A borderless SAARC
For the first time a new topic
had been brought into the SAARC agenda namely Passenger
Transport. It is hoped that this would be a harbinger for the
breaking down of all remaining barriers that restrict
people-to-people interaction among the SAARC family.
Today while all travel barriers have been removed among
European Union countries it is a matter for regret that SAARC
which even predates the EU in a cultural sense is yet to resolve
this issue to a satisfactory level.
It goes without saying that unity and brotherhood can best be
promoted only through personal contact and increased
interaction. This can only be a reality if the means for such
interaction is provided without hindrance.
Today even the easy access routes such as ferry services
between SAARC countries have been shut down and air travel
subjected to more cumbersome procedures.
The 15th SAARC Summit should dwell on this issue deeply and
come out with satisfactory solutions to ensure unhindered access
for peoples of the region. If not all the talk about SAARC unity
and solidarity would be confined only to just that.
True, the increased threat posed by terrorism may have led to
these restrictions. But a way should be found to unite our
people rather than place them apart, if the SAARC Charter is to
be given due meaning.
The call made by Transport Minister Dallus Alahapperuma for
emphasis to be laid on the pubic transport sector within SAARC
countries at the upcoming Summit deserves merit.
Addressing the first SAARC Seminar on Public Road Passenger
Transport in Colombo the Minister noted that promoting public
transport among the SAARC countries would not only result in a
major saving on fuel but also help reduce urban congestion.
He also explained how rural economies could be developed by
affording easy access to markets through efficient public
transport affordable to the public.
The topic of transport which will surface for the first time
at a SAARC forum would also be an ideal opportunity to take up
the matter of interconnectivity between SAARC countries through
transport. India has already mooted the idea for a rail link
connecting 27 countries encompassing SAARC that also affords
access to Europe.
This project if it sees the light of day would facilitate
more interaction among peoples of SAARC nations that would
reinforce the ideals of SAARC while paving the way for healthy
bilateral ties between States and their leaders.
Particularly it is bound to have a positive impact on
Indo-Lanka relations which are already reinforced by common
cultural ties and customs.
A rail link such as the one proposed could enhance
opportunities for cementing these ties through assimilation and
adoption paving the way for a common identity which is a key
element in the SAARC Charter.
Such a rail link would also facilitate social and cultural
interaction while opening avenues for enhanced trade and
commerce between the States. This sharing of resources among
member countries is the ultimate goal of SAARC.
The delegates should also mull on the positive fall out in
promoting unrestricted access among the peoples of the region
which could lead to a spirit of brotherhood transcending
different cultures and customs.
The recent inflow of football fans from Maldives to witness a
soccer final against India demonstrated a typical picture of
transnational solidarity which is the type of link that is
envisaged in the SAARC Charter.
This could only be promoted and advanced by dismantling all
prevailing barriers that hamper such unity and togetherness.
Today despite all the talk of mutual bonds and healthy ties
between SAARC countries there are still restrictions that hamper
bringing together of the SAARC family as a cohesive unit.
Although past summits have touched on the need for removing
travel restrictions and doing away with visas there has not been
satisfactory progress in this connection.
The inconvenience and hardship that locals have to endure for
obtaining visas at some of our SAARC countries’ embassies only
mirrors this dichotomy between the needs for cohesion as
expounded by SAARC and the ground reality.
It is a negation of all that SAARC stands for to bring
together the peoples of the region in unity and brotherhood
under one umbrella.
It is hoped that at least at the Colombo Summit it will be
resolved to whittle away at these barriers that prevent
communion among peoples so that the vast SAARC community could
be welded as a formidable bloc.