The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is an organization of South Asian nations, founded in December 1985 and dedicated to economic, technological, social, and cultural development emphasizing collective self-reliance. Its seven founding members are India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined the organization in 2005. Meetings of heads of state are usually scheduled annually; meetings of foreign secretaries, twice annually. It is headquartered of SAARC is in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The concept of SAARC was first adopted by Bangladesh during 1977, under the administration of President Ziaur Rahman. In the late 1970s, SAARC nations agreed upon the creation of a trade bloc consisting of South Asian countries. The idea of regional cooperation in South Asia was again mooted in May 1980. The foreign secretaries of the seven countries met for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.
The objectives of the Association as defined in the Charter are:
- to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and to improve their quality of life;
- to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region and to provide all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and to realize their full potential;
- to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia;
- to contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another\’s problems;
- to promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields;
- to strengthen cooperation with other developing countries;
- to strengthen cooperation among themselves in international forums on matters of common interest; and
- to cooperate with international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes.
Afghanistan was added to the regional grouping on 13 November 2005, With the addition of Afghanistan, the total number of member states were raised to eight (8). In April 2006, the UAE and South Korea made formal requests to be granted observer status. The European Union has also indicated interest in being given observer status, and made a formal request for the same to the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting in July 2006.On 2 August 2006 the foreign ministers of the SAARC countries agreed in principle to grant observer status to the US, South Korea and the European Union. On 4 March 2008, Iran requested observer status. Followed shortly by the entrance of Mauritius.