|Wednesday, 2 1 July 2004|
SAARC to have ministerial meet on terrorism, drug trafficking
Islamabad, Tuesday (PTI,AFP) Foreign Secretaries from SAARC countries tonight recommended a ministerial meeting on combating terrorism and transnational crimes including drug trafficking and firmed up several proposals on energy cooperation, poverty alleviation besides follow-up action of free trade agreement in the regional grouping.
The Standing Committee of the Foreign Secretaries suggested that the ministerial meeting, which would also discuss the problem of human smuggling, be convened at an early date. Bangladesh has decided to host the meeting.
Briefing reporters on the two-day deliberations, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar, who presided over the meeting, said it was felt that "we should move from words to action, from meetings to projects".
He said the Committee envisaged SAARC as an emerging regional forum in global neighbourhood and that it should have to be interactive with other regional and international organisations as well as influential actors in finance and development. "In doing so, we have to consolidate our own unique strengths, but without creating firewalls around the region that cannot be sustained in a globalised world."
In this regard, SAARC also decided to seek observer status in the United Nations.
Permanent Representatives of the seven member states at the U N in New York will be directed to "take action for obtaining observer status" at the world body, Khokhar said.
Meanwhile the SAARC foreign ministers will also push forward a free trade agreement, look at ways of sharing energy and spur economic cooperation.
"There was an overwhelming consensus that poverty alleviation was the overarching concern for SAARC region as a whole," Pakistani foreign secretary Riaz Kokhar told a press conference late Monday at the conclusion of talks.
"We have talked in terms of setting up an energy centre, because please do not forget that South Asia is a region which is starved of energy and for the countries which are interested in development, energy is a very key ingredient," Kokhar said.
"So I think that time has come for the SAARC countries to sit together to work out a long-term plan for energy."
Pakistan has proposed hosting a SAARC energy ministers' forum and setting up a regional "energy center."
High on the agenda is the regional free trade pact known as the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which calls for a free trade regime to be implemented from January 1, 2006.
Pakistan has also raised its longstanding proposal to introduce peace and security issues to SAARC's agenda, which would give the forum a role in mediating disputes between member states.
But officials stressed they were just floating the idea and not looking to change the forum's charter.
SAARC's charter currently bars discussions on contentious issues plaguing the region.
"As you know SAARC is really an apolitical organisation and ... essentially an economic organisation," Kokhar said.
"It's just an idea, that we should draw from the examples of other regions and it is in that context that the idea came up. But it was not really discussed in depth."
Produced by Lake House