Unlike the past, the ongoing 14th SAARC summit in New Delhi has not been overtaken by the India-Pakistan dispute, held largely responsible by the other member nations for holding up progress in the regional forum. Instead, major concerns of countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and new entrant Afghanistan, particularly related to terrorism, have assumed importance, officials said. The focus is on trying to coordinate responses as a region to effectively tackle the issue and ensure a terrorist in one country does not get shelter or safe haven in another.
Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai in his maiden address at SAARC said, "It is our common duty to fight extremism and terrorism in all forms and sources, including political sponsorship and financing," while Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse said, "our effort to curb this menace should be multi-pronged and sustained and far-reaching and must include their sources of sustenance."
"Terrorism," he said," whilst needs to be suppressed, also has to be grappled with, on a political platform."
Bangladesh Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed spoke of the need to "address the root causes that lead to violent actions," surprising host India, which views any attempt to speak of root causes as an attempt to justify terrorism.
"There can be no justification for the killing of innocent people," a senior official said.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did, in a meeting with senior journalists and editors, admit that Jammu and Kashmir remained at the core of the 'trust deficit' that existed between India and Pakistan. But, when asked whether Kashmir was a 'root cause' that fostered terrorist attacks, he did not respond directly, saying "deprivation in any form" and the "lack of dispute resolution" could be causes.
He was upfront in saying there was a linkage between dispute resolution and bilateral relations, Aziz said, "Kashmir is the core dispute. There is a linkage between dispute resolution and relations," he said, citing trade as an example.
"(Bilateral) Trade is linked to progress on Kashmir. The key dispute is Kashmir, which needs to be settled according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people."
His comments came in the backdrop of his country's refusal to implement South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) for India, an issue that has been discussed in bilateral talks since last year.
While there was a trust deficit between the two countries and the focus should be "less on the process and more on the end result," Aziz said progress in the bilateral composite dialogue had reduced that trust deficit.
"Trust deficit emanates from a long history," but "trust deficit is reducing. We need to work together to reduce it further... We want to make it zero," Aziz said.
Nepal's ailing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala explained how he had staked his six decades-long political career to include the Maoists, termed terrorists by many countries, within the political, constitutional fold, while the Maldives President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, spoke of the "emergence of a 'security community'" within the forum, that would bring security to the region.