Context: The killer Covid-19 is prompting the reactivation and revival of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc). Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a bold and positive initiative to engage with his Saarc colleagues for working out a mutually-coordinated strategy to deal with the impact of this pandemic.

More about news:

  • The video conference of Saarc leaders, where Pakistan was also on board, welcomed Modi’s proposal for an emergency fund with India’s contribution of $10 million for dealing with the crisis. 
  • The leaders of Saarc also agreed not only to pool their best practices, share their experiences and coordinate their efforts to work together in fighting the virus, but also to mitigate its long-term economic and social consequences.

Why is SAARC stuck?

  • The last SAARC summit was held in 2014 and subsequent summits could not be held after 2016 Summit scheduled in Pakistan got cancelled in the backdrop of terrorist attacks in Pathankot and Uri.
  • Saarc has been in the ICU since 2015, on account of Pakistan’s refusal to cooperate in regional connectivity projects, and India’s refusal to engage with Pakistan.
  • Preference to BIMSTEC: BIMSTEC leaders were invited to the regional outreach of the BRICS summit of 2016, rather than SAARC.

About South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) 

  • The signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka established the SAARC in 1985. 
  • Its secretariat is in Kathmandu, Nepal. 
  • Objectives: The SAARC seeks to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia, strengthen collective self-reliance, promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in various fields, and cooperate with international and regional organizations.
  • Eight states―Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. 
  • Six observers—China, Japan, European Union, Republic of Korea, United States, Iran

Challenges for SAARC

  • South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) due to the presence of sensitive lists, is yet to be implemented in spirit. 
  • Pakistan’s non-cooperation has stopped some major initiatives like SAARC– Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) and SAARC satellite project.
  • No  arrangement for resolving disputes or mediating conflicts
  • Lack of security cooperation due to cross-border terrorism coming from Pakistan.
  • India’s “Big Brother” image: Other smaller nations are wary of this and shy away from contributing funds.


The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) is an agreement reached in 2004, at the 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad, Pakistan. 

  • It created a free trade area of 1.6 billion people in the 8 member countries to reduce customs duties of all traded goods to zero by the year 2016
  • The SAFTA agreement came into force in 2006, and is operational following the ratification of the agreement by the seven governments. 

Advantages of BIMSTEC over SAARC 

  • BIMSTEC has more trade and greater trade potential due to the presence of two important trading partners India and Thailand.
  • BIMSTEC has better regional connectivity via land and sea.

Way Forward

  • SAARC must be reformed and member countries should try to reach a consensus  through a dispute resolution mechanism.
  • India should invest more energy on SASEC (South Asian Sub Regional Economic cooperation comprising of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka) and BBIN (involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal)