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It generally felt that Saarc failed to make headway mainly due to persistent tension between India and Pakistan

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Jan-21 - 27, 2002

Recently, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded in an identical fashion with recommendations, commitments and declaration for better relations among the member countries.

Saarc was launched in 1985 for the economic development of its member countries but so far has not make much headway except some cosmetic steps taken for social and economic relations among the members. The association has failed to prove its existence as has been done by other regional associations like European Union, NAFTA and APEC etc., which have paved the way for social, economic and even political stability for the people of the respective regions.

As far as achievements of the Saarc were concerned, it generally felt that Saarc failed to make headway mainly due to persistent tension between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. Some improvement in relations between India and Pakistan was made when the two countries agreed to allow travel facility through two-way rail and bus transportation however the two countries have not yet given the status of the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) in respect of trade relations.

It is however said that the member countries will be required to accord MFN status to each other by June this year. People who travel at least two capitals of the member countries are allowed 30 per cent discount in air passage besides reduction in duty in external trade among the member states. However, the trade among the member countries seems more bilateral instead of regional.

It is unfortunate that Saarc region is the home of a fifth of the world's population but the size of the population and volume of resources the region posses is not reflected in barely 3.4 per cent of global trade. One could only wish that the member states would realize agony of a large majority of the people living below poverty line in this region despite having resources to change the fate of their people.

By the time the next summit goes into session in early 2003 in Pakistan, the people at the helm of affairs in respective member countries would do something for millions of the people living in the hope for better days.

Cliches to promote mutual trust and understanding, peace, stability and amity and to accelerate social-economic cooperation in the region were however heard in the recently concluded Summit.

Member states reaffirmed their commitment to fostering good neighbourly relations, relieving tensions and building confidence.

The participants of the Summit agreed to the vision of a phased and planned process eventually leading to a South Asian Economic Union.

They also asked Saarc Secretary General to finalize a regionally agreed investment framework to meet investment needs of the member states.

Leaders of seven Saarc countries agreed to finalize the draft by the end of this year.

A declaration at the Saarc summit said heads of the seven state and governments asked the regional grouping to finalize the draft of the free trade treaty by the end of this year.

The draft was scheduled to be finalized by the end of last year but it failed to meet the deadline as adequate negotiations between the member countries including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives could not be held.

The Saarc declaration, which came at the end of a two-day summit in the Nepalese capital also strongly condemned terrorism.

The leaders called on all states to prevent and suppress the functioning of terrorist acts by the collection of funds for such terrorist acts in states or in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts.

They reiterated the need for an early finalization of the Saarc Social Charter which should include the important areas of poverty eradication, population stabilization, the empowerment of women, youth mobilization, human resource development, promotion of health and nutrition and protection of children.

Saarc leaders expressed their collective resolve to treat trafficking in women and children as a criminal offence of a serious nature. They recognized the need to actively persue and promote social development through empowerment of women and to achieve their full participation in decision making at all levels. They reaffirmed their commitment to uplift the social status of the people in the region and accord highest priority to promoting social development through specific and targeted programmes.

In the education sector, the leaders instructed the concerned ministries of the governments to devise appropriate strategies for raising the quality of education through exchange of information among the universities in the region.

The leaders underscored their commitment to general and complete disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, on a universal basis, under effective international control; they called upon all nuclear weapon states to engage constructively through a transparent and credible process of negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament.

Saarc leaders noted with appreciation the proposal made by Nepal to institute a Saarc Award to Honor individuals and organizations in the field of peace, development, poverty alleviation and regional cooperation.