In keeping with the tradition of South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) that the incumbent chairman
visits the member states, Prime Minister and present chairman, Shaukat
Aziz embarked on a tour of three SAARC countries last Monday for
interaction with the forum's member states to strengthen the
organization. He flew to Khatmandu on the first leg of his tour during
which be will also visit Bhutan and Bangladesh. He will visit India,
Maldives and Sri Lanka after Eid.
The purpose of these customary visits of the member
states by the incumbent chairman is to exchange views with their leaders
on the issues pertaining to the forum during his tenure with a view to
ensuring its smooth progress. Shaukat Aziz is also expected to discuss
with the leaders various measures for activating and forward movement of
the objectives especially on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA),
coordinated efforts for poverty alleviation and enhancing cooperation in
energy sector. The Prime Minster will also avail this opportunity to
discuss with them the steps to promote bilateral relations with member
states and mutually identify new avenues of cooperation.
Shaukat Aziz spent a very busy day in Khatmandu.
Immediately after landing at Nepal's pieturesque Capital, Shaukat Aziz
got engaged in wide ranging talks with his Nepalese counterparts Sher
Bahudur Deuba. After the talks, the Prime Minister told newsmen that
there was a complete unanimity of views between Pakistan and Nepal on
all regional and international issues. He said both sides had frank
talks on all bilateral issues including economic cooperation, trade
enhancement and investment opportunities.
The Prime Minister was assisted in the talks by
Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan, Minister for Industries Jehangir
Tareen, Textile Minister Mushtaq Ali Cheema, Minister of the State of
Economic Affarirs Hina Rabbani Khar and Minister of State for Water and
Power Amir Muqam.
"We can see eye to eye on many issues and have
held fruitful discussions, including the South Asia Free Trade Agreement
(SAFTA) and Free Trade Agreement (FTA)." We agreed that Pakistan
will provide Nepal with export debt for acquiring defence equipment from
Islamabad," Aziz said, adding that Pakistan had offered Nepal's
civil servants training facilities. The Prime Minister said that both
countries would hold trade talks soon to increase the trade volume from
the present $12 million to $100 million.
Earlier, the Prime Minister stressed enhanced
cooperation among SAARC countries' private sector entrepreneurs and
urged them to go for joint venture.
Mr. Deuba appreciated services of Mr. Aziz for
rejuvenating activities of SAARC and lauded the ongoing Pakistan-India
talks which he said might lead to the resolution of all problems between
the two countries.
He also briefed Mr. Aziz on the internal situation of
Nepal. Mr. Deuba said his country believed in resolution of all regional
issues through bilateral talks.
Principled Stand: Earlier speaking at a seminar
entitled "promoting Regional Cooperation — Pakistan's role,"
held at a local hotel, the Prime Minister said that Islamabad had a
principled stand on Kashmir and it was pursuing a peaceful settlement of
the issue through composite dialogue with India.
He said Pakistan would like that all stakeholders,
including the people of Kashmir, were taken on board while seeking a
settlement of the core issues between the two countries. "We are
ready to share our information with SAARC countries on peaceful use of
nuclear energy if so desired by member countries."
There can hardly be two opinions about the fact that
SAARC has not been able to deliver in the past primarily due to the
Pak-India confrontation. Now that the two countries are engaged in
composite dialogue, it's hoped that the regional forum will be able to
play its due role in promoting economic well being of the member
countries. South Asia has tremendous potential, which has unfortunately
remained untapped so far. It's high time that SAARC should emulate the
examples of European Union and ASEAN and work with devotion to banish
poverty and ameliorate the lot of the regional masses. There is no room
for lethargy and inaction as the forum has already lagged behind in
producing due results. It's however, encouraging that Pakistan is trying
to activate the body as its Chairman. Islamabad has already sought
Observer's status on the UN for SAARC, which is a manifestation of its
cherished goal to turn it into a viable forum wedded to the well being
of the people of the member states. It will hopefully prove a major step
forward to revitalize the body for the good of the regional people.
Prime Minster Shaukat Aziz's forthcoming visits to India, Sri Lanka and
Maldives will certainly help the forum regain its rightful role in the
The eighteen years old SAARC which has so far
remained hostage to hostilities between its two main member — India
and Pakistan — was really activated last January in Islamabad which
hosted the 12th SAARC Summit. The two-day conference of top South Asian
leaders was crowned with breaking ice between the two countries when the
then Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee met President Musharraf and promised
to work for peace and to strengthen the momentum of improving ties
between the two countries through cooperation and understanding to
resolve all their outstanding issues. It gave a new hope and aspiration
to SAARC. Besides opening new chapter in the sour Indo-Pak relations,
the two countries agreed to initiate composite dialogue on all issues
The 12th SAARC Summit attended by the heads of the
seven member states — India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan,
Maldives and Bhutan 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 governments, but also witnessed the signing
ceremony on an agreed social charter that focus attention on the people
of the region. It contained a number of articles that emphasize on
poverty alleviation, health, education, human resource development,
youth mobilization and improving the status of women. It called for
promotion of rights and well being of the child, population
mobilization, drug addiction, drug de-addition rehabilitation and
realization. It also approved the agreement 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.
The council of foreign ministers during their two-day
session in Islamabad in July last has given a call for a shift in focus
from words to action. It is highly encouraging as far too long SAARC has
been nothing more than a debating club where much has been said but
almost nothing has been done. At present South Asia has little to show
in terms of collective efforts for human development despite being the
most populous regions in the world. Spending on education and health are
low and diseases and unemployment has risen during the years. SAARC
provides an effective framework that can be used to enhance cooperation
between member states in areas of common interest.