

  • The committees set priorities, allocate resources, assess overall progress, and give their approval for initiatives and funding.


  • On January 16, 1987, the SAARC Secretariat was founded in Kathmandu. Its duties include coordinating and overseeing how SAARC activities are carried out, providing support for association meetings, and acting as a conduit for communication between SAARC and other international organizations.
  • The Secretariat comprises the secretary and seven directors and supports employees. The Council of Ministers appoints the secretary-general on a rotating basis for a three-year term that is not renewable.

Specialized Bodies of SAARC:

  • SAARC Development Fund (SDF): Its main goal is to provide money for project-based collaboration in social fields, including development and poverty eradication. A board of officials from the Member States’ Ministries of Finance oversees it. The Board’s operations are under the SDF Governing Council (Finance Ministers of MSs).
  • South Asian University: It is a global university headquartered in India. The degrees and certificates granted by the SAU are equivalent to those granted by national universities and institutions.
  • South Asian Regional Standards Organization: Bangladesh’s Dhaka is located to its Secretariat. Its goal is to provide harmonized standards for the area to promote intra-regional commerce. It was founded to accomplish and improve coordination and collaboration among SAARC member nations in standardization and conformity assessment sectors.
  • SAARC Arbitration Council: This intergovernmental organization, which has its headquarters in Pakistan, has the responsibility of offering the region’s legal framework and forum for the effective resolution of commercial, industrial, trade, banking, investment, and other disputes that members states and their citizens may refer to it for.

Achievements of SAARC:

  • Free Trade Area (FTA): A Free Trade Area (FTA) has been formed by the member nations of SAARC, a relatively new organization in the international arena. This FTA will significantly reduce the commerce gaps between certain governments while increasing internal trade inside the member nations.
  • SAPTA: In 1995, the South Asia Preferential Trading Agreement went into force to encourage commerce among the participating nations.
  • SAFTA: A limited-to-goods free trade agreement bans all services, including those in the information technology sector. A signed contract to eliminate all customs fees on all traded commodities by 2016.
  • SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS): In December 2012, the SATIC SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services (SATIS) went into effect. The Agreement calls for increasing regional investments, liberalizing service industry trade, and other things.
  • At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, the SAARC Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation (Electricity) was formally adopted. This Agreement permits the voluntary cross-border exchange of electricity according to the individual members’ laws, rules, and regulations.
  • The SAARC Railways Agreement and the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement were approved at the Intergovernmental Group on Transport (IGGT) meeting on September 30, 2014, in New Delhi. However, because Pakistan had not finished its internal processes, these accords could not be signed during the 18th SAARC meeting.
  • The 17th SAARC Summit in November 2011 saw the SAARC Agreement on Rapid response to Natural Disasters signed to institutionalize regional cooperation on disaster response among SAARC countries.

Why is SAARC important for India?

As it relates to India. The SAARC’s continued health is crucial for the following reasons:

  • For India’s economy to develop, regional stability is essential.
  • It is essential to wean these countries away from China’s predatory methods, which have been luring them with its OBOR initiative and endangering India’s security. Therefore, these countries must reduce their dependence on China.

India’s quest to become a significant world power makes understanding the leadership of the South Asian area crucial. In a sense, South Asia serves as a conduit for India’s fortunes on the world stage. India has a policy of putting the neighborhood first in this respect.

Reasons for SAARC Failure:

  • One apparent factor is the political tension between India and Pakistan. Any attempt to improve SAARC will be very challenging as long as relations between the two most prominent SAARC members are tense.
  • In the area, narrow national interests have consistently prevailed over more significant regional perspectives, which are, of course, more advantageous to the individual states over the long term.
  • Unfortunately, several nations in the area have experienced political unrest, and their governments have not been able to make the tough choices necessary to implement any significant multilateral projects.
  • Another factor contributing to SAARC’s underwhelming success thus far is the lack of connection among its member countries. Due to the lack of a shared border and connection through Pakistan, trade and other interactions between India and Afghanistan are hindered and rely on good relations between India and Pakistan.
  • However, a significant factor in SAARC’s underperformance that hasn’t received enough attention is the psychological makeup of its individual members.

Way forward:

  • At the sub-regional level, one or two projects may be selected and aggressively carried out within a set time range. If these initiatives are successful, they may demonstrate the advantages of cross-border collaboration and encourage sceptics to join in.
  • Each SAARC nation must also understand that, unlike the political climate, which is always changing in each country, the economic environment is more stable and calls for considerable reform even as it is.
  • The region’s poor population counts most in terms of the economy. Even if it starts slowly, SAARC can and should be the tool used by regional leaders to enhance the economic standing of the region’s citizens.


BIMSTEC, an organization with seven members, stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. Apart from Nepal and Bhutan, all landlocked countries, all its members are situated on the Bay of Bengal. The seven countries comprise this organization, founded in 1997, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital city, is home to its secretariat.

Importance of BIMSTEC:

  • The integration of South Asia and South East Asia is what it seeks to accomplish.
  • The group has a GDP of USD 3 trillion and is home to 1.5 billion people, indicating its significance.
  • The partnership is carried out through 14 priorities. Trade and investments, technology, energy, transport and communication, tourism, fishing, agriculture, cultural cooperation, environment and disaster management, public health, people-to-people interaction, poverty reduction, counter-terrorism, and transnational crime are among them.

Drawbacks of BIMSTEC:

  • The members attend meetings less frequently. There has only been four Head of State summits since the organization’s founding. The organization suffers from sporadic gatherings.
  • Secondly, much is desired in this area as the priority sector’s results are not monitored.
  • Lastly, Internal disputes and conflicts among the group’s members have made it difficult for them to work together, especially those between Myanmar and Bangladesh over the Rohingya refugee problem.

Challenges of BIMSTEC:

Pending Projects

  • Trilateral India work The Myanmar-Thailand Highway, which would eventually connect Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, is still in poor condition.
  • A trilateral motor vehicle agreement proposed by India in 2015 to enable frictionless goods and passenger transit between the three nations is still waiting.

Issues with FTA

  • India is worried that the FTA as it now stands will make it difficult for its local manufacturing sector to compete with that of Bangladesh.
  • Regarding professional market access and tariff reductions on traded products, there are other distinctions between Thailand and India.

Conflicting priorities

  • According to critics, many priority sectors are present in BIMSTEC, and this has to be reduced for BIMSTEC to be effective.
  • Thailand has requested that the list of critical areas be reduced from 14 to only 5, including connectivity, trade and investment, people-to-people interaction, security, and technology.

Lack of Resources

  • Insufficient human and financial resources limit the body’s performance.
  • India is the most significant donor and provides over 32% of the money annually.
  • Perceived as a group controlled by India
  • The idea that BIMSTEC is an organization dominated by India, similar to the SAARC, must be dispelled.

Why is BIMSTEC important for India?

  • India aims to use BIMSTEC as an alternative after realizing that SAARC has internal problems and that Pakistan is steadfastly resisting attempts to combat cross-border terrorism and regional integration.
  • Except for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Maldives, the organization includes all SAARC nations.
  • The expansion of this organization will significantly aid India’s efforts to improve regional energy projects and connections.
  • India is actively pursuing several connectivity projects, including the trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar, and Thailand, as well as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) project.

Way Forward

  • Projects involving connectivity ought to be prioritized.
  • Because BIMSTEC is essential to India’s “Neighborhood first” and “Act East” Policies, two of its top foreign policy goals, the country must take the lead.
  • The area has the potential to develop into a center for economic activity.
  • Strong regional collaboration is required to take advantage of the potential in the area.
  • During the fourth summit, the prime minister of Nepal emphasized the significance of transforming BIMSTEC into a performance-oriented organization. If his recommendations are carried out in full, BIMSTEC may develop into a vibrant, efficient, and goal-oriented organization.


India, the biggest nation in South Asia, must fulfill its obligations under SAARC to establish itself as a regional force. The distinctions between BIMSTEC and SAARC are explained in the following sentences. Finally, it becomes clear that none of them are interchangeable. Instead, their responsibilities might complement last one another.

BIMSTEC meetings have been held only four times in the last twenty years. BIMSTEC meetings are instead considered to be retreats for the leaders of the member nations, and there are hardly any talks on policy. On the other hand, SAARC is a more active organization. The annual SAARC summits have been postponed 11 times due to political issues, but during the last 32 years, SAARC has been meticulously fostered via various meetings and activities, including 18 summits.
The function of BIMSTEC is primarily focused on regional and economic integration. Compared to BIMSTEC, SAARC has more ambitious objectives. SAARC seeks to improve group self-reliance while advancing social advancement, economic prosperity, and cultural development.
In only a decade, trade between BIMSTEC member nations increased by 6%. Since its creation, it has remained in the SAARC region by about 5%.
The BIMSTEC secretariat is experiencing significant staffing and financial resource shortage, which has had a negative impact on its functioning. The secretariat of SAARC has larger resources. This can be utilized at SAARC meetings.


A contract was signed to cut distrust and skepticism in regional politics plaguing the SAARC nations. Contrarily, the BIMSTEC nations fairly preserve cordial ties by exchanging strategic trust. After that, BIMSTEC may teach India and Pakistan about issues, including an asymmetrical power balance and cordial interactions, to create a win-win situation for all parties involved in South Asia. By the year 2016, all traded items will have zero customs taxes. One should also be aware that BIMSTEC’s priorities will primarily focus on efforts to forge extra-regional blocs rather than overtly enhancing regional cooperation inside South Asia. These two organizations are not equivalent substitutes that are likely to replace one another, even though their geographic scope and focus areas overlap. As its members have a shared history, are situated close together geographically, have a similar identity, and share some regional ideals, SAARC is solely a regional organization. Additionally, the SAARC all nations face comparable development and mental problems that can only be overcome by cooperation. On the other hand, BIMSTEC may serve as an inter-regional organization by linking South Asia with the economies of ASEAN. As a result, SAARC and BIMSTEC are complementary organizations primarily focused

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