The 18 years old South Asian Association for Regional
Cooperation (SAARC) which has so far remained hostage to hostilities
between its two main members — India and Pakistan — was really
activated last week in Islamabad which hosted the 12th Summit. The 2-day
conference of top South Asian leaders was crowned with breaking ice
between the two countries when Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee met his
Pakistani counterpart and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pledging to
work for peace and further to strengthen the present momentum of
improving ties between the two countries through cooperation and
understanding to resolve all their disputes and conflict. It gave new
hope and aspiration to SAARC. Besides opening new chapter in the sour
Indo-Pak relations when the two countries agreed to initiate composite
dialogue next month on all issues including Kashmir.
The 12th SAARC Summit attended by the heads of the
seven member states or government — India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka,
Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Pakistan proved to be landmark event in the
beautiful surroundings of Islamabad. It was a superb show by all
standard and it did not merely contain thought provoking speeches by
various Prime Ministers and head of the governments, but also witnessed
the signing ceremony on an agreed social charter that focus attention on
the people of the region. It contains a number of articles that
emphasize on poverty alleviation, health, education, human resource
development, youth mobilization and improving the status of women. It
calls for promotion of rights and well being of the child, population
stabilization, drug addiction, drug de-addiction rehabilitation and
realization. It also approved the agreements prepared by the SAARC
Ministerial Committee regarding free-trade between the member countries
(SAFTA) setting up a South Asian Bank for economic development and an
additional protocol for combating terrorism.
Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who became the
current chairman of the organization emphasized upon the fact that
greater economic integration is in-extricable linked to the creation of
requisite political climate of peace and stability "The ideas of
establishing a South Asian Economic Union or a Monetary Union or of
Schengen repeat in South Asia, would remain distant dreams, unless we
are able to address the political environment in our region in a just
and realistic manner," he said.
He said that it is the stark reality of political
differences and disputes that has held back economic cooperation in
South Asia. He welcomed a number of steps in economic cooperation like
agreement on the Framework of SAFFA, and spoke of the useful avenues
provided by the mechanism of SAARC finance, including establishment of a
South Asian Development Bank, and said the focus of SAARC endeavours
should be the welfare of the peoples. He pointed out that the SAARC
functional mechanisms and structures need to be further strengthened and
assured that Pakistan will spare no effort to translate the vision of
the SAARC charter into a reality.
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that
he had spoken at the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu that at sixteen years of
age SAARC needed a dose of economic and social realism to move from
adolescence to childhood. "Our organization is now 18 years old. I
can think we can look back with considerable satisfaction over what have
we achieved since the last Summit. We have finalized a social charter.
We have moved forward on Preferential Trading Arrangements and have
concluded a set of substantive recommendations for a regional approach
to poverty alleviation."
Referring to a hoarding in Islamabad, that he saw on
arrival at airport, which said "together we stand a better chance
in the world," he said it aptly expressed a profound truth. He
proposed a Poverty Alleviation Fund and said India would be willing to
make an initial contribution of US $100 million to it, on the
understanding that this money would be used mainly on projects within
SAARC, but outside India.
Begum Ziaur Rehaman, prime minister of Bangladesh
emphasized charting a realistic and forward-looking course in the light
of various transformations the world has undergone since the last SAARC
Summit was held. Ending her speech with "Allah Hafiz," she
called for making SAARC a more vibrant institution.
President Chandrika Badarnaike Kumartunga, who
greeted those present with an Asslam-u-Alaikum also, said SAARC during
its relatively short existence traversed a difficult path, seeking its
way through the thickets of intra-regional or bilateral tensions. She
said that in South Asia we face the danger of marginalization in the
global economy and thus, even risk of regression in the spheres of
economic and social development." The reduction of tensions between
the two largest member States of our Association goes rise to much
confidence, she said.
Attaching great importance to the Framework Agreement
on SAFFA, President Mamoon Abdul Gayoom of Maldives said it heralded a
new phase in regional development. He appreciated the agreement allowed
the smaller countries a longer time frame to adjust to the free trade
Prime Minister of Nepal Suriya Bhadur Thapa said he
was encouraged by the recent development in the region for a conducive
atmosphere leading to meaningful cooperation.
The Prime Minister of Bhutan said the purpose of
development is not to become clonies of industrialized countries.
"While we must learn from the experience of others, we strongly
believe that the best solutions will come from our own Asian
genius," he said. He also lauded other subjects like the Agreement
on Additional Protocol on Terrorism, steps for elimination of poverty,
When the SAARC was founded in 1985 at the initiative
of then president of Bangladesh, the heads of the state and government
reaffirmed that their fundamental goal was to accelerate the process of
economic and social development in their respective countries through
mutual cooperation by making optimum utilization of human and material
resources available in the region to promote the well being and
prosperity of their people and improve their quality of life. They were
conscious that peace and security was an essential prerequisites for the
realization of these goals.
The organization, however, could achieve nothing
significant in its 18 years existence not only because Indo-Pak
hostilities but also because of hegemonic ambition and big brother
attitude of India. There is now an apparent change for the betterment in
Indian attitude in its dealing with other states on the region including
Pakistan. This change has really helped the 12th Summit in Islamabad to
yield a rich crop of measures to bring the seven countries of the region
together in ties that encompass economic and other strategic areas.
Unlike past discussions, this has made real progress on the issue which
had been the organization agenda since long. The change of climate in
the relations between India and Pakistan has been further strengthened
by Vajpayee to visit to Pakistan and his conciliatory meetings with PM
Jamali and President Musharraf.
This happy development, however, does not mean all
that has been proposed or decided will be translated into reality
promptly. Nevertheless, it would be useful to build on the momentum
generated in this Summit to continue studies and discussion on these
ideas pending resolution of all regional disputes especially between
Pakistan and India with Kashmir on the top of the list. In today's
world, in the absence, so far, of the global free trade agreement after
the failure of WTO conference in Cancun, regional cooperation offers the
best alternative for countries struggling for development. What has been
begun in Islamabad is, therefore, worth pursuing bilaterally and
regionally to help South Asia realize its full potential for economic
growth and count the growing poverty that affects millions in the area.