PM VISIT SAARC COUNTRIES
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There can hardly be two opinions about the fact that SAARC has not been able to deliver in the past


From SHAMIM AHMED RIZVI,
 Islamabad

Nov 08 - 14, 2004
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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 region.

 

 

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 including Kashmir.

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.