Wednesday, April 04, 2007

South Asian Nations Close Summit

Sources: Radio Australia, Adnkronos International, Yahoo! News

South Asian leaders closed their most recent summit on Wednesday. Representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhuton, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The summit lasted two days, and stated that there will be a “new dawn” in South Asia, and now SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) will have a “wider mandate to promote peace and development” in the area. While there were a flurry of broad statements, there was little by way of concrete steps in fulfilling this new era. In the closing statement, leaders pledged to increase closer cooperation, ensuring flows of goods, services, technology, knowledge, capital, and ideas.

While only few solid steps were outlined, there were a few encouraging concrete actions that SAARC agreed to take. There were calls to establish a pan-South Asian economic union, establishment of a SAARC Village (which would “showcase an innovative model of development”), and an establishment of a regional consensus on poverty alleviation and economic growth. Economic growth policies included a fuller implementation of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Economic growth policies are critical for the region because nearly half of the world’s poor live in the region. Furthermore, SAARC agreed to establish a South Asian University as well as a SAARC food bank to assist in regional food crises.

SAARC also denounced terrorism in no uncertain terms, but did not establish any method of fighting violence. This is notable because much of South Asia is embroiled in civil war. Afghanistan is still fighting the Taliban, India is battling militants in Kashmir, Bangladesh is under emergency rule, Sri Lanka is engulfed in a war with the Tamil rebels, and Nepal is only recently recovering after a decade-long battle with Maoist rebels.

Iran was granted observer status, and now joins China, Japan, South Korea, the EU, and the United States as observers, and will be present in the 2008 summit in the Maldives.

Questions: What practical steps can South Asia take, as a bloc, to end the civil strife that has been occurring in the region? Also, will full implementation of SAFTA and a more powerful SAARC lead to peace?

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