Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries

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Concept and Introduction of SAARC

After 1945, the trend of the establishment of various regional cooperation organizations like the European Economic Community, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the American Free Trade Organization, the league, and the African Unity Organization, etc. was started. Following the context, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was also founded in 1985 with seven member countries.

These seven countries were Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Maldives, and Sir Lanka. Its membership increased to eight with the joining of Afghanistan in 2007. SAARC is set up to promote economic, social, and cultural cooperation among its member countries. It believes in respect for sovereignty, territorial independence, and non-interference in the state’s internal affairs. The main economic objectives of SAARC are

  • To promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and improve their quality of life
  • To accelerate economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region,
  • To promote and strengthen self-reliance among the countries of South Asia

The SAARC economy contains 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population, and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the economy of the globe, as of 2019. The world’s most densely populated region, SAARC is one of the most fertile areas of the world. SAARC countries have a common tradition, dress, food and culture, and political aspects.

The countries in SAARC have communal glitches and issues like poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, natural disasters, internal conflicts, industrial and technological backwardness, low GDP, and poor socio-economic condition. Thus, finding the common areas of development and expansion is necessary to uplift the living standards of South Asians. It means that there could be so many areas to be developed jointly by the South Asian countries to get common solutions for joint issues and problems that have been faced by the region.

Overview of Planning in SAARC Countries

Many of the SAARC countries are categorized as lower-middle-income countries by the World Bank (See table 1). The common economic, social, geographical, religious, cultural characteristics prevailing in the region enable similar types of strategy within the region. The economy of South Asia has achieved many signs of progress since the formation of SAARC, but the region remains one of the least integrated and underdeveloped.

Existing parallel and the underground economy, poverty and inequality, lack of trust between member countries especially between Indian and Pakistan, have made the economy of South Asia more insecure and fragile. Thus, the planning practices in South Asia are recommendatory and not mandatory.

Table-I: World Banks Classification of South Asian Countries

Name of the CountryCategory based on GNI Per Capita
AfghanistanLow Income Country
BangladeshLower-Middle-Income Country
BhutanLower-Middle-Income Country
IndiaLower-Middle-Income Country
MaldivesUpper-Middle-Income Country
NepalLower-Middle-Income Country
PakistanLower-Middle-Income Country
Sri LankaLower-Middle-Income Country
World Banks Classification of South Asian Countries/Source: World Bank, 2020

Development planning or economic planning is a blueprint for action, pointing out a precise way to reach predetermined goals or a set of goals with a given time with available resources and the prevailing circumstances. It means development planning is an organized, conscious, and continued effort to achieve specific goals in the future. 

The 20th century has been rightly called the era of economic planning. And as we already discussed planning is the technique through which underdeveloped countries are attempting to accelerate their rate of economic development. Following the trend, it may not be a wonder to say that every country of South Asia started development planning to speed up its economic expansion.

The Common Features of Planning in SAARC Countries

South Asian nations are similar in terms of several aspects. They are more or less homogeneous in terms of population, agricultural setup, foreign domination, traditional societies, high illiteracy, high birth rate, big consumer market, cultural diversification, low level of per capita income and living standards, deprivation, poverty, malnutrition, deficiency of capital, saving and investment and so on. Thus, planning and plan-based development in South Asia are not necessary but recommendatory. So, having common features and problems the planned development in SAARC Courtiers has the following features.  

Planning was launched during the same decade

Most of the SAARC countries introduced their planned development strategies in the decade of the 50s. The following table shows the date of the first plan implemented by SAARC countries.

Table-II: First Development Plan in SAARC Countries

CountriesDate of the first plan
AfghanistanThe 1950s
Sri Lanka1948
First Development Plan in SAARC Countries/Source: Wikipedia

Similar types of planning

All the SAARC countries have been practicing periodic planning with a duration of two, three, and five years. Bangladesh has practiced the second plan of two years and the rest are for five years, and all the other countries have been following the three-year or five-year periodic plans. The countries have been applying short-run development programs, medium-term five-year plans, and long-term perspective plans for the overall development.  

Almost similar targets and priorities

SAARC countries have been suffering similar nature of economic obstacles and challenges so similar types of targets and priorities can be found in their planning. Poverty alleviation, reducing illiteracy, controlling population growth, reduction of infant and maternal mortality rate, fiscal and external balances, strict financial discipline, increasing GDP growth rate, creating employment opportunities, improving quality of life, etc. are the common targets of SAARC planning.

The sluggish rate of obtaining achievement

Another common feature regarding planning in SAARC is the sluggish rate of obtaining the achievements of the plan. The targeted objectives are rarely achieved as expected in the South Asian nations. Almost all the nations have been achieving their growth targets and other targets at a very slow rate. Lack of coordination and inefficient resource allocation may result in achieving targets at dawdling speed. 

Lack of proper resource allocation and coordination

South Asia has great potential for economic expansion with an enormous amount of natural resources, human capital, and market access.  However, the region is remaining as one of the least developed reasons due to a lack of proper allocation of resources and coordination failure between stakeholders.

Nations formulate a plan without spending more on research and development and planning is more or less dependent on foreign aid and donations. Similarly, there is a serious problem in the plan implementation as well. Due to many reasons like strikes, political instability, conflicts, and other socio-economic reasons, there is a lack of proper coordination within a country as well as between the countries. 

Priorities of Planning in SAARC Countries/ Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries

SAARC member countries cooperate in the areas like human resource development and tourism; agriculture and rural development; environment, natural disasters and biotechnology; economic, trade and finance; social affairs; information and poverty alleviation; energy, transport, science and technology; education, security and culture, and others. We know that the socio-economic, cultural, and other dimensions of development in SAARC countries are almost similar.

So, the problems they are facing in their growth and expansion are also more or less related to each other. Therefore, priorities set by developing planning in the South Asian countries may sometimes coincide and sometimes may not be based on their national interest and agenda. In general planning, priorities are to be determined by the national planning authority with the coordination of other stakeholders.

Thus, each country may have certain specific priorities of economic plans. Employment generation, poverty reduction, self-reliance existence, reduction of all the forms of inequalities, achieving higher economic growth, ensuring quality living standards, etc. could be the common priorities of development planning in SAARC Countries. The following table shows the major priorities of development planning in these nations (Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries).

Table-III: Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries

CountryPlan Priorities
AfghanistanService delivery; employment generation; public revenue generation; poverty reduction; rule of law; facilitating human resource development; building good democratic government; human rights preservation.
BangladeshExport lead economic growth; empowerment of poor; economic progress through infrastructure development; agricultural growth; human resource development; poverty reduction; enhancing health care facility; food security; mitigating the impact of climate change; contextualized research and development in critical sectors like agriculture, health, education, financial inclusion, and science and technology and thereby promoting Bangladesh as an innovative and digital nation.
BhutanSelf-dependent; inclusive green socio-economic development; improving quality of rural lifestyle; enhancing and encouraging capacity of the private sector; spreading gross national happiness growth for the well-being of the people; mobilization of adequate resources to be freed from poverty, synergizing integrated rural-urban development; investing in human capital.
IndiaSkill development; irrigation; education’ power generation; employment creation; poverty reduction; agricultural development; building a stronger economic link with China; coping with the risk of climate change; urbanization management.
MaldivesSocio-economic infrastructural development, economic progress; social equality; socio-political equality; universalization of primary education; health care; strengthening of democratic governance, and socio-economic institutions.
NepalDelivery of immediate rescue; create employment opportunities; substantial peace and harmony for building up prosperity, just, modern, and inclusive Nepal; free from any type of discrimination.
PakistanAddress climate change; family planning; quality of life; agriculture and rural development; ensuring food security; overcoming serious energy and water shortages issues; promoting gender equality.
Sri LankaInfrastructure development; environmental protection; human resource development; national economic growth; development of rural economies and creating a wide and strong middle class.
Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries

The table has shown the major priorities sent by SAARC Countries in their development plans (Plan Priorities in SAARC Countries). They aim to achieve the welfare of peoples of their countries, accelerate economic growth, promote and strengthen collective self-reliance, and so on, and to achieve such goals these priorities should be addressed by the implementation sections of the nations. 

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