Economic integration and terrorism
Economic integration and combating terrorism, whether it be in the
name of religion, ethnicity or the State, should be on the agenda of the
SAARC summit beginning in the Sri Lanka capital, Colombo.
Sri Lanka is ready to welcome SAARC Heads of State and delegates
The region’s development and prosperity of its around one and a half
billion people remains hostage to myopic forces of the status quo with
the result that almost half of their population lives below the poverty
line and points to a colossal waste of human resources.
Follow the lead
At the beginning of the new millennium, hopes were kindled that SAARC
countries would follow the lead provided by their neighbours of South
East Asia and move fast to fill the void that was created by the
colonialists and would help them come together through forging unity in
matters related primarily to economic progress.
Now for over two decades the leaders, including the self-appointed
ones and of suspect representative status, have been meeting annually,
preceded by meetings of officials and foreign ministers. But very slow
forward movement was witnessed towards South Asia emerging as an
Four years have passed since the signing of South Asia Free Trade
Agreement (SAFTA) at the Islamabad SAARC Summit and various issues are
still under discussion between the lethargic officialdom that was
inherited from colonial masters.
Earlier this year in April, the newly inducted Prime Minister of
Pakistan had also talked about putting SAFTA agreement provisions on a
At a seminar under the auspices of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and
Industry, he had held out the assurance that his government would act as
a facilitator for the implementation of SAFTA, instead of a regulator.
An indication of the same was available in the latest import policy
but the Government wilted under the pressure of Pharmaceutical industry
tycoons and cancelled the decision about the import of life-saving drugs
at almost half the present rates that were to be raised further by 40
Coming back to the SAARC Summit whose officials would have met by the
time this writing appears, it could be assumed that the participants
discussed the incidents of serial blasts in the two Indian economic hubs
of Bangalore and Ahmedabad - the later capital of Gujarat (to which
belonged the families of Gandhi and Jinnah) that has taken a heavy toll
of dozens of innocent human lives, especially in Ahmedabad, which a few
years ago was the scene of anti-Muslim carnage under official patronage.
Afghan and Sri Lankan officials also must have talked about the
activities of Taliban and Tigers as they consider them to be terrorist
bodies. SAARC has so far kept internal issues outside its scope while
its members and even the Summit leaders do make a mention in their
Sensitive internal issues with political implementations should
continue to be dealt with separately while there are many an issue that
were of immediate concern for the economic development of the region and
There are several issues that need concrete decisions and immediate
follow-up action by the SAARC leaders. Of these, the first priority
needed to provide uninterrupted, direct, and cheap communication links
between the SAARC nations, either without the requirement of visa or a
liberal visa regime that allowed elderly and children to get
unrestricted visas on entry.
Citizens of some SAARC countries already have this facility for their
citizens that needs to be extended to all others.
Similarly, the restricted travel and goods transport facilities by
cheaper modes like railways and road transport should be open to the
citizens of all SAARC countries having their countries’ travel
Nepalis, Bangladeshis, Bhutanese, and even Sri Lankans and Maldivians
can do most of their travel by train and road transport if the SAARC
nations desire quicker interaction leading to economic integration.
What makes our governments reluctant about opening up the travel
facilities that would generate billions worth tourism between these
countries who have so much to see and enjoy in each other’s country? It
is strange that one cannot travel between Peshawar and Dhaka while the
same was possible about a century ago.
And why should someone not drive in less than 48 hours from Kathmandu
to Lahore and enjoy an overnight stay in some Indian city in the UP.
Isn’t it absurd that such travel has turned into a dream in the post
1965 decades despite the establishment of SAARC ?
At a time when some of the SAARC nations were facing staple grain
shortage while some have a surplus available, they can demonstrate their
concern and offer the same as assistance at a reasonable price.
This would save them of the exorbitant rates being charged by
multinational corporations who have earned huge profits at the cost of
developing countries whose markets they were pressing through the WTO to
be opened for the imperial loot. Instead of opening the markets for MNCs,
it would be in the interest of regional cooperation to open the same for
countries in the region.
Another area where regional cooperation among SAARC nations could do
wonders was the development of electric power generation and the
provision of alternative energy sources. It was not hydel and coal alone
that could generate the required megawatts (MW) of electricity but there
could be combined efforts to develop wind and solar energy.
The leaders need to demonstrate political will and the establishment
should restrain itself from subverting mutual cooperation where it was
beneficial for all.
One would not expect an overnight change in the mindset of the
decision-makers and even other sections of public who have lived their
lives hating the neighbours more than others.
This hate game is not only between adherents of different faiths but
also amongst them. The feelings were easily discernable, say between
India and Nepal and among Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There was no denying the fact that there did exist genuine suspicions
and fears on several issues. But instead of nursing them while living
with the same and looking ahead in to the future would be more
That demanded a collective effort by all the countries of the region
for relieving millions and millions of their citizens from poverty and
deprivation that it accompanied.
It should be realised that there is no possibility of ‘poverty
alleviation’ or ‘sustainable development’ in developing member nations
of SAARC unless collective efforts are made for developing resources
through intensive use of human resources that, despite freedom from
colonial bondage, remain deprived of the basic inputs for what was
termed ‘value addition’ in their output.
The writer is a senior journalist (The Post)