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Postponed 19th SAARC Summit: The missed opportunity

By Mazhar Javed
image001So the 19th SAARC Summit which was slated five weeks from now in Islamabad stands postponed. If the meeting had been allowed to proceed as scheduled, it would have certainly moved things in the direction of regional integration among a quarter of world’s population. For the host Pakistan, the decision to postpone the Summit was a fait-accompli.
Authors of the SAARC charter who laid the foundation of this regional cooperation project in 1980s were clearly mindful of the South Asia’s ground realities. Then, as unfortunately even today, South Asia remains the least integrated region in the world with an intra-regional trade of less than 6%.Painful as it is, our region also has the dubious distinction of housing the largest chunk of population living below the poverty line in the world; in slums, in disease and immersed in poverty and illiteracy generations after generations.The number of those living in poverty in SAARC member countries is well more than the entire population of Europe!
While we envy the cooperation-driven prosperity enjoyed by the Europeans and the people of Far east – thanks to EU and ASEAN -, it is not hard to discern that inadequacy of regional integration and incident of poverty in South Asia are not mere coincidences; they are most unambiguously cause and effect.Prudence demands reversing the trends that led to a stunted growth of SAARC as a vehicle of regional cooperation.
Authors of the SAARC charter were certainly cognizant of these facts when they enshrined in its charter “convinced that regional cooperation is necessary for promoting welfare and improving the quality of life of the people” of the SAARC member states. Since 1980s when the charter was drafted,  several successful models of regional cooperation and WTO’s rule based systems which gained currency since mid 1990’s,have fortified the truth in these words, adopted in the charter. No wonder modern day social scientists find it hard to find an example of a country impressivelydeveloping as an island of prosperity, in isolation from the region in which it is located.
When founding father of SAARC put their minds and pens together in 1980s, they were certainly not oblivious to the bilateral disputes between its member countries; afterall the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, whose resolution holds key to the long term and sustainable peace in the region, is more than twice as old as SAARC itself. And, yet the founders of SAARC decided to go ahead with the project. They had the examples of European integration processes and ASEAN who had built successful models of regional cooperation despite long histories of political differences.
That is all what regional cooperation is all about. Letting the cooperation process continue in parallel to dialogue on bilateral relations; one not being contingent upon the other. Obviously regional cooperation frameworks cannot be made dependent on bilateral relations that often turn out to be unpredictable. In case of the recent postponement of the SAARC Summit, the spirit of the SAARC charter was violated when a member state cast shadow of bilateral problems on a multilateral forum for regional cooperation.
History tells us that the postponement of similar meetings in the past led only to further lagging behind of the Association through opportunities missed.  Dialogue and regional cooperation and not war offer recipes for regional problems, be they political or economic.
That holds true not only for regional cooperation projects but also for other dialogue-based processes that lead to better understanding and confidence building, leading the way to peaceful resolution of longand outstanding disputes whose resolution holds the way to long term, sustainable peace, stability and prosperity. That continuation of multilateral and bilateral processes is important.
Recent incidences of cease fire violations along the Line of Control, the ill found, baseless and hasty allegations by India against Pakistan, immediately after the Uri attacks in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir; creation of a war hype and;refusal to attend the SAARC Summit for want of “conducive environment” is a risky and hazardous path to follow.
Pakistan itself has been the worst victim of terrorism ; having lost well over fifty thousand innocent people, including men, women children,  soldiers, law enforcers and civilians. The country’s countable losses because of terrorism total to more than a hundred billion US dollars. The pain of losing over fifty thousands of their dear ones must have somewhere played a role in the thinking of the nation’s spokesmen who have always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including state terrorism that leads to human rights violations.
It is because of these realities that Pakistan has always sought to facilitate regional cooperation as a means to bringing prosperity to the people of the region; keep the dialogue processes on track  to create mutual trust, build confidence and through these, resolve the outstanding disputes including the longstanding dispute of Jammu and Kashmir; this we believe is the only way to durable peace, mutual trust, respect for sovereignty and right of self determination to the people who had been promised that by the United Nations over seven decades ago.
Pakistan has always maintained that the only way forward is through dialogue and regional cooperation.Blame game and unfound allegations cannot get us anywhere. In contemporary world, wars are a recipe for nothing but disasters; wars cannot get nations forward, dialogue can.The only wars that can take us forward are the wars against terrorism, poverty and illiteracy.
Not to forget, that South Asia is blessed with enormous resources and potential. For utilization of this natural wealth for the uplift of the region and ushering an era of durable and lasting peace in the region we need to accelerate and not block dialogue processes ; we need to resolve outstanding issues ;we need to give impetus to regional cooperation, not break the momentum that they have already gained.
(The writer is the Ambassador of Pakistan to Nepal)

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