Thursday, February 22, 2024

15th SAARC summit concludes

The 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) successfully concluded its two-day proceedings Sunday evening, where leaders of the eight member countries agreed to adopt four major agreements on food security, trade and terrorism related issues.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who held several bilateral meetings with Sri Lankan and other leaders here, after handing over the SAARC chair to the host country President Mahinda Rajapaksa, left for New Delhi by a special aircraft Sunday evening.
Officials said that four major agreements – the SAARC development fund, the establishment of a SAARC standard organization, the SAARC convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, and the protocol on Afghanistan’s admission to the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) – were adopted at the Colombo summit.
A special Colombo statement on food security declared that the leaders participating in the 15th SAARC summit have affirmed their resolve “to ensure region-wide food security and make South Asia, once again, the granary of the world”.
“In view of the emerging global situation of reduced food availability and worldwide rise in food prices, we direct that an Extra-ordinary Meeting of the Agriculture Ministers of the SAARC Member States be convened in New Delhi, India, in November 2008, to evolve and implement a people-centred, short- to medium-term regional strategy and collaborative projects,” it said.
In his concluding statement, new SAARC chairman Rajapaksa said that the summit had to grapple with food and energy security and terrorism related issues. These, he said, have in recent times come to pose strong challenges throughout the globe and in the region.
“The South Asia cannot progress, unless there is stability and security throughout the region. We have condemned all forms of terrorist violence and emphasized that our states should firmly cooperate, especially through the exchange of information on terrorism and organized crime,” President Rajapaksa said.
Struck hard by terrorism, SAARC countries pledged “strongest possible cooperation” to battle the scourge and inked a path-breaking accord that provides for handing over of terrorists and criminals.
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”.
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