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The outcome of 16th SAARC Summit
The SAARC member nations have many differences with each other and bilateral disputes used to overtake the collective efforts of development and progress of the region.
The 16th SAARC (South Asia association of Regional Cooperation) summit concluded in the capital of Bhutan. The theme of the summit was “Towards a green and happy south Asia”. South Asia is the home of 1.5 billion people, which comprise eight nations, namely India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. This is the silver jubilee year of SAARC. According to a World Bank report the 2/3rd people of south Asia live on less then 2 dollar per day. Certainly, it is far behind from the other regional organizations when compared about the progress and development of the region.

In the summit, the leaders of member countries rightly raised this issue. First, our Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh called the 25-year long journey of SAARC, “a glass half empty” then Bhutan’s PM Jigmi Y Thinley said that SAARC is losing its focus from core issues, such as poverty, food security etc. In one sense these statements are true, as there are many bilateral issues between member countries which used to affect the multilateral efforts and initiatives of the developments, e.g. India-Pakistan relations have always overshadowed the SAARC summits and this time also the summit started with the huge speculations of Indo-Pak meets at the sidelines of the summit. Though, according to SAARC charter, bilateral issues cannot be raised on its forum, still the mere possibilities of Indo-Pak high level meet used to occupy a lot of space of the summit’s unofficial or official agenda. This fact is clear through the comment of Mohammad Nasheed, president of Maldives, he said, “the summit will lead to a greater dialogue between India and Pakistan”. The state heads of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan also expressed the similar views. President Nasheed also asked for the more focus on important issues which are related to SAARC nations and their problems which used to be overshadowed by the Indo-Pak stern relation.

One more issue, which has maintained gap between members, is the “India factor”. India has geographically, economically and politically a big brother image among the rest member countries of SAARC. All the nations of south Asia are connected geographically with India (Afghanistan through POK). Only Maldives, the island nation has no land connectivity with India. This big brother image has always raised negative thoughts and fears among the other members, the political parties have frequently used the anti- India card to raise the public emotions, e.g. in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and off course Pakistan. This insecurity has provided a suitable opportunity for big powers to intervene in south Asia. Besides, ethnic, language, border and water disputes between the members, it has also created set-backs among bilateral and multilateral relations.

However, some significant events took place in Thimphu. The landmark decision was the announcement of a fund by Indian PM, to meet with the challenges of climate change and to cater for the needs of effective adaptation and capacity building of small nations. Though no proper action plan for climate change was drafted, still this is an important initiative as all the nations of south Asia are facing serious threats of global warming, such as, glacial melting, frequent cyclones, floods and droughts.

The next important event of summit was the Indo-Pak meeting on 29th April, between Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and his counter part Yusuf Raza Gilani. It was the first meeting of both leaders after the one in Sharm- el –Sheikh in July 2009. In the meeting, India insisted on Pak to take some credential action against the 26/11 perpetrates, LeT and Hafeez Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai attack. India refused to start the conventional form of composite dialogue that is based on eight issues. Pakistan’s emphasis remained on delinking of terror from talks and an immediate return of composite dialogue. However, India rejected this offer and no joint statement took place, but the positive side of talks was that both sides agreed to keep the dialogue process open and decided to meet as soon as possible at Foreign Ministers’ level and at foreign secretary level.

Besides above developments, the 16th SAARC summit lacked behind on many issues. No progress took place on SAFTA (south Asia free trade agreement), nor the leaders of south Asia tried to find out any regional solution of Afghan problem. Though in a joint statement released by prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and President Karzai, Dr. Singh supported an “ Afghan-led , Afghan-owned” rebuilding of Afghanistan, based on the principles of national sovereignty, independence and non –interference. The rising interference of superpowers such as USA and China in south Asia too did not become an issue of concern for the leaders of subcontinent. The leaders of SAARC though felt that bilateral issues are creating hurdles in the progress of the region and its 1.5 billion people but no concrete step has been taken to overcome those issues.

However, the summit remarked the need of dialogue and conversation among the members to resolve their differences. After all, it gives an open forum to its members to exchange their views and visions regarding south Asia’s present, future and its potential role in international political and economic structure.

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