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
"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
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.