Perhaps the time has come that all impediments and hurdles will be effectively dealt with in the forth coming 12th SAARC Summit



Dec 29 - Jan 04, 2003



Hectic preparations are being made in Islamabad to host the two-day 12th Summit of South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) commencing here from January 4, 2004. Fool proof security arrangements are being made in the Capital and concerned agencies on the high alert. High officials in various ministries are burning mid-night oil to finalize briefs for the President Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Ministry on various issues likely to be discussed in the summit.

The coming summit of this almost 2 decades old forums which has not achieved much so far has however assumed special importance specially in the political sense as the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will have a face to face meeting with President General Pervez Musharraf. This meeting between the leaders of two-neighboring nuclear power will perhaps overshadow the SAARC Conference as all eyes will be on them. This may melt the ice and that would lead a very healthy impact on SAARC in implementing its real objectives. The SAARC could not make any real breakthrough in the past 20 years unlike any other regional forum for economic cooperation because of the hostilities of its two-major partners India and Pakistan. Now when winds of change and peace are blowing in the sub-continents the time is ripe for SAARC to emerge from its slumber and get its act together. In any case the Islamabad Summit would leave a very healthy impact both on the peace efforts between India and Pakistan and making SAARC on active and really effective forum economic cooperation and enhanced trade between its members.

The SAARC which came into being in 1982 at the imitative of Bangladeshi President, Gen, Zia-ur-Rahman has struggled far too long to come up with constructive programme of engagement particularly in the field of economic cooperation. A deadline of 2005 has been set to achieve at least the first phase of free trade regime, but now it depends on India and Pakistan to harmonize their tariff lines to enable the region to integrate closer ties in trade and investment. SAARC's progress has been impeded by not only divergent attitudes of member states but also by operative political constraints. The very composition of SAARC has made things difficult. India which is at the heart of South Asia dominates the region followed by Pakistan and then coming the other members, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives to complete the membership. Over the years, the bilateral relation between India and Pakistan had held the SAARC process hostage. Even the annual summits have been skipped on account of tension between these two immediate neighbors. In this context Vajpayee's participation in the coming summit and his meeting with the President Gen. Musharraf are good omen both for SAARC and the peace between its two major members, that this meeting will prove very positive and helpful and being supported by statements issued by the two leaders emphasizing the need for resolving their difference and various confidence building measures taken in the meanwhile by the two countries.



Indian Prime Minister will have a face to face meeting with President Musharraf on January 4 when the latter hosts a dinner for the seven heads of SAARC nations on the opening day of the summit. This engagement will be preceded by a call on Pakistan's President by SAARC leaders officials also indicate the possibility of a bilateral meeting between Vajpayee and Musharraf during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister who would be in Islamabad for three and a half days.

"We cannot rule out the possibility of more encounters", a senior official of the Foreign Ministry said.

Vajpayee is expected to have several bilateral meeting with the heads of other SAARC countries after the concluding ceremony of the summit on the morning of January 6 before returning to India on the same evening media managers of the Indian Prime Minister are believed to be toying with the idea of a meeting between Vajpayee and some of the intellectuals in the federal capital to provide an opportunity for a heart to heart talk. They are fully conscious of the fact that India-Pakistan relations and vision of Prime Minister on resolution of differences between the two countries would dominate any such session.

The confidence of Pakistani officials about bilateral engagements is based on recent remarks of the Indian Prime Minister that he would meet every one in Islamabad and he has no problem in meeting General Musharraf if he wished to meet him. After Vajpayee confirmed his visit to Pakistan, Jamali called him from Paris and mooted the idea of meetings between both of them and with President Musharraf. He, however, kept silent about Vajpayee's reaction to his suggestion of holding Indo-Pak bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

Sources in the Foreign Office also did not rule out possibility of bilateral talks between Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri. The external affairs minister would arrive here on January 1 to take part in the ministerial level meeting of SAARC ahead of the summit.

Perhaps the time has come that all impediments and hurdles will be effectively dealt with in the forth coming 12th SAARC Summit. Every effort aimed towards the collective good of the region needs to be supported whole-heartedly by all concerned.