The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi dilemma: To go to Saarc or not Shaky on who to talk in Pak

Phnom Penh, Nov. 4: India is unable to decide on whether to attend the Saarc summit-level talks scheduled for January next year “because we don’t know with whom to talk in Pakistan where no government exists as of now”, foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said today.

Sinha said India was prepared to attend Saarc summit-level talks even in Islamabad, but would not allow bilateral issues between India and Pakistan to cloud its deliberations.

“Saarc is a multilateral forum and should discuss multilateral issues,” Sinha told a group of journalists attending the first Asean-India summit-level talks that begin here tomorrow.

Saarc and Asean are a study in contrast: both regional forums were formed with the basic objective of establishing closer business and trade relations among the member-countries. While the 10-member Asean has grown into a vibrant trading bloc, the seven-member Saarc has languished.

Sinha said Saarc had failed to meet its basic objectives because its agenda had been hijacked by political issues.

“Saarc is limping and has been unable to make the sort of progress it should have made,” he added.

Other regional trade groupings like the European Community, Asean and the North American Free Trade Association (Nafta) had succeeded because they did not deflect from the objectives they had set for themselves.

The foreign minister said Pakistan had continued to be obstructive — first by trying to use the forum to raise bilateral issues and then by refusing to extend preferential tariffs to Indian goods in a negation of the spirit of reciprocity.

“Pakistan has used some peculiar logic in providing some preferential tariffs on goods that India does not export; so it’s perfectly useless and remains a commitment only on paper,” Sinha said.

He said India had been able to cobble a free trade pact with Sri Lanka and was now working to forge one with Bangladesh.

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