The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Saarc wind drives ties

Islamabad, Jan. 2: The wind is in the sails. The boat is raring to go and both India and Pakistan are in it. The gathering forces may just propel them forward willy-nilly.

The historic outcome of the Saarc summit here has the potential to help jump-start the stalled bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan.

“Ultimately regional cooperation translates into bilateral cooperation also. It is bound to rub off on bilateral ties, including those between India and Pakistan,” said external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha.

However, he admitted that he was not in a position to end the suspense about whether Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would meet the Pakistani leadership over the next four days. “You will have to live with the suspense for some time,” he quipped.

Sinha predicted that the meeting of Saarc leaders would be “historic”. And historic indeed it may turn out to be.

Who would have thought that the desire for peace and regional cooperation would so overtake the countries of this region that they would decide to propose setting up a South Asian Development Bank, plan a common food bank to ensure food security, bury their differences for the cause of creating a free trade area by 2006 and agree to multilateral obligations to suppress terrorism'

India today went to the extent of proposing that a South Asian Economic Union be put into place by 2015 and that the finance ministers and governors of central banks of Saarc countries explore the idea of a common currency. The idea of an economic union is blasphemy to many.

To the question of a Pakistani journalist that the idea of an economic union went against the history of Partition of the subcontinent, Sinha argued forcefully that India does not want to “undo” the Partition.

“We have nothing but the well-being of the people of South Asia in mind through improved trade relations, harmonisation of tariffs, transport linkages, creating a development bank and greater cooperation among the central banks of the Saarc countries. The concept of an economic union has been clearly defined and accepted internationally. Nobody need read anything more into this,” he said.

Sinha argued that “today, countries who form regional groupings are in a better position to meet the challenges of globalisation than individually”.

“Switch on the engine of South Asian growth to travel on the road to prosperity,” he argued. But the official spokesperson of Pakistan sounded immediate caution.

Economic union is “an idea that must be pursued but right now it is premature”, said Masood Khan. “You have to resolve political disputes....”

He said: “There has to be an element of simultaneity. You cannot ignore political issues and seek cooperation in other areas.”

However, what is clear is that the regional atmospherics show signs of changing dramatically. This can easily facilitate the addressing of India-Pakistan bilateral issues on the sidelines of the summit.

Heavens will not fall now if Vajpayee were to meet Pakistan’s leadership and declare intent to restart the dialogue between the two countries.


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