Dhaka summit: Boost to regional cooperation

The 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit has taken several decisions, which indicate a better future for the regional organisation.

Among many decisions, the adoption of SAFTA Convention undoubtedly remains the most important achievement of the summit. The summit agreed to implement the decision on making South Asia a free trade area, which is a step towards the integration of the economies of South Asian countries as it opens a vast single market which can contribute to increasing the inter-country trade and can play an active and positive role in world trade.

Though Nepal will have to work hard to improve its industrial capacity and management skills in the long run, it is going to benefit Nepal and the people of the whole region. The agreement on expanding investment opportunities, cancellation of dual taxation, adoption of similar customs mechanism, and the establishment of SAARC Mediation Council have given momentum to SAFTA. Hopefully, the meeting of the experts to be held in Kathmandu on November 29 will decide to keep the momentum unhindered and open a vast opportunity for investment.

The admission of Afgh-anistan was an act of wisdom as Afghanistan is a part of South Asia and the only reason it was left out in the beginning was because of its isolation for internal political reasons. However, the association of China and Japan as observers is a wise and important decision for the benefit of the SAARC region. China as a fast growing economy and Japan as a well-acknowledged Asian economic giant can cooperate with SAARC to expand mutual trade and increase investment in the region. Thus the SAARC summit has made an achievement on the economic front. Any regional organisation can deliver tangible gains to the people only through economic activity. The growing economic cooperation among the nations creates a better atmosphere for reaching political understanding. The thawing of India-China hostility is a good example of what economic interaction can achieve with SAFTA in action. With the India-Pakistan economic interaction there is hope of mutual understanding on the political front. The improvement in India-Pakistan understanding will help the SAARC to achieve its goal speedily.

The SAARC summit has also laid emphasis on combating terrorism. However, all the countries in the SAARC region have been facing terrorist activities of different nature. Terrorism cannot be dealt with without understanding the root cause of terrorism. The other important factor in dealing with terrorism is to discriminate between terrorism per se and terrorist activity combined with political objectives.

In the SAARC area, those who have been branded as terrorists are of different nature from one another. There are those who have a separatist political goal or a goal to secure autonomy, there are those who believe in religious fundamentalism and wish to create a theocratic state, there are those who are victims of religious discrimination and intolerance and there are those who plead in favour of marginalised communities and people. All these groups have been using arms and explosives against their respective governments. It is difficult to persuade fanatics to listen to logic and settle conflicts with some compromises; but to persuade a person or group with a different political idea through arguments and accommodation is possible though difficult. The combating of terrorism, therefore, is an internal issue of a nation and it has to be dealt with according to its nature.

The political systems of SAARC countries are very similar. All have accepted democracy as a way of life. Except in one, all the SAARC countries have accepted multiparty system as a necessary component of democracy. In spite of these similarities there are differences in the implementation of the ideals. Any member of SAARC can benefit from SAFTA only on the basis of its own economic efficiency. Only a stable political situation can create an atmosphere for the development of economy. Flight of capital due to insecurity, shutting down of industrial establishments from insecurity, and hurdles to movement of goods, which discourages flow of trade, cannot create a sound economy in a country. It is the duty of the political forces within a country to create an atmosphere for smooth functioning of the tools of economic activity like industries and commerce.

A nation’s security is based primarily on its political institutions. Security forces are a supplement to the political system. As long as the political side remains ignored,

peace cannot be achieved only through guns. All the SAARC countries will have to cooperate with each other in order to check the flow of arms and ammunition across the border. But, for stability and peace, the political problems must be sorted out and only the political forces within the country could do that.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister