Saturday, Jul 19, 2003
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By K.K. Katyal
These nations, notably Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, had complained of the adverse fall-out of the adversarial relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad from time to time. Their annoyance is evident once again now. While official representatives are forthright at closed-door meetings, the non-officials do not mince words in expressing their views in public. They are happy at the consensus reached at Kathmandu by the Foreign Secretaries over the dates of the next summit January 4 to 6, 2004 but keep their fingers crossed, fearing an upset because of a sudden negative development.
The former Bangladesh President, Hussain Muhammad Ershad, is unhappy that India-Pakistan conflicts were an obstacle to economic cooperation among the SAARC nations. "There is no problem with other countries of the region. The pace of the SAARC is slow because of tensions between India and Pakistan. We had a vision of economic development of the region. However, it could not gain momentum due to conflicts between these two countries."
Kathmandu Post, a daily from Nepal, bemoans: "In its new role, the regional body has become an `akhara' (ground for physical bouts) for wrestling matches between India and Pakistan, two of the largest members of the group. If one day it is India hogging the media limelight, the day after belongs to the archrival, Pakistan. The media, too, does not go beyond India-Pakistan (problems). But their obsession with the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals is understandable. This is the news that is lapped up by the readers and the TV viewers. The forum is being used for scoring some brownie points. Isn't it then high time to re-examine the role of the SAARC? If it is to be hijacked by the Indo-Pakistan agenda each and every time any significant meeting is held, then why hold such meetings at all? And why keep the SAARC going, in its current ineffective role?.... As long as Indo-Pak hostilities remain, the SAARC will not be able to achieve any progress.''
The News Today, a daily from Bangladesh, writes: "As is widely known, the SAARC has not been able to make any noteworthy progress in promoting regional cooperation and partnership due to Indo-Pakistan political confrontation ..... one of the ways to make this regional forum stronger is to remove misunderstandings among the member-nations and to hold summit meetings and consultation regularly. The South Asian leaders should realise the imperatives and move forward to mend their differences".
The progress of the SAARC process, it is felt now, will be determined by the outcome of the next round of talks on free trade for South Asia, due to be held in September. This will be the fifth meeting of the committee of experts that has been engaged in preparing the draft framework treaty for creating South Asia Free Trade Area. India had been pressing for early completion of the exercise which had already been delayed by over a year. Pakistani experts take a correct stand, but the mood changes when discussions move on to the political level. Islamabad, as is known, gives priority to the resolution of the "core issue" so as to create a conducive climate for economic cooperation. Other nations are not concerned with such wrangling but want positive results and movement forward.
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