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SAARC summit to sign drafts on climate, free-trade

Apr 26, 2010

Foreign secretaries of the eight-member regional grouping are meeting in Bhutan to reach a common economic and development goal. Civil activists from the region just days before the summit hosted Peoples SAARC, an assembly in India to forge a strong South Asian identity, and collaborate for peace and development.

While all eyes are on a possible meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC summit, the foreign secretaries of the eight-member regional grouping began their meeting in Thimpu on Sunday to consider the fineprint of two draft agreements on trade and environment expected to be signed at the summit on April 28-29.

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Being held for the first time in Bhutan, the summit's central theme is relevant - climate change.

The foreign secretaries of the eight countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - will also consider the text of the summit declaration. The officials may also suggest amendments to the drafts made by the SAARC programming committee that met in Bhutan's capital on Saturday, according to sources.

In her opening remarks at Sunday's SAARC standing committee meeting, foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said, "In this 25th year of SAARC, we can take satisfaction from the fact that SAARC has evolved into a service provider for the economic and development needs of the people of the region."

Claiming that the regional grouping has achieved significant success, Rao said, "valuable progress has been achieved in developing a regional framework of cooperation in areas such as environment, energy, agriculture and rural development, food security, health, trade and transportation."

SAARC has also facilitated slow but sure steps towards greater cooperation in the security sector and in the prevention of trafficking of women and child development.

The thrust of most of these regional projects and activities is at the grassroots levels where the results are less visible but far more significant and rewarding… Our leaders have correctly identified the focus of SAARC as being development oriented." Following this meeting, foreign ministers of the eight countries will meet on Tuesday to give final shape to the agreements and summit declaration.

The ministerial resolution will be sent to heads of state on April 28 and 29 for final approval and adoption, sources said.

Bhutan has proposed a summit declaration entitled " Towards a Green and Happy South Asia" and a separate ministerial declaration on climate change. The summit is also expected to discuss the pertinent issue of crossborder terrorism in South Asia.

[ This story was published in India Today]

Press Release

People’s SAARC aims towards a new USA: Union of South Asia

The ‘Peoples SAARC’, an assembly of civil activists from South Asia, gathered at Jawaharlal Nehru University for a two day conference entitled ‘Assembly towards Union of South Asian Peoples’. The conference has been in keeping with the idea of a Peoples South Asia in the week preceding the SAARC Heads of Government Summit taking place in Bhutan on 28th and 29th April.

Civil society representatives from the SAARC countries, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Sri Lanka, as also delegates from Tibet and Philippines have attended the conference. Also serving parliamentarians of South Asia, including Binda Pandey from Nepal, Senator Malik from Pakistan, and Mani Shankar Aiyer from India, have lead debates around the question of a strong “South Asian Identity”, and people’s collaborative actions across borders for just peace and development in the region.

Welcoming participants to the inaugural session, Kamla Bhasin, renowned feminist activist, argued that the dream of a United South Asia was not a far-fetched one. The People’s SAARC was testimony to the opinions of the peoples in South Asia who are against the artificially constructed borders in the sub-continent. Veteran journalist and civil rights activist Kuldeep Nayyar too expressed optimism that a united South Asia is possible in the near future. This vision, he argued, could only be fructified when sovereignty resides with the peoples of the region.

However, true democracy still does have a long way to go in the region, as was highlighted by democracy activitist and Bhutanese refugee, D.N.S. Dhakkal, who pointed out how the ‘King’s Democracy’ in Bhutan, the cynosure of Western eyes, was deeply flawed, and fundamental freedoms were deprived to a large section of the population.

Sharing the Nepal perspective, Arjun Karki acknowledged the important role that India is increasingly coming to play in South Asia and at the global level. He stressed the need for India to play a more responsible role in this capacity, and prioritise its relations in the region over the West.

India and Pakistan’s mutual relations especially came under focus as being critical for the success of SAARC as an organisation. Lamenting that Indo-Pak disputes have hijacked the whole South Asian agenda, noted Human Rights Activist from Pakistan, Iqbal Haider, implored both countries to ensure that greater regional issues do not suffer due to their differences, and stressed for a comprehensive settlement on all issues, whether water or Kashmir. He called attention to the fact that 2010 would mark the 25th year of SAARC, but the complete overlooking of a commemoration of the occasion reflects the unimportance being accorded to SAARC by its member nations.

In the first session on ‘Climate Justice and Economic Cooperation: Impacts on Livelihoods, the Discriminated and Human Rights’, speakers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal shared their on-ground experiences of how climate change is disproportionately affecting the developing world. Attention was called to the imminent problem of near 30 million climate refugees in Bangladesh, and the ‘Development War’ launched in Sri Lanka in the form of mega projects. Noted journalist, Praful Bidwai commented that SAARC as a forum has been a letdown in terms of it being able to foster effective engagement on climate change in South Asia. 

The conference was preceded by a number of thematic workshops addressing key issues of the region. The reports from these workshops were presented in the inaugural session, variously highlighting aspects of free trade in South Asia; environmental justice and livelihood rights of indigenous people; and rivers, people and climate change.

Source : India Today
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