3 August :Struck hard by terrorism, SAARC countries on Sunday pledged "strongest possible cooperation" to battle the scourge and inked a path-breaking accord that provides for handing over of terrorists and criminals.
A declaration adopted at the end of the two-day 15th SAARC Summit, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of other seven member States, also vowed to jointly tackle issues like energy security, food security and trade barriers.
Held in the shadow of the suicide bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul and serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, the meet was dominated by the theme of terrorism, with Pakistan being attacked for allowing the country to become a hotbed of terrorists.
The Summit saw all member countries recognising terrorism as a "serious threat" to peace, stability and security of the region and pitched for "strongest possible cooperation" in the fight against the menace.
In a significant step to check terrorism and trans-national organised crime, the SAARC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters was signed by the eight countries after hard negotiations, overcoming initial resistance by Pakistan to the extradition clause.
The Convention will provide a legal framework for greater cooperation amongst security forces of member countries to track, arrest and handover criminals and terrorists on request from any member country.
The leaders noted that the mechanism would provide for "widest measures of mutual assistance in criminal matters to ensure greater sense of security within the region."
The Summit emphasised the need for early ratification and implementation of the Convention by the member countries.The South Asian grouping, comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives, reached the agreement amid serious worries about terrorism spreading tentacles in the region.
The declaration echoed India’s concerns highlighted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, in his forthright address, asked SAARC countries to jointly battle the "ideologies of hatred", describing terrorism as "the single biggest threat to our stability".
"The Heads of State or Government strongly condemned all forms of terrorist violence and expressed deep concern over the serious threat posed by terrorism to the peace, stability and security of the (South Asian) region," said the declaration.
"They (the leaders) emphasised the need for strongest possible cooperation in the fight against terrorism and transnational organised crime amongst the relevant agencies of the member states, especially in the area of information exchange," it said.
With little headway being made on the issue of removing trade barriers, the leaders pressed for early implementation of the decision to revise the sensitive lists by the SAFTA Ministerial Council (SMC), factoring in the interests of the Least Developed Countries.
The leaders directed the SAFTA Committee of Experts to expeditiously resolve the issue of non-tariff measures and para-tariff measures to facilitate and enhance trade under the regional trade agreement.
An emphasis was laid on development of communication and transit facilities to promote intra-SAARC trade. This measure has been hampered due to Pakistan’s denial to grant transit facilities to Indian goods bound for Afghanistan.
The leaders also signed a pact for setting up a SAARC Development Fund that would cater to social development and empowerment in the member countries.
The Summit, which discussed the pressing problem of energy security, warned that the escalation of oil prices was threatening "both energy security as well as economic growth" of the region and agreed on the urgent need for developing regional hydro-power potential, grid connectivity and gas pipelines.
The leaders favoured exploration of possibility of evolving an appropriate regional inter-governmental framework to facilitate such an endeavour.The next SAARC Summit will be hosted by Maldives. Australia and Myanmar were welcomed ‘Observers’ to the Summit, joining China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, the US and the EU.
With regard to the "onslaught" of climate change, the leaders stressed the need for intensification of cooperation within an expanded regional environmental protection framework to address the problem.
The SAARC leaders stressed that any effort at addressing climate change should take into account historical responsibility, per capita emissions and respective country capabilities.
The Summit recognised the growing linkages between the phenomenon of terrorism, illegal trafficking in narcotics and human trafficking. It called for checking terror funding in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
A SAARC meeting of Ministers of Interior or Home Affairs will be held later this year in Islamabad to deal with the issue of narcotics smuggling.