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Saarc as peacemaker?

Filed on August 5, 2008

THE summit of South Asian nations (Saarc), which concluded in Colombo on Sunday, was little different from similar encounters in the past. As usual, the regulation deliberations in the scenic capital of Sri Lanka were largely preoccupied with the bilateral issues and concerns of its two grandies, India and Pakistan.


This week's summit began with the ominous shadow of the US accusations against Pakistan's ISI of involvement in the bombing of Indian embassy in Kabul hanging over the forum. But thankfully Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani did not allow the controversy to dictate the agenda and mar the highly sensitive relations between the two countries.

It is this pragmatic approach of the Indian leadership that seems to have prompted an equally sincere response from Pakistan. Since the recent flurry of accusations targeting Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency, Prime Minister Gilani has gone out of his way to address the concerns of India as well as Afghanistan, whose leader President Hamid Karzai was present at the conclave as a guest member. But what will likely mollify a rightly concerned New Delhi is the probe Gilani announced in Colombo following his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

And it is no surprise that the overriding concerns of the two founding members have also persuaded Saarc to come up with a new mechanism to take on the terror threat facing the whole region. The legal cooperation pact seeks to combine Saarc resources and efforts to combat the menace. It is expected to melt down borders and help the member states exchange vital information and resources to deal more effectively with the shared threat.

Even though the regional forum seems to have made little progress on trade, the fundamental theme of the grouping, the Colombo summit has been successful in saving the precarious India-Pakistan relations as well as breaking the gathering ice between Islamabad and Kabul.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have hit rock-bottom following the attack on Indian embassy in Kabul, for which President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly and openly blamed the Pakistani agencies. So even though Gilani is still not seen as the real man in charge in Islamabad, his encounters with Manmohan Singh as well as Karzai and ostensibly sincere efforts to accommodate the two neighbours' concerns have helped Islamabad save its ties with Delhi and Kabul.

So if Afghanistan has agreed to re-engage with Pakistan in the fight against extremism and India is willing to work with the Pak leadership to save an endangered peace process, the credit should go to PM Gilani's diplomacy as well as the Saarc forum, of course.





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