Friday, September 24, 2010

The future of South Asia---Special Feature Article

Special  feature   Article

VIEW: The future of South Asia -by Mohammad Jamil

So far, SAARC has been little more than a talk-shop since its inception in 1985, where
peeches are delivered and leaders express their determination to convert the region into a South Asian Union

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held their first
ing in nine months on Thursday on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, with a view to
ding the diplomatic stalemate lingering since the 2008 Mumbai attacks. According to a local TV report, both sides have decided, in principle, to resume the Composite Dialogue. According to Pakistan's foreign minister, he and his Indian counterpart have been tasked with the homework for resumption of the dialogue. Though no date has been fixed for the meeting between the two foreign ministers, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, an incorrigible optimist, has called the meeting
between t
he two prime ministers very positive. There is pressure on India and Pakistan from the
maller member countries to resolve their differences so that all can work in unison for the
rogress of their countries and prosperity of their people. During the two-day 16th SAARC summit in Bhutan, the leaders signed an agreement on the environment, encouraging the exchange of ceo-friendly technologies and knowledge about climate change and wildlife conservation. Another agreement on trade covered services in areas like health, hospitality, communications, computers and air transport.
The future of South Asia, inhabited by more than 1.6 billion people, depends on the leaderships
of t
he countries of the region. So far, SAARC has been little more than a talk-shop since its
nception in 1985, where speeches are delivered and leaders express their determination to convert the region into a South Asian Union. But these ideas have not gone beyond noble
entiments. After three years of a free trade regime, the trade between SAARC countries reached only $ 688 million in 2009. It, however, goes without saying that India, being an industrially
veloped country in SAARC, stands to gain the most if it normalises relations with its neighbours by resolving all outstanding issues. In case some progress is made on the Kashmir
ispute or if India shows a sincere desire to resolve the core issue, Pakistan could allow India to trade with the Central Asian Republics through its land route.

There was indeed a common .desire of the countries to open a new chapter of Asian prosperity. Where millions live below the poverty line, South Asia could benefit from the proposed economic partnership, and also improve the living standards of its people. Secondly, by trading
ith each other they can, in addition to saving the cost of freight, save a lot of foreign exchange because imports from the US and European (EU) countries are expensive. If SAARC countries
n convert the forum into an economic union, all of them will gain. So, far as the South Asia Free Trade Agreement's (SA FTA's) implementation is concerned, it delayed because some
mbers had expressed reservations over the list of sensitive products rules of origin and compensation mechanism for the least developed countries.

On January 6, 2004, the leaders of the seven SAARC countries reached a landmark decision at
closing session of the 12th SAARC summit when they adopted Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and SAFTA. The Additional Protocol envisaged declaring the provision, collection or acquisition of funds for terrorist activities as illegal, and taking further measures to prevent and suppress financing of such acts. On April 6, 2005, the representatives of 26 Asian countries participating in the 4th Asia Cooperation
(ACD) ministerial meeting in Islamabad on 'Economic Cooperation in Asia' had stressed the need for introducing a common currency, constituting a monetary fund and
eralizing the Asian bonds market and trade. In other continents - Africa, Europe and the US - such associations and institutions have been effective, but Asia is lagging behind.
Asian leaders, therefore, should rise to the occasion and give a practical demonstration of their
will to resol
ve all political disputes infesting the continent. It is, however, an irrefutable fact that
no progress c
an be made unless major irritants like the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan are removed. India and Pakistan have held many rounds of talks in the past and the
question remains what they ha
ve to discuss when the Composite Dialogue is resumed. Naturally, these issues are Sir Creek, Siachin and the Kashmir dispute. There have been three wars between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. War is not an option for two nuclear states, but that does not mean that there is no need for the resolution of conflicts between
em. Members of SAARC often talk of emulating the EU. EU came about due to the efforts and joint vision of the then French President Charles De Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, which united the European nations that had a history full of wars, in addition to two World Wars.
was the building of such a sound foundation that even East European countries have become
part o
f the EU. It, however, took more than 50 years to reach the present stage. Even today, at
east four countries from the original IS-member European Union (now 27) have not accepted the
gle currency. The idea of an Asian Union may sound premature, but in the interest of peace and
sperity in the region, India and Pakistan should resolve all disputes and pave the way for establishment of, at least, the South Asian Union to start with. The benefits to India and the
ountries of the region would be enormous.
The writer is afreelance columnist. He can be reached at