The way forward for SAARC will be to prioritise, select a few modest projects capable of being delivered within a reasonable time frame, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris has said.

“If that is successful, then that will generate a momentum…Then there will be confidence. It is an institution that has great potential,” he said and added that if very broad themes were taken up, then SAARC would degenerate into “a kind of talk shop. We should not take on too much.”

On the talk of strengthening the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, he said that SAARC countries might not look favourably on proposals that would have substantial financial implications. “I also anticipate that many countries will resist an expansion of the staff… Money must be spent on development, on projects. Not on creating a bureaucracy,” he said.

Speaking to The Hindu here on Thursday ahead of the 17th SAARC summit, to be held in Addu City, The Maldives next week, Prof. Peiris said that it is necessary for SAARC to develop rapidly as an institution which delivers tangible benefits to the people of these countries. That will be the yardstick against which success of SAARC will really be gauged.

The reality remains that the volume of intra-SAARC trade is at a very low threshold. It needs to be augmented and developed much more. Sri Lanka has had both bilateral and multilateral approaches to intra-SAARC trade. Sri Lanka has bilateral trade relations with India and with Pakistan. With India, the FTA came into effect in 2000, and with Pakistan, 2005. It has resulted in considerable benefits. “But one is not required to choose between bilateral and multilateral exchanges,” he said.

SAARC has to put “a sharp emphasis” on other activities, apart from political and trade issues. “SAARC University in New Delhi is up and running. The idea is that we should have the main university in New Delhi and due course chapters in other countries,” he said.

Another proposal that was being considered favourably was put forth by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on a conclave of young parliamentarians. “In all our parliaments, the proportion of young people in the 35-40 age group are significant,” he said.

Countries in our part of the world have to take a definite stand on some countries of the world monopolising multi-lateral and other institutions. 90 per cent of countries that participated in CHOGM strongly rejected the proposal to appoint a Commissioner for Human Rights. “It found firm resistance…These are intrusive mechanisms. These mechanisms are wielded by the West,” he said.

All Heads of State to attend

Maldivian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem said that, Head of States from the SAARC region will be taking part in the 17th SAARC Summit to be held in Addu City and Fuvahmulah. Ministers from Australia, Japan and China will join as observers

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