| Manmohan Singh with Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in Dhaka on Friday. (AFP)
Dhaka, Nov. 11: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that a number of “failed states” were emerging in India’s neighbourhood may cast a pall of gloom on the 13th Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit beginning here tomorrow.
Singh spoke in Delhi at the anniversary of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis before leaving for Dhaka. However, it is the meeting of leaders of some of these “failed states” that he would be attending here.
Singh will have bilateral meetings with King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal, a state in turmoil, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, a country which India accuses of promoting cross-border terrorism, and his host is Bangladesh whose internal security situation is a matter of grave concern for India.
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The Bangladeshis have been the first to take umbrage. They are believed to be taking exception to the Prime Minister saying: “The danger of a number of failed states emerging in our neighbourhood has far-reaching consequences for our region and our people. The impact includes crises, which generate an inflow of refugees and destabilisation of our border areas.”
Besides this, the two other issues looming large on eve of the 13th Saarc Summit are: the India-Pakistan peace process and the requests of Afgh-anistan and China to be associated with the South Asian body.
India and Pakistan’s bilateral issues are not a part of the Saarc agenda ' its charter does not allow Saarc to discuss bilateral issues. However, the bilateral meeting between Singh and his Pakistan counterpart, Shaukat Aziz, tomorrow on the sidelines of the summit will be no less significant than the meeting of the heads of government.
The Singh-Aziz meeting is expected to take stock of the bilateral relations and the progress made recently in opening crossing points for relief and for divided families along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. “The peace process is on top of the agenda between India and Pakistan and we would like to see progress on Kashmir,” Pakistan’s foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan said this evening.
On Afghanistan and China, however, it seems that the South Asian nations gathered here are divided over which should come first ' the cart or the horse. The issue is the request of Afghanistan for membership of Saarc and of China for observer status or to be a dialogue partner. The question is whether their association with Saarc should be accepted immediately or should rules and criteria for expansion of the association be framed first.
India, which may not be averse to Afghanistan joining, says specific ground rules and criteria need to be developed first before extending the membership of Saarc or considering any request for the status of an observer or dialogue partner. This is to ensure that China does not come in easily.
Pakistan, without linking the case of Afghanistan and China, wants the Saarc countries to take a decision about both in Dhaka and says criteria for expansion could be left till later. Nepal is linking Afghanistan’s membership with China’s request and is arguing that if Afghanistan gets in then so should China as an observer or a dialogue partner.
And Bangladesh is indirectly opposing Afghanistan, pointing out that the Constitution and logo of Saarc would need to be changed to permit any expansion.
Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan, admitting as much, said: “Our view is that if there is a consensus on Afghanistan, then it should be accepted. Although there are no criteria in place, if the member countries feel that someone should become a member, then that decision should be accepted.”
After a meeting of the Saarc council of ministers, which lasted late into the night, Bangladesh foreign minister Morshed Khan said that the decision on China’s request had been postponed till early next year. “A special session of the standing committee (of foreign secretaries) will be convened early next year to frame the guidelines,” he said.
As for Afghanistan, Khan said: “We are yet to reach a conclusion but we are hopeful of reaching a positive conclusion.”