chapter  1
22 Pages

SAARC membership and structure

In order to understand SAARC, one ought to consider that regional institutions often emerge on the basis of a shared regional awareness. As Andrew Hurrell reminds us, though, “‘regional awareness’, ‘regional identity’, and ‘regional consciousness’ are inherently imprecise and fuzzy notions.”1 Whether one understands regions on the basis of geographic contiguity, or cultural affinity, or economic interests, or on shared security concerns, the concept of a region denominated as “South Asia” certainly conforms to this imprecise definition of regions. In this chapter we will first explore the contours of South Asia, as defined geographically and culturally. We will then show how changing definitions about what constitutes South Asia helped shape the first efforts to create a regional institution in the region in the 1970s. One of the more important developments in the initial stages of the

formalization of a regional institution is the proposed design of that institution. In the case of SAARC, the key driver for the establishment of a South Asian regional institution was the leadership of a few political actors, principally Bangladesh’s president, Ziaur Rahman. President Zia was instrumental in generating official support for a loose set of regional collaboration objectives which eventuated in the creation of SAARC. However, the narrative also shows that President Zia had mixed motives for embracing regional cooperation. Nevertheless, by taking a leadership role in drafting a proposal for regional collaboration,

President Zia-to use common terminology-acted as an “agenda setter.” The SAARC Charter, the association’s foundation document, bore the imprint of President Zia’s vision for a South Asian regional institution. In this chapter we will also explore the challenges that South Asian

regional leaders faced when they agreed to hold the first summit of a loosely conceived South Asian regional organization. Moreover, we will show that the SAARC Charter contained a broad set of principles to guide regional collaboration. These principles made it difficult to implement any decisions reached at SAARC summits. To that effect, a SAARC Secretariat was established. In this chapter we will explore the basic organizational features of SAARC. We will pay particular attention to SAARC summits.