Environment, free trade, terror top South Asia summit agenda

Leaders of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations, meeting in New Delhi, pledged to make “tangible progress” in the next six months on issues of water, energy, food and environment. Two agreements were signed — on setting up a South Asian University in India and forming a regional food bank. Leaders also pledged to work towards full implementation of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement in “letter and spirit.” The summit’s closing statement stressed “the need for ensuring market access through smooth implementation of [the] trade liberalisation programme…” The leaders also called for the “urgent conclusion” of a comprehensive convention on international terrorism.

The statement said the SAARC leaders “expressed their commitment to take every possible measure to prevent and suppress, in particular, financing of terrorist acts by criminalising the provision, acquisition and collection of funds for such acts, including through front organizations and also to counter illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs, trafficking in persons and illicit arms.”

Skeptics might find the supposed commitment to the environment rings hollow in light of the “trade liberalization” dogma. But in a slap at the US, Iran was for the first time formally accorded “observer status” by the regional grouping. (The Hindu, April 5)

This is an interesting development in light of India’s plans for a pipeline deal with Iran, in spite of Washington pressure.

The meeting comes as India is facing an escalating threat from the Naxalite guerillas. Terrorism also topped the agenda at January’s ASEAN summit in the Philippines.