Why in news?

The unprecedented coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has united the SAARC countries as they adopted international travel bans, enforced strict lockdowns, announced special economic packages, set up a joint fund and banned all religious gatherings to battle the pandemic, earning them a praise from the World Bank for their quick response.

Throughout South Asia, the countries have responded proactively to the daunting challenge with India taking the lead by pledging USD 10 million toward a COVID-19 emergency fund

Subsequently, Nepal and Afghanistan pledged USD 1 million each; Maldives committed USD 200,000; Bhutan USD 100,000; Bangladesh USD 1.5 million; Sri Lanka USD 5 million and Pakistan pledged USD 3 million to the fund.

SAARC

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia
  • Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2015.
  • SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration.
  • It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
  • SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

Political Issues in SAARC

  • Lasting peace and prosperity in South Asia have been elusive because of the various ongoing conflicts in the region.
  • Political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings which have refrained from interfering in the internal matters of its member states.
  • During the 12th and 13th SAARC summits, extreme emphasis was laid upon greater cooperation between the SAARC members to fight terrorism.
  • The 19th SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Pakistan was called off as India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan decided to boycott it.
  • It was for the first time that four countries boycotted a SAARC summit, leading to its cancellation.

India’s issues with SAARC

  1. SAARC’s future hangs in thread as Pakistan’s recalcitrance to act on terrorism has been a deal breaker.
  2. Connectivity with Afghanistan has been hampered due to lack of Pakistan’s cordial support.
  3. Air freight corridor cannot be sustainable in long term and also it will be unable to achieve the full potential of Indo- Afghan trade potentials.
  4. Chabahar port might fall prey to US-Iran escalations.
  5. Regular meetings need to happen, if this group has to become a driver in global economic setup.

SAARC Disaster Management Centre

  • South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Disaster Management Centre (SDMC-IU) has been set up at Gujarat Institute of Disaster Management (GIDM) Campus, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India.
  • Eight Member States, i.e., Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are expected to be served by the SDMC (IU).
  • It is entrusted with the responsibility of serving Member States by providing policy advice, technical support on system development, capacity building services and training for holistic management of disaster risk in the SAARC region.
  • The centre also facilitates exchange of information and expertise for effective and efficient management of disaster risk.
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