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Interview: Indian premier sets future goal for SAARC

Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said economic cooperation, poverty alleviation and countering terrorism define the agenda, not only for the Kathmandu SAARC summit, but for the association in the next decade.

india Updated: Dec 17, 2003 18:13 IST

Economic cooperation, poverty alleviation and countering terrorism define the agenda, not only For the Kathmandu SAARC summit, but For theAssociation in the next. -- Atal Bihari Vajpayee
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Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said economic cooperation, poverty alleviation and countering terrorism define the agenda, not only for the Kathmandu SAARC summit, but for the association in the next decade.

In an interview given to Rashtriya Samachar Samiti today, Mr Vajpayee noted that SAARC has been able to achieve some progress and the process of cooperation will move faster, especially in economic cooperation which is the main agenda of SAARC.

Stating that economic cooperation is a principal concern of SAARC and it is only through economic development that other social problems can be tackled, the Indian Prime Minister observed that poverty is, indeed, the most serious problem facing south Asia and we must strive individually and collectively to address it.

It is only when we have greater economic development and more liberal trade and commerce that the full potential of the people can be realised, he further said.

Terrorism has today become a global phenomenon and we in south Asia have been suffering the consequences of terrorist activities for decades, Mr Vajpayee said, adding that religious fundamentalism combined with terrorism has been blatantly used as an instrument of state policy and India has for two decades now been a victim of state-sponsored cross border terrorism, resulting in loss of life and property of thousands, uprooting families and communities from their homes and depriving them of development and economic advancement.

Speaking of the need to unitedly raise voice against this evil and wholeheartedly cooperate among ourselves and with the global struggle to rid mankind of this scourge, he said governments in the region should desist from aiding or abetting terrorism in any form and no government should be allowed to justify terrorism under any pretext.

Asked about the possibility of including bilateral agenda to make SAARC more effective and instrumental, he observed that the founding fathers who drew up the SAARC charter have wisely kept bilateral and contentious issues out of the purview of SAARC and the organisation has been able to survive and develop only because bilateral and contentious issues have been kept out. We must continue to follow this principle.

Noting that we must exert political will to move faster and to ensure a better life for our people and this should be our guiding star, Mr Vajpayee remarked that more trade and commerce, easier movement of goods and services, exchange of technology, better infrastructure and development of industries, agriculture, energy, power, transport and communication would bring this goal closer to our reach.

The group of eminent persons that have been tasked to draw up a SAARC vision for the future have submitted their report, he said, adding that we must carefully study this report, draw up practical recommendations and set up action groups to implement them as quickly as possible.

We have been able to project many of our common concerns very successfully and we must continue to work together with seriousness and identify areas where we can project a united SAARC position as this will add strength to our stand, he noted.

When asked why SAARC has not been able to change the fate of south asian people like other regional cooperation bodies such as asean, benelux, the african union, etc, the Indian PM said, "it is an uncomfortable truth that as other organisations like asean and the EU have marched ahead, SAARC has not been able to achieve the same momentum because we have allowed extraneous issues to retard our programme. We must not let political obsessions or mutual rivalries cloud our collective vision of a vibrant and prosperous south asian community."

First Published: Dec 17, 2003 18:09 IST