Recognizing the escalating revolution in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and the tremendous opportunities and daunting challenges emanated there-from, the issue of communications received due prominence in the SAARC process. The Heads of State or Government at their Ninth SAARC Summit (Male’, May 1997), noted that inadequate communications facilities amongst the Member States were a major hindrance to closer economic cooperation. They stressed the importance of developing infrastructure and adequate communications networks among Member States to reinforce the process of economic cooperation. In this regard, they highlighted the need for the simplification of complex documentation procedures and transactional software to facilitate economic interaction across the region.
Pursuant to the above decision, the SAARC Communications Ministers held their First Conference in Colombo in May 1998. They agreed that telecommunications should not be looked upon purely as a source of revenue but rather as a multifaceted process enhancing socio-economic development in the region. They also agreed on specific steps to further promote cooperation among Member States on a sustained basis. The Conference adopted a Plan of Action on Telecommunications.
The SAARC Communications Ministers held their second Conference in Islamabad in June 2004. In view of the rapid and innovative developments in the telecommunications sector, they had in-depth discussion on the earlier Plan of Action. They agreed on a comprehensive strategy for cooperation to facilitate the enhancement and expansion of telecommunications facilities in the region and adopted a Revised SAARC Plan of Action on Telecommunications – 2004 with the following goals and objectives:
In order to achieve these goals and objectives, the Ministers adopted the Revised SAARC Plan of Action on Telecommunications.
The Second Conference also adopted Common Position on issues of concern to the region in Telecommunications sector that was presented at the World Summit for Information Society (WSIS), held in Tunis in November 2005. The Conference felt the need to have more concerted endeavours to address the issue of digital divide and urged the Member States to share their successful initiatives for development of ICT within the region. It decided that fellowships and training programmes for the development of human resources would be offered by Member States.
The Working Group on Telecommunications and ICT was established, by the Council. of Ministers during its Twenty-fourth Session held in Islamabad in January 2004. This was done after a comprehensive review of the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action by the Standing Committee at its Fourth Special Session held in Kathmandu in August 2003.
The First Meeting of Working Group on Telecommunications and ICT was held in Ghaziabad, India on 21-22 September 2004 which considered measures for effective and early implementation of the SAARC Plan of Action on Telecommunications – 2004 adopted by the Second Conference of SAARC Communications Ministers.
The Second Meeting of the Working Group on Telecommunications and Information and Communication Technology, held in New Delhi on 3-4 April 2008. The Meeting observed that Member States have made substantial progress in digitalization of inter-country links. The Meeting also agreed for the sharing of successful experiences in R&D as well as access to new technologies and posting of such information on the website of SAARC Secretariat The Meeting emphasized to meet at least annually.
At the Fifteenth SAARC Summit, Colombo, 2-3 August 2008, the Leaders observed that an effective and economical regional tele-communication regime is an essential factor of connectivity, encouraging the growth of people-centric partnerships. They stressed the need for the Member States to endeavour to move towards a uniformly applicable low tariff, for international direct dial calls within the region.
The Third Meeting of the Working Group on Telecommunications and Information and Communication Technology was held in Ghaziabad, India on 3-4 March 2009. The Meeting discussed on the proposal of Up gradation of National and Regional Telecom Infrastructure and agreed in principle that the capacity of the existing inter country links needs to be increased; that the maximizing the use of terrestrial system such as optical fiber, microwave link and that the growth of telecom traffic, both voice and data meant for SAARC countries will require to remain within the region. The Meeting decided that India may start taking necessary action with the objective to set up South Asian Postal Union as proposed. The Meeting was informed that the commissioning of the project on Tele-Education E-Network requires signing of an MOU and recommended that the Member States may sign MOU to this effect in next six months. The Meeting also discussed on various issues Cross-border interference of Radio signals, Revision of accounting rates and collection charges among SAARC Countries, Multilateral utilization of terrestrial communications routes among SAARC countries, Cyber Security etc.
The Fourth Meeting of the Working Group on Telecommunications and Information and Communication Technology was held in New Delhi on 26-27 March 2015.