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March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
SAARC: All Talk
World Press Review Correspondent
After a two-year
delay caused by Indo-Pakistani tensions, the 11th South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit was finally
held in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Dec. 6. Worsening conditions between
the two largest countries in South Asia, now on the brink of
war, overshadowed this years gathering, which also included
the leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri
A magazine bears a photo of Pakistani President Musharraf's
handshake with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, Jan. 13,
2002 (Photo: AFP).
The summit, whose purpose upon creation was to foster regional
unity and to achieve peace, goodwill, and a better quality of
life for the people of the region, has unfortunately achieved
very few concrete results since its first meeting in Dhaka 16
While this summit, like previous ones, can boast of nothing
greater than more dialogue, the leaders did adopt a 56-point
agenda addressing the common problems affecting the region.
As in the past, poverty alleviation was at the top of the
agenda; counterterrorism also took high priority. Dainik
Ittefaq (Jan. 6) said, Following the Dec. 13 attack
on the Indian Parliament, anti-terrorism has been elevated to
the prime topic at the conference.
Another one of SAARCs main goals is the realization of
economic integration through treaties like SAFTA (South Asian
Free Trade Area), which was supposed to have gone into effect
last year, but could not, due in part to the delayed summit.
At the January session, the leaders pledged to sign a draft
treaty by the end of the year. They also agreed to accelerate
economic cooperation to achieve the creation of a South Asian
Economic Union, similar to the European Union.
Unfortunately, SAARC has come nowhere near fulfilling its economic
vision. With the main agenda of economic integration through
free trade in stasis, SAARC has gained the reputation The
Times of India (Jan.7) described as a talking shop
with little regional influence. But Shyam K.C. of The
Kathmandu Post (Jan. 5) noted, The journey toward
South Asian prosperity may be long and arduous but a journey,
nonetheless, that must be undertaken.
Indo-Pakistani tensions have been an impediment to SAARCs
progress. As Ananda Bazar Patrika (Jan. 4) opined, That
the enmity between these two neighboring countries has vitiated
the environment of South Asia is not in any doubt.
The summits most dramatic moment came when Pakistans
leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf approached Indias Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee and offered what he called a hand
of genuine and sincere friendship. A surprised but cautious
Vajpayee reciprocated, to roaring applause.
While many, like C. Raja Mohan, writing in The Hindu
(Jan. 5), dismissed it as a dramatic public-relations
exercise by Musharraf, others, like Saleem Yazdani in
the Daily Jang (Jan. 7), insisted, The extended
hand of friendship from Pakistans president should be
held firmly by India. Let peace and prosperity reign in the