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India manages to get regional MLAT into draft

A comprehensive and forward-looking declaration adopted at the end of the 14 th SAARC summit gave officials particular satisfaction, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2007 23:17 IST

One part of what External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee called "a comprehensive and forward-looking" declaration adopted at the end of the 14 th SAARC summit gave officials particular satisfaction. The New Delhi Declaration adopted on Wednesday had a clause noting India's initiative to prepare a draft of a SAARC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, which would include clauses on extradition of criminals.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri had on Monday clearly said issues like a regional mutual legal assistance treaty and extradition were bilateral issues, which needed to be sorted out bilaterally, not multilaterally.

It was clear that Pakistan's attempts to thwart such a regional initiative did not work out, and they bowed to the regional consensus to get stronger legal measures against transnational crime and terrorism.

Regional leaders, at their official 'Retreat' at Hyderabad House today, talked about issues they each felt strongly about and ways in which to actually arrive at solutions. The 'Retreat' gave a chance to the leadership of the eight countries to get away from officials and talk about their particular concerns.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised the quality of informal discussions at the retreat in his closing remarks saying, "the quality of our discussions at the Retreat gives me confidence that we can soon bring the fruits of SAARC to our people." SAARC, said Mukherjee, "was an idea whose time has come."

Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka's insistence on tougher anti-terrorist and anti-criminal measures, and the need to prevent criminals and terrorists from getting shelter in other neighbouring countries, found reflection in the Declaration, though no new counter-terrorism measures were adopted.

Terrorism, the Declaration said, "is a clear and present threat to international peace and security."

Including corruption as "an issue of serious concern" and agreeing to "exchange information on national experience in combating corruption" was at Bangladesh's particular insistence and found a firm backer in the Indian Prime Minister.

But the best thing that could be said about the just-concluded 14th SAARC summit is that the atmospherics were good and there was, as a senior government official said, a "complete absence of rancour."

Mukherjee, in remarks after the closing ceremony, said, "we have just concluded a very successful, indeed a landmark summit," which he categorized as the "least contentious" ever. Other than admitting a new member, Afghanistan, and allowing observers, this summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation actually saw two agreements signed; to establish a South Asian University and to set up a SAARC food bank.

Senior officials were unanimous in saying that the discussions went "really smoothly and we got a lot of work done."