It is difficult to imagine a South Asian summit without bitter bilateral disputes taking centrestage. The 14th SAARC summit that ended on Wednesday was probably a first, not only because it was the first time a new member, Afghanistan, was admitted, and five observers were allowed to participate, but also because concrete initiatives were adopted.
Agreements to establish a South Asian University and a SAARC Food Bank were signed and the South Asia Development Fund has been operationalised, with an initial corpus of $300 million. Within six months, specific projects to alleviate poverty will be given shape, for the regional council of foreign ministers to approve.
Also, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, in closing remarks, that regional leaders had agreed to “make tangible progress in the next six months on four issues which affect our people’s daily lives — water (including flood control), energy, food and the environment”.
Interestingly, for a region plagued by political uncertainties in its quest for good governance, 2008 has been designated the ‘SAARC year of Good Governance’.
According to officials, there was no squabbling over who would get what or where something else would be located. “The dog-in-the-manger attitude, which has been the norm, was missing,” a senior official said. Instead, Singh said he felt “a new sense of purpose and determination among the leaders of SAARC”.
It also reflected a level of maturity within the organisation, that bilateral bickering blocking regional prosperity and non-performance was no longer acceptable.
“The expansion of SAARC and the developing external linkages are indicative of the high level of maturity that SAARC has reached as an organization,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.
“This summit has given us the hope that we can live in peace and amity and the confidence that we can make SAARC work,” Singh said.
The 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation will be held in the Maldivian capital of Male.