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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 101

SAARC Summit Under Terrorism Shadow

By M Rama Rao & Sarla Handoo - Syndicate Features

The 14th SAARC summit is talking place in New Delhi literally under the shadow of terrorism not only of Al Qaeda – Taliban variety but also of LeT, LTTE, Hizbut Tahrir, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and Left wing extremists. It is natural therefore to expect the summit leaders to come to grips with the problem and go beyond the usual polemics and pious homilies the grouping has come to stand for.

The summit marks the entry of Afghanistan as a full-fledged member of the SAARC community to cement further the long-standing ties of culture and history that Kabul shares with other members of the SAARC countries. And Iran is getting an observer status. Three major economies of the world, the US, the European Union and China are attending the deliberations as observers along with Japan and South Korea. While Japan, Korea and the China are represented by their Foreign Ministers, US points man for the region, Assistant Secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, is doing the honours for his country.

Both Karzai and President Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka are worried about the spectre of terrorism that has been haunting their countries. Even before emplaning for Delhi, both have made it clear that they expect the summit to take a clear and categorical stand on terrorism. Karzai wants Islamabad to act against the threat posed to his country from Pakistan soil.

Rajapakse is keen to take on board Delhi in his operations against the LTTE. After the Tigers displayed their air power and virtually punctured his ‘war balloon’, Sri Lanka President is trying to impress India and other regional players that Velupillai Prabhakaran and his armed cadres are a threat to peace in this part of the world.

Both leaders have their reservations on how their neighbours will react. Karzai, for instance, told the New York Times, “We have almost daily reports of suicide bombers coming from there. If we have better co-operation from Pakistan, a great many of these cross-border crossings would stop”.

Karzai will get a sympathetic hearing from his Indian hosts. It is doubtful whether Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will pay any attention to him beyond normal diplomatic niceties him. Aziz is, unhesitatingly, a political light weight back home, and, going by reports in the Pak press, there is a move afoot to hold him responsible for the ‘messy suspension’ of Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry. In fitness of things, Pakistan should have been represented by President Musharraf, more so since the prime minister of the country is not the real head of the government. Gen Zia-ul-Haq had set the convention of sending the prime minister whenever Islamabad wanted to score a point. Well, it is another manifestation of the trust deficit.

Hizbut Tahrir and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are active in Bangladesh. Only last week 22 Hizbut Tahrir members were arrested in Dhaka as they were holding a secret meeting. Five JMB militants were picked up from Naogaon district amidst growing evidence that Khaleda Zia’s BNP led government had backed the rise of Islamic militancy particularly in the northern district of Bangladesh. Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Toiba is said to pose a threat to Dalai Lama prompting police to step up security cover to the Tibetan leader.

As the Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said in the run up to the summit, every possibility is open on fighting terrorism. Hopefully the convention against terrorism will become an effective instrument but that largely depends on the member countries overcoming the trust deficit.

Among other issues that are coming upfront include establishment of South Asian University and setting up of a Development Fund. The SAARC Disaster Management Centre has already been established in New Delhi in October, 2006. The Regional Telemedicine Network is likely to function soon. The Summit will also adopt a declaration establishing the SAARC Food Bank.

South Asia is home not only to one-fourth of humanity it also shares some of the greatest linguistic, cultural, literary and civilisational traditions of the world. None of these countries developed in isolation. Each country’s cultural heritage has nourished and enriched others. This common intellectual legacy enjoins the nations of the region to come together to bring peace, prosperity and cooperation to the region. But is that happening?

Take trade. The intra -regional trade constitutes only four percent of the trade SAARC nations have with the rest of the world. This, despite the fact, that the region constitutes 400 million middle class people- a huge potential customer base. The region has a GDP of $ 600 billion. But the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is just one percent of the global total.

The SAARC is prompt to set targets. At the 12th summit in Islamabad, it was decided that the SAAFTA would come into existence with effect from 1st January 2006. But it is still not in sight. What happens to SAARC customs union and the SAARC Economic Union set to be launched in 2015 and 2020, respectively, can be anybody’s guess.

2006 was observed as the year of tourism but in all likelihood, the achievements would not be as impressive as one would expect when the final figures are tabulated. 2007 is now declared as the year of Green South Asia. 2006-15 has already been declared as the decade of poverty alleviation.

There is one plus with SAARC. And it is that it had withstood the vicissitudes of time and the tough challenge posed by animosity between India and Pakistan right from its inception in 1985. Compare SAARC with other regional groupings like the European Union (EU) or the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The difference comes out in bold relief. The EU has emerged as one solid block with a common economy. Unless there is trade integration in SAARC, regional cooperation on the lines of EU will remain a mirage.

Admittedly, the challenges before the SAARC are formidable. These range in the sectors like education, health, environment, and disaster management. Dealing with such a variety of issues is no easy task but considering the geo- political situation, all one can hope for is that Delhi summit would mark a phased realization of the goals.

- Syndicate Features -

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