M A I N   N E W S

India, Pak avoid Kashmir at SAARC
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Islamabad, January 4
India and Pakistan today avoided the K-word though both the neighbours sought a way of dealing with contentious political issue, which has held the seven member SAARC grouping hostage to focusing on development and key economic issues.

“The ideas of establishing a South Asian economic union or a monetary union in South Asia would remain distant dreams,” Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali stressed, inaugurating the 12th SAARC summit after assuming its chairmanship. “It is the stark reality of political differences and disputes that has held back prospects of real economic cooperation in South,” he observed.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee regretted that the “peace dividend has bypassed our region” because “mutual suspicions and petty rivalries have continued to haunt us. Rational economics should triumph over political prejudice in South Asia.”

Stating that history can “guide, teach and warn us,” he emphasised that without being shackled “we have to look forward now with a collective approach in mind.”

Mr Vajpayee put forth several proposals encompassing the setting up of a dedicated task force either under SAARC or outside its ambit to carry forward recommendations of the Independent Commission on Poverty Alleviation. Whatever be the case, India is willing to fund it.

Further, he proposed a professionally managed poverty alleviation fund so that funds are available for this specific purpose. India is willing to make an initial contribution of $ 100 million. The fund’s money will be used entirely for projects within SAARC but outside India.

On achieving all millennium development goals by 2010 ahead of the deadline of 2015, Mr Vajpayee offered India’s support for establishing a SAARC group to evolve strategies to facilitate those countries falling behind this schedule.

He drew pointed attention to the courageous action taken by the King of Bhutan and his government against insurgent groups using the Bhutanese territory to launch terrorist activities against India. “It is an outstanding example of sensitivity to the security concerns of a Neighbour, which, at the same time, is in the direct long-term interests of Bhutan itself.”

Earlier, on assuming the chairmanship baton of SAARC, Mr Jamali said harnessing the region’s indigenous energy production potential and meeting the energy demand through trans-regional oil and gas pipelines should become the subject of close consideration of SAARC member countries.

“Pakistan favours the commissioning of a study on creating a South Asia energy ring encompassing hydro and thermal capacities as well as trans-regional oil and gas pipeline. Pakistan for its part, as South Asia’s window to Central and West Asia, is ready to extend its full cooperation in this regard.”

All other Heads of state or government welcomed the multilateral approach being adopted by SAARC rather than being held hostage to India-Pakistan irritants. They visualised SAARC turning around and witnessing a “new sense of revival” in combating terrorism afflicting most of the member countries, achieving freedom from poverty, ignorance, underdevelopment and perhaps constant conflict.

The smaller countries in the SAARC grouping have consistently felt that SAARC summits have invariably turned out to be Indo-Pak centric and underscored its multilateral character.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga found a “sense of revival” of SAARC with agreement having been reached on the Social Charter, the additional protocol on terrorism and evolving the framework for Safta which will take effect on January 1, 2003.

She felt SAARC may have to consider the re-negotiation of the World Trade Agenda and throwing up a collective approach to the concept of debt forgiveness for winning the war against poverty in this region.

Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonpo Jigme Thinley said for sometime now his country has suffered the presence of three armed extremist groups from adjoining Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Their presence impeded trade, brought about closure of several large industries as well as educational institutions and hindered socio-economic development of Bhutan.

After exploring every peaceful option over the past six years, Mr Thinley said military action was brought to bear upon all insurgent groups operating in Bhutan. Without being a clone of developing countries, SAARC must reduce poverty, accelerate social development and realise the benefits of economic cooperation, he added.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia wanted enhanced cooperation to confront terrorism and curb organised crime and drug abuse besides facilitating an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance coupled with a sense of identity through people-to-people contact.


SAARC Social Charter signed

Islamabad, January 4
SAARC leaders today signed a 10-point Social Charter to promote the welfare of the people of South Asia and accelerate their economic growth while agreeing to adopt a strategy to deal with key issues like poverty alleviation, promoting the status of women and population stabilisation.

Under the 10-page charter, signed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other SAARC leaders, the seven-member grouping agreed to establish a people-centred framework for social development and to respond to the immediate needs of those who are most affected by human distress.

The members agreed to ensure that disadvantaged and vulnerable sections were included in social development and the elderly lead meaningful and fulfilling lives while enjoying all rights without discrimination.

They agreed to give “highest priority” to the alleviation of poverty in all South Asian countries and take appropriate measures to create income-generating activities for the poor.

Noting that a large number of people remained below the poverty line, they voiced their commitment to implement an assured-nutritional-standards approach to meet their basic needs.

The SAARC countries agreed that access to basic education, adequate housing, safe drinking water and sanitation and primary health care should be guaranteed in legislation, executive and administrative provisions.

On the health front, they agreed to share information regarding the outbreak of any communicable disease among their population.

They reaffirmed the importance of attaining the target of providing free education to all children between six and 14 years of age.

Significantly, the SAARC nations declared that all forms of discrimination and violence against women were offences against human rights and dignity, and must be prohibited through legislative, administrative and judicial actions. 


PM’s slip of tongue

Islamabad, January 4
In a slip of the tongue, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today described the 1857 mutiny in India as ‘’our First War of Independence in 1957’’ while addressing the SAARC Summit.

He said: ‘’Our forefathers fought side by side, transcending religious, regional and linguistic differences, against a common colonial oppressor in our First War of Independence in 1957.’’ — UNI 


Nepal-Pak air links resume

Kathmandu, January 4
Coinciding with the opening of the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, the Karachi-Kathmandu air link resumed today, two years after it was stalled following India’s ban on Pakistani overflights after the December 13, 2001, terrorist attack on Parliament.

The air services between Kathmandu and Karachi stopped in January 2002 after Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspended its flights to Kathmandu following India’s ban on Pakistani overflights. — PTI


Journalists come to blows

Islamabad, January 4
Pakistani journalists today came to blows with security personnel from their own country at Hotel Mariott after Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri emerged from a meeting.

As the two ministers came out of the room, they were surrounded by mediapersons, who wanted to know the details of their discussions.

The journalists, especially lensmen and television crew, jostled with each other to get closer to the two ministers, forcing the security personnel to intervene.

A Pakistani journalist was hit on his face. Journalists returned the blow with a vengeance. There were also heated exchanges among journalists themselves.

Order was restored only after Mr Sinha threatened that he would leave the place without interacting with them. — UNI

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