South Asian unity
The 15th SAARC Summit is now in
session with the preliminary rounds of Ministerial meetings
being conducted as a lead up to the Summit proper that is to
take place at the beginning of next month.
The days leading up to the SAARC conference saw a hive of
activity in the City with special security arrangements put in
place for the protection of the delegates. There are also travel
restrictions in areas where the main venues are and also
sporadic blockades of roads to facilitate the passage of
True, this may be causing some inconvenience and hardship to
the public but the fact that such a regional event is hosted by
Sri Lanka is an achievement considering the bleak picture
painted of the country to the outside world vis-a-vis its
security and other not so subtle attempts wishing for its
It is also a testament to the fact that the country is safe
for visitors and also that the presence of all Heads of State of
SAARC has helped negate the gloomy picture painted by interested
parties to deny the country this honour.
Presently the nitty gritty of the agenda is being worked out
by all the actors leading up to the final SAARC declaration.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa will take over the leadership of
the regional grouping and it would be interesting to see what
his address will be centred on considering that combating
terrorism is high on the agenda of the SAARC deliberations this
No doubt the President would repeat his appeal for a strong
regional initiative to defeat terrorism that has today
transcended all borders. This call would also no doubt carry
resonance with SAARC neighbours particularly in the aftermath of
Sunday’s serial bombings across India which claimed many lives.
It is no secret today that SAARC countries too are affected
by cross border terrorism with links between the LTTE and the
Al-Qaeda established. Therefore any joint initiatives to promote
and foster economic ties between the SAARC neighbours has to
have as its aim the defeat of terrorism.
Economic development and the resultant poverty alleviation
are essential for a stable region devoid of armed conflict. It
is hoped that the deliberation of the SAARC leaders would
primarily focus on this aspect and take joint measures to stamp
out terrorism from the region.
According to SAARC Media spokesman Prasad Kariyawasam a
series of measures are to be adopted during the 15th SAARC
summit for a joint approach to combating terrorism and other
areas such as maximising energy and water resources, food
security, poverty alleviation in addition to several other key
issues affecting the region.
The SAARC which constitutes one fourth of the world’s
population has in the past been described as a talk shop by
sceptics and not without some justification. The endless
deliberation other than producing tons of paper have brought
little tangible benefit to the region as a whole they argue.
There will be reams of sessional papers that will be
presented and discussed at this Summit as well and agreements
reached in all honesty on a wide range of topics affecting the
It is hoped that at least the regional body would get a firm
move on under the able leadership of President Rajapaksa. SAARC
too has often been described as a poor man’s club even though it
has India as a towering presence.
It is hoped that this appellation attached to SAARC would be
dispelled with the 15th summit and the body would play a more
dynamic and vibrant role in addressing the vital issues such as
redressing the vast economic disparity between its peoples,
burgeoning poverty, malnutrition, lack of water, AIDS etc.
It should also be prevailed on the SAARC members that they
should not drift away from the grouping’s main objectives as per
its Charter designed by its founding fathers. There are also the
geopolitical issues that tend to surface obfuscating SAARC
ideals and defeating the aim of regional cooperation.
Although trade agreements are reached in the name of
bilateral cooperation most often than not advantages are
gradually wrested off poor member countries. There is therefore
a need to iron out these rough edges and differences at the
Colombo summit so that SAARC could charter a smooth course in
tranquil waters and be cited as a shining example of regional
cooperation by the rest of the world.