The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an intergovernmental organization, composed of eight countries in South Asia, with the goal of promoting economic development and regional integration. The SAARC states together have a combined area of nearly 2 million square miles, making up a total of 3% of the world’s area. As of 2019, the population across all of the member states was over 1.7 billion, accounting for 21% of the world’s total population. During this same period, SAARC countries generated 4.21% ($3.67 trillion USD) of the global economy.
SAARC was originally founded in 1985 by seven countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. An eighth nation, Afghanistan, was accepted for membership in 2008, though not before significant debate about topics including the country's commitment to peace and whether it could be considered a South Asian country. Several additional countries enjoy SAARC observer status.
List of SAARC Member Countries:
List of SAARC Observer Countries:
|European Union||non-member observer|
|Russia||applicant for observer status|
|Sri Lanka||non-member observer|
|Turkey||applicant for observer status|
SAARC may grow in the future, as Myanmar has stated its interest in becoming a full member. Russia and Turkey have also applied to become observers, while South Africa has reportedly attended past SAARC meetings as a guest.
Complications within SAARC
In 2006, SAARC launched the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which was designed to facilitate trade and economic growth by gradually reducing or eliminating tariffs between SAARC countries. While SAFTA has generally been considered a success, Malaysia has been accused of exploiting SAFTA to illegally export palm oil into India by routing it through Nepal.
From its founding in 1985 through 2014, SAARC held a summit every 1-3 years (eighteen summits over 29 years). However, shortly before the 2016 summit, scheduled to be held in Islamabad, Pakistan, a group of Pakistani insurgents attacked an Indian Army headquarters in Uri, India, killing 19 people and wounding 19-30 more. The event escalated tensions between the governments of India and Pakistan, and several other SAARC member countries raised concerns over the possibility of additional terrorist attacks should the summit proceed as scheduled. Ultimately, the 2016 summit was canceled. As of April 2022, SAARC has not met since.