Challenges of SAARC in its third decade-II
SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism: The SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism was signed in Kathmandu in November 1987 during the Third SAARC Summit and came into force on 22 August 1988 following ratification by all member states.
The Convention provides a regional focus to many of the well-established principles of international law in this respect. Under its provisions, member states are committed to extradite or prosecute alleged terrorists thus preventing them from enjoying safe heavens.
Regional Cooperation is also envisaged in preventive action to combat terrorism. Exchange of information, intelligence and expertise are among the areas identified for mutual cooperation under the Convention. Cooperation among Liaison Officers (Anti Terrorist Law Enforcement Officers) is being developed through holding international meetings continually at regular intervals to monitor, update, evaluate and improve counter-terrorism strategies.
The SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk (STOMD) has been established in Colombo to collate, analyse and disseminate information about the terrorist incidence, tactics, strategies and methods. Efforts are being undertaken for further strengthening STOMD.
Challenge in its third decade: No doubt, during the last two decades, SAARC has made substantial progress in providing at least the road maps in the areas of economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific development of the region. But more aggressive steps are needed in the coming years at the implementation level for all the SAARC Action Plans. Strengthening of SAARC Secretariat, SAARC Bodies, SAARC Regional Centres and expediting their operations, increase in the SAARC budgets by each of the Member States are the most crucial and important steps required to make the SAARC result oriented for the benefit of the teeming millions of the region.
The two big member states of SAARC, India and Pakistan agreed that the SAARC has not lived up to expectation and discussed a slew of proposals to boost the regional economic grouping at its next summit in Dhaka in 2005. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz held a meeting in late 2004 at New Delhi and shared the assessment that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not come up to the desired level to be an effective engine for development. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran also remarked that: "there was general agreement that the SAARC has really not fulfilled general expectations, and noted that it's time to energise it."
Singh reiterated India's various proposals for SAARC, which include founding of a regional fund for poverty alleviation, launching a high economic council comprising finance or commerce ministers to lead to a 'South Asian Economic Union', Aids eradication and creation of a regional energy grid. He said India has offered to contribute $ 100 million for poverty alleviation that could be used in collaborative projects and another $ 10 million for infrastructure fund for collaborative ventures to strengthen communication, energy and road networks.
On the other hand while meeting the Bangladesh Foreign Minister Mr. Morshed Khan at the same time in late 2004 in Islamabad President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf said that Pakistan would continue to step up endeavours to make the SAARC grouping an active, efficient and effective forum. Reiterating his country's role in strengthening the SAARC activities the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shaukat Aziz said that SAARC had a great future as a regional organisation. He said in the third decade of its existence, member states of SAARC should make a transition from standard setting to concrete measures and their practical implementation. Pakistan Prime Minister also said that the SAARC Secretariat should also have professional experts advising on areas of cooperation and monitoring of their implementation. He also suggested restructuring of SAARC Secretariat, saying that it should have its permanent staff and the Secretary General should be of minister's level.
13th summit agenda for next decade: Most of the declarations made by SAARC leaders during earlier summit meetings have not been implemented in the absence of effective mechanism. As follow-up measures, Bangladesh's foreign minister M. Morshed Khan said that the seven-nation forum needs institutional reforms to ensure implementation of the decisions. "The 13th summit would be a summit of working out ways for implementations of the SAARC decisions, instead of making mere declarations. It would really be a businesslike summit," Khan told a press conference at the foreign office of Bangladesh recently. The Thirteenth SAARC Summit is being held in Dhaka on November 12-13, 2005 and is expected to give an agenda for the organisation for next 10 years. Referring to seven agreements and four action plans adopted over the last 20 years of SAARC, Khan said, no effective mechanism is there to follow-up and/or implement the decisions."
Dwelling on South Asian Development Fund (SADF), foreign minister informed newsmen that $6 million is lying unutilised for lack of policy and mechanism of its utilisation. Regarding the SAARC poverty alleviation fund, he said, "India has made a commitment of $100 million for poverty alleviation projects in all SAARC countries except India. But member states want to have an inclusive fund with voluntary contribution from all according to capacity and with projects in all countries having the incidence of poverty."
SAARC economic union: Dhaka plans to push for an action plan to lay the groundwork for a SAARC Economic Union at the Council of Ministers' Meeting prior to the Thirteenth Summit, against the backdrop of little progress in a planned feasibility study on the union. The Council of Ministers Meeting would also set the agenda for discussion by SAARC leaders at the 13th summit. Leaders at the Twelfth SAARC Summit in Islamabad had directed SAARC Finance to submit the study report to the Council of Ministers Meeting.
SAARC Finance comprising the finance secretaries and central bank governors of the member states, has missed the July deadline and is unlikely to submit the study report at the upcoming council of ministers (foreign minister-level) meeting as well, sources say. SAARC leaders are expected to discuss the SAARC economic union during their talks on the day of retreat on January 10. It, however, depends on how the other members entertain the Dhaka proposal. At the Islamabad summit last January India proposed a target of setting up the economic union by 2015 while on a different note, Pakistan suggested incorporation of political agendas in the union's agenda.
Despite the conflicting proposals from India and Pakistan, SAARC leaders unanimously endorsed the idea of a possible SAARC economic union. They said they would support any steps to that end.
Bangladesh's proposal for strengthening SAARC: Dhaka is likely to propose that poorer SAARC nations contribute more to the $1.5 million budget of the SAARC Secretariat to allay the major powers' fear of shouldering the increased financial responsibility for expanding its secretariat. An expert meeting on expansion of the SAARC Secretariat scheduled to be held did not take place. Now the expansion proposal and the member states' concerns about it would be thrashed out at the Standing Committee (foreign secretary-level) Meeting stated to be held prior to the Thirteenth Summit.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan has already laid out Dhaka's position in accordance with a detailed working paper by the Secretariat. It proposes elevation of status of the SAARC Secretary-General to a cabinet minister, creation of posts for a Deputy Secretary-General and more positions for advisers, technocrats, professional and administrative staff.
Of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states, India contributes 33 percent, Pakistan 22 percent while Bangladesh 11 percent to the budget for the Kathmandu-based Secretariat, sources say. Dhaka at the standing committee meetings would propose an increase in their contribution of 15 to 18 percent with a view to take some load off Pakistan and India. Since the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, India and Pakistan have been complaining that they would have to bear the bulk of the costs of increasing human and material resources to the SAARC Secretariat given the current structure of contributions, sources say.
SAARC Secretariat's expansion has been widely endorsed by SAARC leaders, academics and policy-makers in several SAARC -related seminars over the past few years. According to the proposal being discussed, the expansion of the SAARC Secretariat would be modelled on organisations like European Union. If implemented, such expansion would provide greater autonomy to the Kathmandu office, sources say. With greater autonomy the Secretariat would be better positioned to oversee progress in numerous SAARC mechanisms that have been on the back burner since the Secretariat's inception in 1987.
The increase in permanent staff at the Secretariat is also being seen as a step to ensure continuity of SAARC mechanisms. The staff members will not have to rotate too frequently as they do now, sources say. At present, the Secretariat's working divisions include agriculture and rural development division, environment and science and technology division, trade, economic and transport division, social affairs division, information and publications division, human resources and tourism division, legal, administration and finance division.
In its Third Decade, SAARC should substantially be brought out of Five Star Hotels and be placed to the closer of the teeming millions of the region for their welfare. The Association must get rid of the accusation that the organisation has become for 'talk shops' and only organising the numerous meetings without generating any meaningful result. The people of the Region will be expecting from the 13th SAARC Summit a clear vision as well as concrete and result oriented practical programmes of SAARC in its Third Decade.
The writer is deputy director of Saarc Human Resource Development Centre