The two-day 14th SAARC summit, that concluded on Wednesday with a 30-point Delhi Declaration, has been of particular interest, because of the formal induction of Afghanistan as the club’s eighth member and the participation of important observer nations — China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union, and the US — and their expression of intent to lend cooperation to the regional organisation. Japan set aside seven million dollars for the SAARC Japan Special Fund. The EU expressed its readiness to help with every aspect of SAARC, including the implementation of the regional trading arrangement SAFTA. Similarly, China and South Korea pointed out areas in which they were interested in working together, to start with. Iran’s application for observer status was also accepted. While the support and cooperation of other countries or blocs will be helpful, it is mainly the efforts of the eight nations that have to take the sluggish regional cooperation to new heights.

As before, the heads of state or government reiterated their commitment to the principles and objectives of the SAARC charter and made new commitments. They opted for a two-tier mechanism for poverty alleviation, set up $300 million development fund for infrastructure and other projects, vowed to fight all forms of terrorism, including its financing and associated drug trafficking and illicit arms trade, decided to set up a South Asia University in India, and observe 2007 as the Year of Green South Asia in yet another example of the penchant for dedicating years and decades to important themes. The summit also agreed to make tangible progress on four areas in the next six months — water, including flood control, energy, food and the environment. And they agreed on more, including increasing connectivity in fulfilling the objectives of regional prosperity, equitable distribution of the benefits, and opportunities of integration among the peoples of the region.

One need not find fault with expressions of intent or commitment. But given the huge mismatch between commitment and fulfilment during 22 years of the regional club, doubts still persist in most minds about implementation. It is where the eight members need to concentrate. However, one thing is clear: all of them now recognise the tremendous value of the club, all the more so in obtaining world dynamics, including the sweep of globalisation. Besides, the club provides reasons for various layers of leaders of the region to meet more frequently, and meetings on the sidelines of the summit are important for discussing bilateral issues. Prime Minster Koirala also met leaders such as Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and discussed bilateral issues, including the problem Nepal has faced because of the cross-border movement of criminals and arms and their impact on Nepal’s internal politics and security. He also raised the refugee issue with Bhutanese Prime Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk. But the real test of the success of the summit will have to be sought

in the kind of progress on the commitments made — in real terms.