The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal puts economics before politics

Islamabad, Jan. 4: In keeping with the visionary spirit of the adage ‘Dream lofty dreams and as you dream, so shall you become’, the leaders of the member states of South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) today attempted to visualise their future.

Rational economics should triumph over political prejudice in South Asia to transform it into an “economic powerhouse of the world”, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said at the inaugural session of the twelfth Saarc summit at the Jinnah Convention Centre today.

South Asia, Vajpayee said, was yet to grasp the profound truth that together it stands a better chance in the world.

Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali voiced a similar sentiment when he said that globalisation could either lead to marginalisation or to the prospect of developing positive links as a region with the globalised world.

But there were obstacles in the way of enhancing even regional cooperation. Thus, the Indian Prime Minister said, a peace dividend had bypassed this region because “mutual suspicions and petty rivalries have continued to haunt us”.

In a remarkably sagacious speech, Vajpayee gave a call for breaking down the recently constructed “barriers of political prejudice” and for renewing the far more enduring “bonds of religion, language, ethnicity and culture” which held South Asia together.

However, it has also been said that it takes a person who is wide awake to make his dreams come true. Vajpayee, therefore, not only offered actionable proposals for enhancing cooperation but also cautioned against obstacles in the way.

He recommended the setting up of a professionally managed Saarc Poverty Alleviation Fund to underwrite projects to fight poverty. He offered an initial contribution of $100 million to it.

Vajpayee also suggested developing “world-class connectivity” in the region through a transport infrastructure of road, rail, air, waterways and sea links; Indian help in widest co-operation in the use of information technology, bio-technology and other science and technology areas; and enhancing regional water and energy cooperation.

While arguing for encouraging the free movement of people across the region, Vajpayee wanted “sufficiently strong controls” to prevent illegal migration.

He supported free commercial interaction but also joint action to tackle “smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering and gun running”.

Greater economic stakes in each other, Vajpayee felt, would “result in greater sensitivity to the concerns of each other”. He described the action taken by Bhutan against the Indian insurgent groups sheltering there as “an outstanding example of sensitivity to the security concerns of a neighbour”.

Such concern for each other, Vajpayee argued, could pave the way for the ambitious but “entirely achievable” goals such as “a free trade area, an economic union, open borders and a common currency for our region”.

Pakistan Prime Minister Jamali, however, could not let go of contentious political issues. He felt that these goals “would remain distant dreams unless we are able to address the political environment in our region in a just and realistic manner”. However, he did praise Vajpayee as “a visionary, poet and an able politician”.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Suryabahadur Thapa of Nepal welcomed the lowering of tensions between Indian and Pakistan and lauded its positive impact on the region.

However, as Jamali said:“The potential and promise of Saarc is nowhere near realisation.”

So, while South Asia waits to realise its dream, it might help to recall the lyrics of a Dire Straits song, Water of Love.

It goes like this: Water of love deep in the ground/ No water here to be found/ Someday baby when the river runs free/ It’ll carry that water of love to me.

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