Musharraf, Jamali content over 12th Saarc summit

ISLAMABAD: President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zaffarullah Khan Jamali have expressed their satisfaction over successful holding of 12th Saarc Summit and agreement reached between India and Pakistan over establishing peace in South Asia region.

Both Pakistani leaders stressed resolution of all bilateral issues between Pakistan and Indian including Kashmir issue through peaceful dialogues. 

They also expressed their hope, saying that the recommendations presented by Pakistan and India would help for durable peace in the region of South Asia, which would requires all the Saarc member countries to be in harmony with each other, so that enduring democracy and socio-economic betterment were achieved. 

Saarc states pledge cooperation against terror

Approve Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation; term investment, human resources critical areas for future development of South Asia; condemn terrorists’ violence

By Amer Malik

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad Declaration jointly issued by member states on Tuesday at the conclusion of the 12th Saarc summit envisaged enhanced cooperation in all fields ranging from economic affairs to combating terrorism for promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the South Asian region.

The leaders of the Saarc member states comprising Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, guided by the vision of a peaceful and prosperous South Asia, reaffirmed commitment to the principles, provisions and objectives of the Saarc Charter featuring cooperation in the fields of economic affairs, poverty alleviation, science and technology, social, cultural and environmental cooperation, combating terrorism, establishment of Saarc Award, exchange of information and communications, continuing Saarc Integrated Programme of Action, enhancing sub-regional, inter-regional and political cooperation and ensuring security of small states in the region.

The heads of all seven member states of Saarc, conscious of the growing interdependence within and amongst nations and regions in an increasingly globalised world, expressed their deep-rooted desire of promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the region through strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter and Non-Alignment, particularly respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of the states and peaceful settlement of all disputes amongst the countries of the South Asian region. "We reaffirm the centrality of Saarc for promoting regional cooperation and emphasising the need to enhance its efficacy," vowed the heads of the Saarc member states.

In regional cooperation in the economic affairs, the member states expressed satisfaction over the progress made in South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (Sapta), and declared signing of South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) as a major milestone. They stressed the need to broaden economic cooperation and to ensure equitable distribution of benefits of trade as well as cater to the special needs of the small and LDC (Least Developed Countries) member states by providing them special and differential treatment.

They reiterated the commitment, made at the 11th Saarc Summit at Kathmandu in January 2002, for the creation of a South Asian Economic Union. It resolved to undertake a study on creating South Asian Energy Cooperation, including the concept of an Energy Ring by the Working Group on Energy.

They laid emphasis on strengthening transportation, transit and communication links across the region for accelerated and balanced economic growth. The prospects for setting up of a South Asian Development Bank were also considered and proposed to examine its modalities by the Saarc Finance through the Council of Ministers. Priority attention should also be given to the need for harmonisation of standards, simplification of custom procedures, as well as cooperation among the central banks, they observed.

They emphasised that there was a need for increasing cooperation to jointly promote tourism within South Asia as well as to promote South Asia as tourism destination inter alia by improved air links. The year 2005 is designated as "South Asia Tourism Year".

On poverty alleviation front, the member states, terming poverty alleviation as the greatest challenge facing the peoples of South Asia, declared alleviation of poverty as the overarching goal of Saarc activities. They marked as priority the provision of basic needs, promotion of literacy, and better healthcare to the people of South Asia. "It is important to undertake effective and sustained poverty reduction programmes through pre-poor growth strategies and other policy interventions with specific sectoral targets," they underlined.

The member states unanimously approved the Plan of Action on Poverty Alleviation, prepared by the meeting of Finance and Planning Ministers in Islamabad in 2002. Expressing satisfaction over the reconstituted Independent South Asian Commission for Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA), they underscored the need to devise an effective strategy to implement suggestions made in ISACPA Report "Our Future Our Responsibility".

They stressed that ISACPA should prepare and submit to the next Saarc Summit a comprehensive and realistic blueprint setting our "Saarc Development Goals" for the next five years in the areas of poverty alleviation, education, health and environment giving due regard, among others, to the suggestions made in its report. "The Saarc Secretariat should periodically update and submit Regional Poverty Profiles," emphasised the member states.

They observed that Saarc should continue to collaborate with international organisations and UN agencies in the field of poverty alleviation. They recommended the establishment of a Regional Food Bank for which a concept paper should be prepared. "Arrangements for Saarc Food Security Reserves should be made more effective," they added.

They termed the investment and human resources as critical areas for future development of South Asia. "It is, therefore, essential to establish a network of centres of higher learning, training and Skill Development Institutes (SDIs) across South Asia," they added.

To combat terrorism, the member states condemned terrorists’ violence in all its forms and manifestations, and noted that people of South Asia continue to face a serious threat from terrorism. "We are convinced that terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, is a challenge to all states and to all of humanity, and cannot be justified on any ground, whatsoever," they observed.

They said terrorism violated the fundamental values of the United Nations and the Saarc Charter and constituted one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. "We agree to fully implement the relevant international conventions to which we are parties," they added.

They reaffirmed the commitment to Saarc Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism, which among others, recognised the seriousness of the problem of terrorism as it affected the security, stability and development of the region.

They welcomed the signing of the Additional Protocol to the Saarc Regional Convention on Combating Terrorism to deal effectively with terrorism in all forms and manifestations in South Asia.

For the exchange of information and communications, the member states recognised the vital role that information and media could play in the promotion of peace, progress and harmony in South Asia. In this context, they welcomed the initiatives for introducing regular "Saarc Roundup" and "Saarc News" programmes for telecast and broadcast on national TV and radio channels, respectively in member countries. "We agree to the establishment of a Saarc Information Centre in Kathmandu," they added.

In the field of science and technology, the member states emphasised upon strengthening of scientific and technological cooperation across the region to accelerate the pace of economic and social development. "Sharing of scientific and technological expertise, joint research and development and industrial application of higher technology should be encouraged and facilitated," they emphasised.

In social sector, the member states hailed the signing of the Saarc Social Charter as a historic development, which would have a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of South Asians. "Issues covered under the charter such as poverty alleviation, population stabilisation, empowerment of women, youth mobilisation, human resource development, promotion of health and nutrition and protection of children are considered as key to the welfare and well-being of all South Asians."

They observed that all member states should move towards an early ratification of the two Conventions on Child Welfare and Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. "To enable women to contribute to the socio-economic development, there is a need for Saarc to encourage women entrepreneurs in the region," they added.

Declaring year 2004 as the "Saarc Awareness Year", they termed as priorities the provision of easy and affordable healthcare, prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other serious communicable diseases.

As agreed by the Saarc Health Ministers’ Conference, held recently in New Delhi, they stressed that a Saarc Health Surveillance Centre and a Rapid Deployment Health Response System should be set up to deal with the emerging and re-emerging disease as well as to establish a network among various institutions dealing with malaria and other vector borne diseases in the member states. "The important initiative taken by Maldives in hosting the Emergency Meeting of the Saarc Health Ministers on SARS epidemic in Male on 29 April 2003 was a welcome development. Also, documentation of traditional knowledge to safeguard Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in medicine needs attention," they maintained.

They said the importance of cooperation in medical expertise and pharmaceuticals as well as in the field of traditional medicine required elaboration of a Saarc Plan of Action that should be developed in the shortest possible time.

In the fields of culture and environment, the member states said they took pride in the rich cultural mosaic of the peoples of South Asia, and underlined the need for preservation of traditional skills and crafts and promotion of cultural exchanges between nations. "We welcome the establishment of a Saarc Cultural Centre in Kandy, which will serve as a symbol of South Asian shared cultural heritage."

They said it was important to undertake and reinforce regional cooperation in the conservation of water resources, environment, pollution control and prevention as well as their preparedness to deal with natural calamities. "We welcome the early establishment of the Coastal Zone Management Centre in the Maldives," they observed. Stressing importance of the early and effective implementation of the Saarc Environment Plan of Action, they stressed early submission of the State of the Environment reports to expedite the preparation of Saarc State of Environment report and the commissioning of the work on drafting a Regional Environment Treaty.

The member states welcomed the institution of the Saarc Award on the basis of a concept paper drawn up by the government of Nepal, and decided to present the Award during the summits in future. "The award will honour and encourage outstanding individuals and organisations within the region in the fields of peace, development and poverty alleviation, and in other areas of regional cooperation," they added.

The member states also stressed the need to allocate more resources to Saarc Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA) for achieving further progress in regional cooperation.

On inter-regional and sub-regional cooperation, the member states encouraged the development of specific projects relevant to the individual needs of three or more member states under the provisions of Articles VII and X of the Saarc Charter. "They expressed determination to develop mutually beneficial links between Saarc and other regional and international organisations, bodies and entities, and agreed to establish dialogue partnership with other regional bodies and with states outside the region, interested in Saarc activities.

For the security of small states, the member states were mindful of their security concerns that arise, inter alia, from their particular vulnerabilities, which should be firmly addressed by scrupulous adherence to the UN Charter, rules of international law and strict adherence to the universally accepted principles and norms related to sovereign rights and territorial integrity of all states.

Jamali for setting aside political irritants

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: Terming the 12th Saarc summit a complete success, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali on Tuesday said that all political irritants should be set aside and a positive approach be adopted if the member states wanted to regain progress and do something for their people.

"The political irritants whatever they were in the last few years, they need to be set aside if Saarc has to progress as a region not as individuals. Ours will be a positive approach," said the prime minister at the post-summit press conference here. "I am sure and confident that we will make progress now."

Jamali said both Pakistan and India have made up their minds to go ahead in a positive way, as both have a fair idea as to where they are going. Only time will tell how far we have come forward, he added.

He said all the seven member countries have unanimously agreed and inked the additional protocol on terrorism, and added he would help join efforts to combat terrorism in all its manifestations. The prime minister recalled that a number of economic and social issues were discussed within the framework of Saarc. He said a mechanism has been evolved and the standing committees reactivated for making the forum an effective tool for resolving problems confronted by the people of the South Asia.

Jamali was of the view that all the member states adopted a positive approach and they were now looking forward to yield better results in due course of time. On the poverty alleviation programme, the prime minister said Pakistan would not lag behind and would make a decent and proper contribution towards this fund.

Jamali said in his capacity as Chairman Saarc he would like to visit all the countries, and if an invitation was extended he would visit India also. On the issue of regional gas pipeline, the prime minister said he discussed the matter with Prime Minister Vajpayee for reactivating the project, as this would benefit India more than Pakistan. The ball is now in India’s court, he asserted.

Replying to a question about Mishra-ISI chief meeting, he said every individual has the right to work for national interest and added "our own national interest comes first". He, however, denied any external pressure for holding such meetings.

Wishing his neighbours well, the prime minister said if someone has been working, or talking or deliberating, there is nothing wrong with it. When his attention was drawn towards the Indian proposal of one currency, he said it is "not viable for both of us."

About jointly celebrating the 150th anniversary of 1857 along with India and Bangladesh, he said, "It is a food for thought ... we will consider it, there are different connotations for it in India and here, we will try to study and see if it can be worked out."

In his opening statement, the prime minister said the Islamabad summit constitutes a turning point in endeavour of the South Asian states to promote peace and prosperity for the people. He said landmark decisions have been taken and new thoughts and new contents have been added to broaden and deepen the scope of multi-dimensional cooperation in South Asia.

Considering the fact that the Saarc process was repeatedly interrupted, Jamali said whatever "success achieved has been remarkable". He attributed the Saarc success to the growing realisation "that in the increasingly inter-dependent world, the South Asian nations have no option but to take up the challenges of globalisation by bringing back the economic complementarities that exist among and between the regions."

The prime minister said there was a realisation to take a holistic approach that encompassed the entire spectrum of inter-state relations in South Asia. He said the political disputes could not be divorced from economics but added that imperatives of geo-economics could also not be ignored.

"The creation of climate of peace and stability and resolution of differences and disputes and simultaneous building of economic synergies could transform the daily lives of people," he added. "I have a distinct sense that we have been able at this summit to move across the board in all fields," he added.

In political sphere, he said, the conference strongly reaffirmed the commitment of South Asian states to the objectives and principles of Saarc charter. The leaders, he said, also expressed desire to promote peace, stability, amity and progress in the region through strict adherence to the principles of UN charter and NAM. This particularly included the respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of the state, and peaceful settlement of disputes, he added.

"The leaders envisioned South Asia to be a peaceful and stable region where each nation is at peace with itself and its neighbours and where conflicts, differences and disputes are addressed through peaceful means and dialogue," he recalled.

Jamali said the leaders reaffirmed their pledge to promote good neighbourly relations and recognise the importance of informal political consultations and promoting mutual understanding and reinforcing confidence building process among member states.

In the economic field, Jamali said, the leaders affirmed determination to create an inclusive, just and equitable partnership for peace, development and prosperity. He said in this regard the leaders noted with satisfaction the progress made on Sapta and reviewed and signed the framework agreement on Safta as a major milestone.

"There was an agreement to make this momentum and move towards further broadening of economic cooperation and to ensure equitable benefits of trade and cater to the special needs of small and LDC (Least Developed Countries) member states, providing them special and differential treatment," he added.

Prime Minister Jamali said the leaders have also agreed that a study on creating a South Asian energy cooperation, including the concept of an energy ring, should be undertaken by the Saarc’s Working Group on Energy.

He said for accelerated and balanced economic growth it has been deemed essential to strengthen transportation, transit and communication links across the region. "We also agreed on giving priority attention to the need for harmonisation of standards, simplification of custom procedures, as well as cooperation among the central banks," he said.

He said the leaders were of the view that public and private sector cooperation, particularly joint ventures hold great promise. In this regard they underscored the importance of moving towards project cooperation under Saarc and the need to examine the idea of setting up of a South Asian Development Bank by the Saarc Finance.

In the social sphere, the signing of the Saarc Social Charter is a historic development and will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of millions of South Asians. Similarly he said progress has also been made in the constitution of Saarc Autonomous Advocacy Group of Prominent Women Personalities (SAWAG).

Jamali said, in this regard, the need to encourage women entrepreneurs in the region was also underscored by the leaders, which would enable women to contribute to the socio-economic development of the region.

The cooperation in politico-economic and socio-cultural spheres would surely contribute to the elimination of poverty, which remains the greatest challenge facing the people of South Asia and an overarching goal of all Saarc activities.

Prime Minister Jamali said the 12th Saarc summit would be long remembered for its epochal achievements. "The decisions taken and the agreements reached at the summit would not have been possible without the political will and determination of all the leaders to push the Saarc process forward."

Finalisation of these various instruments is only a first step, he said. Their implementation in letter and spirit would require a redoubling of efforts with a view to sustaining and building on the existing momentum and statesmen-like spirit of compromise and accommodation. Pakistan assumes the Saarc chair with the determination to make this organisation and the regional cooperation more meaningful, sustainable and substantive.

Saarc summit to spur Pak economy

By Ibrahim Khan

ISLAMABAD: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) 12th summit, which concluded here on Tuesday after adopting a joint declaration, was likely to spur Pakistan’s economy as it focussed attention on peace, economic development, trade and alleviation of poverty, analysts said.

"The summit is likely to provide the much-needed encouragement and patronage to promote trade in the region," Riaz Ahmed Tata, President of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), told The News.

He said the seven-nation association of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, accommodating one-fifth of the world population, provided a very big market to goods manufactured in the region.

"Why should not we promote the regionally-manufactured goods and help our own economy in the best interest of our poor people? Tata, the head of the apex-trade body of Pakistan, tossed a question while discussing the outcome of the summit.

Tata’s comments followed the adoption by the 12th summit’s declaration on the conclusion of the three-day summit, which started on Sunday. Dealing with the chapter on Regional Economic Cooperation, the declaration said: "The signing of the framework agreement on Safta is a major milestone. It is important to maintain this momentum and move towards further broadening of economic cooperation and to ensure equitable distribution of benefits of trade and cater to the special needs of the small and LDC member states by providing them special and differential treatment.

"We reiterate our commitment made at the 11th Saarc summit at Kathmandu in January 2002 for the creation of a South Asian Economic Union. In this context, we underline that creation of a suitable political and economic environment would be conducive to the realization of this objective."

The declaration stated: "For accelerated and balanced economic growth it is essential to strengthen transportation, transit and communication links across the region. "Public and private sector cooperation, particularly joint ventures holds great promise. It is important to move towards project cooperation under Saarc. Prospects for setting up of a South Asian Development Bank should be examined by the Saarc finance through the Council of Ministers."

While referring to regional cooperation of the European Union, ASEAN, NAFTA and APEC, Tata said the Saarc declaration had mentioned the regional cooperation and private sector cooperation. The highly developed countries to protect and promote their products and goods through regional trade had formed all these regional bodies.

"We should strengthen the Saarc and translate its aims and objects into a reality to improve the quality of life of our own people, one of the poorest in the world," he said and added: "The Saarc’s success lies in the regional trade and promotion of education and health care."

He, however, said the government should include the private sector in interaction and regional trade policy finalisation. An analyst of stocks said the share prices had risen gradually during the last few days because of a cautious approach of foreign and local investors and wait-and-see attitude of financial institutions.

On Tuesday, the KSE-100 index rose 14.21 points to 4,514.84 on a turnover of 248 million shares amid 150 gainers and 167 losers, compared with a rise of 26.70 points to 4,500.63 amid 172 gainers and 138 losers on Monday.

The analyst attributed the Tuesday’s rise to the outcome of the summit and its declaration dealing with efforts to promote peace and good relations amongst the Saarc members, regional trade and economic development.

The meetings of President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee also helped in restoration of confidence among the investors at the Karachi bourse, the analyst added.

Pakistan’s economic development has been appreciated by the Asian Development Bank 10 days ago. The bank is of the view that most of the economic indicators showed that the economy was healthy, growing faster and its fundamentals moving in the right direction.

The overall picture of the economy, which emerges from the ADB report, is that a massive effort is still needed to enhance investment and reduce unemployment and poverty. Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz has recently showered accolades on the performance of the economy and said the economy was strong. "We expect to cross the overall GDP growth target of 5.3 during the current (2003/04 July-June) fiscal year," he said.

While releasing the details of the Large Scale Manufacturing (LSM) during July-October, he said it showed 13.97 per cent growth during this period, as against 2.58 per cent in the corresponding period of the last fiscal year.

One analyst on Pakistan’s economy said the economic gains were likely to improve further because of bilateral and multi-lateral trade opportunities in the Saarc region. The Saarc foreign ministers, despite some differences, have also finalised recommendations at a symposium organised by Saarc Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Safta.

JKLF seeks OIC role on Kashmir issue

By our correspondents

ISLAMABAD: Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Amanullah Khan on Tuesday said it was shocking to learn that Pakistan did not mention the Kashmir issue for the first time in an international event like the Saarc summit.

In an interview with The News, he said he was happy over resumption of talks between Pakistan and India. "I fear that the talks are aimed at division of Kashmir and for this purpose the Line of Control would be converted into a permanent border," he added.

"Though President Musharraf must have mentioned Kashmir, Prime Minister Vajpayee may not have talked about it openly because of the ‘negative hawks’ in India. I don’t think we have any reason to be very optimistic," he said.

To a question on his formula for resolution of the Kashmir issue, Amanullah said: "The simplest formula to resolve the Kashmir issue, without any harm to either India or Pakistan’s ideology, would be to reunite the divided Kashmir and give it independence under the supervision of an international body," he added.

He said since India was allergic to the UN’s role, the unification of Kashmir could take place under the Organisation of Islamic Conference, European Union, P-5 countries, Germany or Japan.

He added Kashmir should be given an independent status with a condition that it should be democratic, non-communal, federal and at the top of it, it must have friendly relations with India and Pakistan.

He said after 15 years of providing Kashmir an independent status, there should be a referendum in Kashmir to ascertain whether the Kashmiris wanted to continue their independent status, join either India or Pakistan or opt for another option.

Saarc can play role like Asean, EU: Chandrika

By Awais Saleem

ISLAMABAD: Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said that Saarc could play a more vibrant role in the region if the political differences of two major players-India and Pakistan-are resolved without further delay.

In an interview to The News panel comprising Salim Bokhari, Siddiq Asghar, Awais Saleem and Naveed Akram at Punjab House here Tuesday, the distinguished guest spoke on a number of topics and expressed her viewpoint on them.

Saarc, she said, had the capacity to play a more proactive role like Asean and EU provided the disputed issues between both the countries (India and Pakistan) were resolved. "Amongst all the regional organizations, we share the most closest cultural and traditional bonds," she pointed out.

While pinning her hopes on this factor to take Saarc on the course of progress and prosperity in future, she said that all kinds of regional differences had to settle down first and emphasized that the present summit had made a good beginning towards this goal.

No tension between the two major countries, India and Pakistan, of South Asia was also a very good thing to see during this summit, she said while appreciating the recent goodwill gestures taken by the respective countries.

Replying to a question on whether Saarc was dominated by India and Pakistan that resulted in the cause of other smaller countries being sidelined, she said the problems between them had certainly been a major factor in their dominance of the regional organization since its inception.

She agreed that the interest of smaller countries in Saarc could not be taken up properly because of the tension and said nothing was taken seriously in the region other than the India-Pakistan conflict over the years.

They should have been working purposefully on the social charter and the agenda of poverty alleviation, she said while referring to the report on poverty compiled by a Saarc committee. This would now be translated to the concerned for developing a plan of action accordingly, she revealed.

The president disagreed that either India or Pakistan wished to ignore the issues of their smaller counter-parts in the region and emphasized that both the countries were just severely handicapped because of their political differences.

When the focus would be on the issues pertaining to South Asia and both the bigger players (India and Pakistan) start giving attention to them, the problems would be resolved. There was no intentional effort on part of both the countries to jeopardize the regional organization, she argued.

When asked about her role in bringing India and Pakistan closer during the last Saarc summit in Kathmandu, she said she had also done this in Colombo, but it was not a structured mediation role as such.

"I don’t think that a mediation or a facilitator is required by either of the two parties," she said while recalling India had clearly stated that it would like to resolve its differences with Pakistan on bilateral basis. "I would also not like to play a role unless it is required," she said

"Whatever I had done was just as a friend of both the countries," she said while adding that she would continue to playing her part for the improvement in Indo-Pak relations whenever possible.

She said she was taking an excellent impression from the 12th Saarc summit back home and it had perhaps been the most productive conference in the history of the organization.

"We have been able to sign the free trade agreement besides the social charter," she elaborated while adding that this was due for a long time. These, she said, were the important steps that the heads of state of Saarc had managed to translate into actions during the summit. She sounded very positive about these measures and the general atmosphere of friendship for the future of the region.

On a question about SAFTA (free trade) agreement’s benefit to smaller countries in wake of the WTO around the corner, she said that both were different prepositions. SAFTA, she said, had several clauses to protect the rights of smaller and less developed countries.

"There is considerable concern amongst ourselves on this subject," she said while terming the SAFTA agreement as good for the future of these countries. An effort, she said, had been made to extract the benefits of free trade while protecting the rights of smaller countries in the region as well.

The preposition of WTO, like all other issues, had to be decided collectively by the Saarc countries, she said while giving a reference to her speech on the inaugural session of the summit. "If we can have a common stand, it would be very good," she said adding that issues have to be discussed one to one basis in order to develop consensus.

"Sometimes, we may not come to a conclusion and agree to disagree," she said while stressing the need for discussing everything else.

When asked what Sri Lanka was doing to counter WTO challenges, she said, "we had a clear stand on it during my first government but then, there was a break because of change of government two years ago." The present Sri Lankan government, she said, was in the process of discussing and deciding on the appropriate strategy with reference to WTO.

Previously, there was an ad hoc arrangement and discussions used to take place once a year on certain forums. Her government would like to change this policy, she declared.

Giving her views on the political crisis in Sri Lanka and the divide in two major political parties, she said that she was trying quite hard and wished to resolve it. "There are good chances that these political differences in Sri Lanka would be sorted out," she said adding that there were other political options of doing so if it did not work out in due course of time.

Talking about Sri Lankan ethnic problems particularly the Tamil rebels (LTTE) issue, she said they had managed to reduce it considerably as compared to previous years. The Kashmir issue has persisted for 56 years without any solution while the Palestine issue has also taken a long time, she said while hoping that it would not take that long to settle internal disputes in Sri Lanka.

The president termed bilateral relations of her country with Pakistan as excellent and said the both countries shared very good relationship. "Pakistan has extended great cooperation to us in many areas like defence besides culture exchanges etc," she said adding that the relationships between both the governments had remained cordial over the years.

She said she had last paid a state visit to Pakistan in 1996 while President Musharraf visited Sri Lanka last year. "I have, during the summit, also extended an invitation to Prime Minister Jamali to visit Sri Lanka," she informed.

When asked her plans for the next visit to Pakistan after coming to attend the 12th Saarc summit this time round, she said that the invitation from Pakistani government was always there and Prime Minister Jamali had reiterated it during the concluding session. However, this had to be planned in light of the commitments and busy schedules of the heads from both the countries, she added.

Indian vice premier Advani says he is satisfied with Saarc summit

NEW DELHI: Indian Vice Prime Minister, L.K. Advani said on Tuesday that in the SAARC Summit all the regional issues including regional cooperation and Indo-Pakistan relations were brought under discussion. 

This he expressed while inaugurating a seminar of Central Public Works Department in Delhi.

SAARC summit is landmark for peace in region: Jamali

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali in a press conference Tuesday said that the member countries of SAARC were agreed on the SAARC charter, non-interference and peaceful settlement of the disputes.

Hosting the summit was an honor for the government and people of Pakistan, Jamali said. The SAARC summit has proved a milestone for peace in the region. If this road map implements it will initiate an era of development and multi-dimensional cooperation in South Asia.

Jamali said politics couldn’t be separated from economics. Lives of the people could be transformed with peace, stability and settlement of disputes, he said.

He said a mechanism has been chalked out to implement the decisions taken in the summit. The dormant committees will be resuscitated and different groups will give their proposals soon.

Talking on the Indo-Pak relations he expressed hope that the bilateral relation will progress in right direction.

SAARC summit closes with a positive note

ISLAMABAD: A historic South Asian summit ended Tuesday with leaders of the seven nations hailing the three-day meeting as a watershed for the region, thanks to breakthrough talks between rivals India and Pakistan and a free trade pact, Geo news channel reported.  

This summit marks a watershed in enhancing South Asian regional cooperation, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia declared in her closing address at Islamabad's Jinnah Convention Center.

Host Pakistan's prime minister, Zafarullah Jamali, declared the 12th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit closed and expressed that the agreement on SAFTA is a big achievement.

SAARC summit’s concluding session begins in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD : 12th SAARC summit’s concluding session begins in Islamabad on Tuesday . SAARC leaders started gathering in Jinnah Convention Center. Prime Minister Jamali reached the center . Foreign Minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri received the Prime Minister. Later Prime Minister Jamali and other ministers welcomed the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and leaders of other member countries. 

12th SAARC summit declaration today

ISLAMABAD: The declaration of the 12th SAARC summit will be issues on Tuesday (Today).

The declaration would be followed by a joint press conference from Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamli and Secretary General Rehman to brief media about the important decisions taken at the SAARC conference.

Musharraf, Vajpayee agree to work for peace

Hold an hour-long meeting; Sinha says Indo-Pak meetings to improve momentum of talks; FO optimistic about composite dialogue; details of meeting kept secret; foreign secretaries exchange views

By Mayed Ali and Ansar Abbasi

ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee held an hour-long meeting on the sidelines of the Saarc summit here on Monday.

The meeting took place after a gap of two and a half years. Last time the two leaders had met in Agra in 2001. Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, addressing a press conference here, said Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf have welcomed steps towards normalisation of relations between the two countries, and expressed the hope the process will continue.

He said India is interested in the furtherance of the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Vajpayee on April 18, and current meetings between the leaderships of the two countries will surely improve the momentum of bilateral talks. Sinha insisted it was a courtesy call.

"We are interested in the success of a ‘certain process’, and if you are interested in the success of the same process, you have to act responsibly." He later elaborated "certain process" as peace endeavours between the two countries.

Sinha said the Saarc summit itself was a testimony to the fact that the peace-initiatives by India and Pakistan had started materialising, making a positive headway. "The fact that prime minister of India came to Islamabad for attending the Saarc summit and met Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali and President Pervez Musharraf, I met my counterpart and foreign secretaries met each other is a progress in the peace process. Please look at it in this way," he said.

Sinha set aside a query whether the possibilities of confidence building measures (CBMs) had been exhausted. "Possibilities of CBMs have not been exhausted yet."

When asked to furnish details about the meeting between National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and Director General Inter Services Intelligence Lt General Ahsan, Sinha said he did not think it was necessary. In the same vein, the Indian foreign minister said at this stage, if anyone said more than he had already revealed to the media would not be doing any service to the cause.

In response to a question on the statements of Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad vis-a-vis Vajpayee-Musharraf meeting, Sinha replied whatever has been said was speculation, and he would not like to speculate. He was of the view that such speculations would not do any justice to the cause of the peace process. He believed both the sides should avoid all kinds of speculations at this juncture.

Sinha said, "As I mentioned yesterday (Sunday), India had requested a courtesy call by Prime Minister AB Vajpayee on President Pervez Musharraf today, the meeting materialised before the scheduled retreat."

He said the meeting lasted about an hour. He told reporters the Indian premier congratulated President Musharraf on the successful conduct of the 12th Saarc summit at Islamabad. "Prime Minister Vajpayee also thanked the president for the excellent arrangements for the summit, and the Indian delegation."

The foreign minister revealed that the meeting took place in the presence of officials concerned from both sides, and that it was not a "one-on-one" call. He also said no schedule for holding such meetings in future had been finalised yet, neither India had invited PM Jamali or President Musharraf. He said President Musharraf had also not invited PM Vajpayee.

Sinha declined response to queries vis-a-vis contents of the joint declaration on the meeting, saying anyone who did so would not be sincere to the cause of peace in the region. He also evaded a question whether or not the Kashmir issue was taken up.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan, at a separate news briefing, termed the meeting "important" and expressed his optimism that it would lead to a composite dialogue between the two countries.

"The meeting between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee was important as it was the first contact between the two since they met in Agra in 2001," he said without sharing the details of the "courtesy call".

Khan was cautious not to divulge the details of the meeting and despite repeated questions from eager media men he did not go into the specifics of what was discussed by the two leaders. He did not even comment when asked if the issues like Kashmir or cross-border terrorism were discussed.

Replying to a question, Khan did not commit that there would be follow up meetings after the two leaders had met but hoped that it would facilitate dialogue between the two sides. "I have no information about future meetings between Pakistan and India," he maintained. "The positive development is that the two leaders have met," he said, expecting that it would lead to the initiation of dialogue process and ultimately composite talks.

The spokesman said the first priority was the resumption of dialogue, which was suspended after Agra. The details like the level of talks and the agenda to be discussed in these talks were the subsequent priorities.

When asked if this meeting had produced any result, Khan said such meetings were always important. "We hope that this event would have positive impact on the peace and security in the region," he said, commenting, "its just a start."

To a question about nuclear related confidence building measures between the two countries and if the matter was discussed in the meeting, the spokesman without addressing the second part of the question said nuclear CBMs were a long-term goal.

He said it was important to elaborate the CBMs and the two countries must come up with a restraint regime.

Responding to a question about the activities of Brajesh Mishra, the national security adviser to Vajpayee, and if he met the ISI director general, the spokesman without denying or confirming the report said Mishra was a member of the Vajpayee’s official delegation visiting Pakistan. "He is having meetings with officials here," he said.

In his initial statement that he read, the spokesman said the meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere. The Indian prime minister, he said, thanked the president for the excellent arrangements for the Indian delegation and the hospitality extended to them.

Vajpayee also congratulated the president on a very successful conduct of the 12th Saarc summit. The meeting, the spokesman said, lasted for slightly more than an hour.

From Indian side, he said the external affairs minister, the national security adviser and the foreign secretary attended the meeting. From the Pakistan side, the foreign minister, the finance minister, the foreign secretary and country’s high commissioner to India were present.

The spokesman recalled that on the sidelines of the Saarc summit, the Indian prime minister had requested for a call on the president. Accordingly, the meeting took place Monday morning.

PPI adds: The foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India discussed bilateral and regional issues on a breakfast meeting here on Monday.

The Foreign Office spokesman told newsmen that the Saarc summit has provided an opportunity to both the countries to resume bilateral talks.

He said although the recent meetings between Pakistani and Indian leadership were just courtesy calls yet all issues have been discussed in a very cordial atmosphere. Masood Khan described these meetings as a good beginning for a bright future of South Asia.

US welcomes Musharraf, Vajpayee talks

WASHINGTON: Washington on Monday expressed hope for more engagement between Pakistan and India in the first reaction to talks between President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the sidelines of the Saarc summit in Islamabad.

"The United States is pleased that Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf met today," a State Department official said. "We are also pleased that other senior-level meetings have taken place between officials of both governments. We warmly welcome these meetings, we hope they will lead to further engagement and dialogue."

"Both countries have taken a number of positive, confidence-building steps over the past several months and we encourage them to continue this process," the official said. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also hailed the meeting between the leaders of Pakistan and India. "He considers that these meetings represent another important step forward in the continuing bilateral efforts to improve relations and resolve outstanding issues between the two countries," his spokesman Fred Eckhard said. "The secretary general urges both sides to continue with these efforts and hopes the summit meetings will give a new impetus to serious and sustained dialogue," Eckhard said.

A significant beginning

By Mufti Jamiluddin Ahmad

The process, to the relief of all, has begun. The beginning has been made. The suspense (some would point out, entirely unnecessary) of the last so many days, that had, to a very large extent, overshadowed the significant decisions taken at the 12th Saarc Summit, has ended. The (bilateral) meetings between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, and between Vajpayee and President Musharraf have at last come about.

The details, if any disclosed by the two sides separately, could as well have been issued as a one-line statement agreed by the two sides. For instance about the meeting the Indian prime minister had with our president a "highly important" piece of information was officially dished out by both sides. It spoke of how grateful the Indian prime minister was for the excellent arrangements made for his visit and the way he congratulated the president about the successful running by Pakistan, so far, of the conference.

In addition, how he thanked the Pakistan president for this. Now this is not the kind of briefing from either side to hundreds of journalists from Saarc countries waiting to hear as to what happened on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit. Questions asked by journalists in both the briefings of the Indian foreign minister and the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman did not have answers worth a front-page story. They, at best, were the usual clichÈs in furtherance of the process of dialogue artfully coined by the foreign offices of the two countries.

That the real, substantive contents of the "courtesy call" of the Indian prime minister on President Musharraf, and earlier on prime minister, have not been disclosed in detail either by the Minister of External Affairs of the government of India, Yashwant Sinha and the Foreign Office spokesman of Pakistan Foreign Office, Masood Khan, indeed is highly significant and augers well for dialogue between the two countries. It, indeed, reveals a lot more, than it conceals. It reflects the highly fruitful nature of the "mega" event... (In fact, journalists were begged not to ask further questions because it may not be conducive to the furtherance of the process started).

Has then the ball started rolling? To any one observing the pattern of Pakistan-India relations, especially since Agra, this, to use a Punjabi word, is the first "takra", the first "dialogue" in two a half years between India and Pakistan. (Remember the amassing of troops by India on our borders; remember the continual refrain, the mantra of cross-border terrorism.

But also remember the speech of the Indian prime minister about extending the hand of friendship, April last year, and the way Prime Minister Jamali accepted this with open arms. Also remember the unilateral ceasefire call by Pakistan, and its acceptance by India, and also remember the concession of over-flights announced by the president of Pakistan- flights that were suspended by our neighbour unilaterally- and the quickest possible agreement on this as a result of this CBM. Crossing by foot, the resumption of bus and rail links are other recent developments fresh in the very recent memory).

Whatever the cynics may like one to believe; even a "half-optimistic-assessment" would reveal that "Gooftogo" about holding talks have definitely started. The announcement of actual dates for these talks, and at what level these should be held is, therefore, not very far away. Indian prime minister has spoken of his party now advancing the "mudda" (issue) of peace with Pakistan in his party’s election strategy; and let the party in power take some time to devise ways and means to channelise this into its election strategy.

For the aspirations, or at least of a very big chunk of the more than one billion people of India and Pakistan, demand peace than confrontation. The present Saarc spirit should also give a real fillip to this effort. (There may still be the conspiracy theorywalas talking of the pressure from abroad. But even if one hates to mention it, the end objective might be good for peace in this nuclear-armed South Asia where the two recognised nuclear powers have a flashpoint in Kashmir that can trigger off a mighty, global conflict sooner than any body would think).

Murshid sees enhanced confidence among Saarc FMs

ISLAMABAD: Bangladesh Foreign Minister Murshid Khan has said there is a lot of confidence and goodwill among the foreign ministers of the member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries, which reflects the desire of the people in the region.

In an interview on Monday, Murshid said foreign ministers of Saarc countries discussed everything with an open mind and sincerity.

There was consensus among all to have an economically strong and prosperous region wherein the miseries of the common man are minimum, he said.

He said important among the agreements reached between the Saarc members is the Social Charter, which directly relates to the common man.

The particular feature of this charter is cooperation in healthcare, curtailing the ills of society, poverty alleviation, reforms in judicial systems, etc all of which focused to provide relief to the common man, he added.

He said in the European Union, 60 per cent trade is at inter-regional level while in Asia it also makes a major proportion.

Unfortunately, he said, there is only 2-3 per cent mutual trade among the Saarc members, which, if raised to a level of 20-30 per cent in a period of 5-7 years, will give a major boost to the economies of the member countries.

Murshid said there is general consensus among the investors in the Western Europe and America that it is East which provides markets to their products.

"We are living in the East and yet looking beyond the market," he added.

He said the Saarc will enter its 20th year next year when it meets in Dhaka (Bangladesh) where new commitments would be made to enter the third decade with the objectives of prosperous and developed region.