M A I N   N E W S

Eradicate terror, India tells SAARC
Ajay Kaul and V. Mohan Narayan

Islamabad, July 20
A two-day SAARC ministerial meeting kicked off here today with Pakistan insisting on some mechanism within the grouping to resolve political differences and disputes, a veiled reference to Kashmir, even as India called for collective efforts to eradicate terrorism from the region.

“Globally, the scourge of terrorism is plaguing many a nation. South Asia itself is a tragic example of this,” External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh told his counterparts from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal.

“We need to resolve, not to compromise with terrorism if we wish to realise the dream of South Asia as a region where boundaries cease to be barriers separating our peoples,” he said.

“What we need to do collectively in SAARC is to move towards closer cooperation at all levels, political, official and operational, if we have to eradicate terrorism from this region,” Singh said.

Opening the meet, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said: “In visualising SAARC’s future, we must give serious thought to devising ways and means whereby political differences and disputes within the region are settled amicably.”

He said the vision of South Asia joining the Asian mainstream for fast economic growth and development “can only be realised if there is peace and harmony.”

“In this context, the resumption of composite dialogue between Pakistan and India is a welcome development,” Kasuri said, adding: “We are committed to making this process a success... This augurs well for SAARC and over 1.4 billion people of the region.”

Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister Shujaat Hussain told the conference that his country was committed to pursuing peace with India.

He said he was happy to report that with “the vision and the will” of Pakistan under the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf, “we have embarked upon making a meaningful effort to resolve all differences and disputes with India, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.”

“I want to assure all members of SAARC and indeed the world that Pakistan is committed to pursuing peace with India,” he said, adding “let us resolve that SAARC must become a symbol of peace and progress, not only to ensure stability in South Asia but to win hearts and minds of people of this region.”

Singh also proposed setting up of a SAARC Parliamentary Forum “that could meet periodically to deliberate on issues relevant to our regional cooperation endeavours” and suggested that India host a conference on HIV/AIDS during the SAARC Awareness Year.

Singh, who is scheduled to meet Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on Friday and Hussain tomorrow besides holding talks with Kasuri, said South Asia was not immune to the “over-arching dynamic of conflict.”

“We see this within our countries, we see this in the relations amongst us,” he said, lamenting that the regional forum was “ill-equipped to confront these multiple challenges unless we confront them together.”

He also proposed that the regional countries set up SAARC High Economic Council formed of Finance and Commerce Ministers to promote collaborative ideas and initiatives in economic, trade, investment, financial and monetary areas.

Favouring creation of SAARC Infrastructure Fund, he said with a ready and substantial corpus “it will make us more ready to embark on high priority energy, communications and transportation projects which will link our economies together.”

Regretting that SAARC was “perhaps the weakest of various regional cooperation organisations” unable to undertake even a single collaborative project for the benefit of people of the region, Singh said: “We stand at a critical juncture when dimensions we take and equally the decisions we avoid, will determine whether the peoples of South Asia emerge as the makers of history or are condemned to be its victims.”

“We wish to create a world where there is free movement of people across the national boundaries, yet at the same time this very freedom threatens to spread the scourge of violence and terrorism across the globe and thus faces us with cruel dilemma,” he said.

Underlining that the SAARC countries needed to “shed our tendency to equate meetings, activities and establishment of expert groups with progress,” Singh said “we need to fashion an agenda that is in tune with the challenges we face in the new millennium and to resolve to collaborate together on practical and concrete projects in pursuit of that agenda.”

He said as the SAARC approached the landmark Summit in Dhaka next year, the regional countries needed to promote cooperation in collaborative projects for poverty alleviation.

In his address, Hussain said it is the responsibility of “our collective leadership to find practical solutions to the problems faced by our people in their daily lives. This is our duty.”

He said SAARC must continue to pay close attention to developing transport and communications infrastructure as this was “vital for promoting greater regional cooperation.”

The Pakistani Prime Minister hoped the efforts to create a South Asian Development Bank will increase economic development activities in the region and noted that his country was encouraged by efforts being made to make the agreement on South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) functional.

Kasuri said that as the current SAARC Chairman, Pakistan would promote efforts for consolidation of the regional forum and enhancing its global profile.

“SAARC must become the symbol of our resolve for economic development, preservation of our environment and above all an instrument for ensuring social equity and justice for all,” he said.

Asked about the prospects of moving towards a pragmatic solution of the Kashmir imbroglio, Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri said: “The issue has not been resolved for 57 years and without political will, it cannot be resolved for another 57 years. Pakistan has displayed the political will”.

Asked whether the proposal for starting a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) had hit a wall following reported differences over the modalities, he said: “It is not stuck. We have to talk about the modalities. Some technicalities are there which need to be worked out”.

Pakistan has reservations over the use of passports for crossing the Line of Control as this could be viewed as their tacit acceptance of the international border.

Kasuri said attempts were being made to speed up discussions on the proposal on which modalities have to be decided by experts from the two countries.

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