, by SYYED MANSOOR AGHA
SYYED MANSOOR AGHA records the improved Indo-Pak bilateral relations during the 17th SAARC Summit in Maldives and underlines the need to translate the decisions and agreements into action.
The 17th SAARC Summit concluded in Maldives on 11.11.11 with a positive note and high expectation. Amid the appeals of member countries to shun their differences to promote all round regional co-operations, Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan promised to write a new chapter in the history of their countries with a pledge to make the next round of talks even more productive. Pakistan’s P.M. Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed hope, after one-to-one one-hour meeting with our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh: “Our next round of talks will be more productive and we will open a new chapter in the history of our countries.”
Prime Minister Singh, who also appeared equally optimistic as he called his Pakistani counterpart “a man of peace” and said: “The destiny of our peoples is closely linked… we have wasted a lot of time in acrimonious debate… now a new chapter (in the history of both countries) will be written … we have agreed to discuss all issues which bedevilled our relations.”
They did not elaborate their optimism and did not take any questions from media persons, expressing their utter cautiousness. In Pakistan, leader of the opposition Nawaz Sharif hailed the spirit and atmosphere created by the two leaders while in India, opposition BJP took the routine stance of seeing black. BJP leader Jaswant Singh was perturbed to see the two countries coming closer. The meeting was held on Thursday (Nov 10) before formal opening of the Summit and a positive impact of their positivity was felt in the deliberations.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei hailed the development and said, “China is always happy to see contact between India and Pakistan.” Lei expressed hope that both countries would “overcome their current differences and improve their relations.”
In his inaugural address, Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed hailed the mood set by Dr. Singh and Gilani but underlined the need to translate their declared intentions into action. He said: “In February, India and Pakistan agreed to restart peace talks on all issues. In May, Indian parliamentarians visited Islamabad to advance the cause of peace. In July, [Pakistani] Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar visited New Delhi. A month later, MPs from both countries met in India to continue deliberations. In September, Pakistani and Indian railway officials met to help boost connectivity and trade. And in the past few days, Pakistan improved trade links by deciding to grant India the status of Most Favoured Nation. Today, the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers met in the lovely setting of the Shangri-La in the Maldives.”
“These developments are extremely welcome. I hope all political parties in India and Pakistan applaud these encouraging moves. I hope this summit will be enthused with optimism. And I hope both countries can work to resolve their core issues,” he said.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa underlined the need of urgent action. He said, “What is evident around us is a mood of urgency and even impatience. This is especially so, because a large and influential part of our societies consists of young people, inspired by new ideas and looking forward with enthusiasm to a promising future for themselves. They cannot be kept waiting for long. Patience is not infinite.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought to clear the doubts on Indo-Afghan Strategic agreement and assured his neighbours, “None of our partnerships we forge now or in the future shall pose a threat to our neighbours or to our region.”
The Summit issued a comprehensive “Addu Declaration” and adopted a 20-point agenda reaffirming its commitment to peace, confidence building, liberty, dignity, democracy, mutual respect, good governance and protection of human rights, renewed its firm commitment to alleviate poverty and reduce income inequalities, reaffirmed resolve to improve the quality of life and well-being of their people through people-centred sustainable development.
The declaration expressed deep concern on terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, transnational organised crimes, especially trafficking in narcotics, drugs, human beings especially women and children, arms, and on increased incidents of maritime piracy in the region, and reiterated its resolve to fight all such menaces. It was decided to work out SAARC Regional Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in women and children for prostitution with a view to its adoption by the next summit.
Concern was expressed on the environmental degradation and vulnerabilities of the region to the threat of climate change and emphasised the need to further strengthen the institutional mechanism to bolster and enhance regional cooperation. The summit asked the SAARC finance ministers to prepare a proposal that would allow greater flow of financial capital and intra-regional long term investment.
ROAD, RAIL CONNECTIVITY
The member states emphasised the need to conclude Regional Railways Agreement and to convene the Export Group Meeting on the Motor Vehicles Agreement before the next session of Council of Ministers and conduct a demonstration run of a container train among Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Member states were asked to conclude the inter-governmental framework agreement for energy cooperation and the study on regional power exchange concept.
Importance of the full implementation of SAFTA “as a measure towards the creation of an enabling economic environment in the region” was also stressed.
The 17th Summit agreed to expedite the work on mutual recognition of academic and professional degrees and harmonisation of academic standards, and establishment of long term linkages among universities, research institutions and think tanks in the region.
Before adopting the agenda, the 17th SAARC Summit signed four agreements including SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to National Disasters, SAARC Agreement on Multilateral Arrangement on Recognition of Conformity Assessment, SAARC Agreement on Implementation of Regional Standards and SAARC Seed Bank Agreement.
These agreements were signed by the respective foreign ministers of the member states of SAARC in the presence of their leaders.
The SAARC summit hosted by Maldives was attended by Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina Wajid, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley, Prime Minister of Nepal Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In the last session of the summit, the representatives from observer states, including Australia, China, European Union, Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar and the USA also addressed the summit and assured their support to the SAARC for implementing its decisions.
FOCUS ON INDIA, PAKISTAN
There was a sense of relief and enthusiasm on the outcome of the leaders of India and Pakistan. Dr. Singh and Gilani restated their commitment to take their countries forward on the path of peace, progress by mutual co-operation and resolve all outstanding issues by mutual understanding and dialogue. They expressed their resolve to close the doors of 6-decade old history of acrimony and allegations.
Dr. Singh and Mr. Gilani assured that their often strained ties were improving. With their foreign ministers on their sides, they announced that talks were the only way forward and the two countries had decided to have more interaction at all levels in future. “The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of our countries,” Dr. Singh told reporters. “The next round of talks should be far more productive and far more practical-orientated in bringing the two countries closer.”
Mr. Gilani said all the issues including Kashmir, terrorism, Sir Creek, Siachen, water and trade were discussed. He said the Indian Prime Minister had told him to put all the cards on table to have open discussion. The mood was relaxed. When asked when they would resume, Gilani gestured towards the room where he and Singh had spoken and said: “Just now” to a burst of laughter. Dr. Singh said there was need to move and work closely with coordination to ensure peace and security in the region. He said it was obligatory for the two countries to work together so that the work done due to the dialogue process could not be spoiled.
“The two sides should push to make real progress as they have wasted a lot of time in the past in acrimonious debates,” Singh said. He said peoples of Pakistan and India were very closely linked. The era of accusations and counter-accusations should be over now.
Mr. Gilani said he thanked India for supporting Pakistan in the election to the UN Security Council and to get trade access to the European Union.
Dr. Singh said commerce secretaries of two countries would meet in New Delhi on November 14 while later on there would be a meeting between the home secretaries of two countries in December that indicates progress in the dialogue process. He said the Joint Ministerial Commission constituted in 2005 will resume its function to have more interaction in different fields. Dr. Singh said: “We have extensive discussion on all issues and bilateral matters and it remained very positive. We have decided that all issues will be discussed with sincerity.”
Progress has been slow but Gilani and Singh have put a personal face to the discussions. “I have always regarded Prime Minister Gilani as a man of peace. Every time we have met, we have held very extensive discussions of relations of the two countries. These have yielded some positive results, but more needs to be done,” Dr. Singh said.
According to sources, Mr. Gilani made a strong pitch for Dr. Singh’s visit to Pakistan. Dr. Singh’s visit to the neighbouring country has been delayed after the 26/11 terror attacks and souring of the relations following the carnage.
Both countries struck an upbeat note ahead of the summit, with officials describing the cross-border atmosphere as “considerably improved”.
Briefing reporters on the meeting between the two leaders, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said India and Pakistan agreed to work for a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) and fast-track bilateral trade normalisation process on a Most Favoured Nation (MFN) basis.
They also agreed to put in place at the earliest a liberalised visa regime, which had already been negotiated, to promote people-to-people contact, he said. “The process of trade normalisation will be taken to its logical conclusion and we would also move towards a preferential trade agreement with Pakistan... and a liberalised visa regime,” Mathai said.
[The writer is Gen.Sec, Forum for Civil Rights, email: email@example.com]