India and Pakistan should compartmentalise their disputes to allow the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) reach its potential in terms of regional connectivity, trade and people-to-people contacts.

Several leaders of the SAARC countries conveyed to Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani during their bilateral meetings with him that in particular, Pakistan must address India's concerns, especially with respect to the prosecution of all the Mumbai terror attack masterminds, highly placed sources told TheHindu.

The leaders gave the example of India-China ties, which have strengthened in spheres such as trade and cooperation at multilateral fora despite decades-long border dispute.

Pointing out that all eight SAARC leaders were democratically elected, they wondered why disputes could not be resolved by sitting across the table and addressing each other's concerns instead of allowing the summit to be overshadowed by bilateral disputes. With their “India first” approach, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have a similarity of views with Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives. They all want Pakistan to stop “dragging its feet” on prosecuting the Mumbai attacks accused and eliminating the threat to India from non-state actors based on its soil.

Assessment sidelined

The leaders acknowledged that more than the two countries, it was the media that raised the prospects of an India-Pakistan summit meeting to a feverish pitch. This pushed to the background the issue of conveying to the people a critical assessment of the progress made by the SAARC and the shortcomings that still remain.

Besides conveying these sentiments to Pakistan, some leaders also made a reference to the India-Pakistan dispute, directly or obliquely, in their opening speeches at the summit.

“As the SAARC strives at intensifying connectivity to draw member states closer for mutual gains, certain wrong-doers and terrorists are out to undo our good intentions and the growing trust among ourselves,” said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“I hope neighbours can find ways to compartmentalise their differences while finding ways to move forward…I am, of course, referring to India and Pakistan. I hope the summit will lead to greater dialogue between them,” President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed told journalists.

Development

He said:

“We really should move forward. There is so much real work, economic work that is necessary for the SAARC members. We all need development. We all need to increase our living standards. We now understand that it is possible to achieve this in South Asia.

“In my mind, it is in the interest of all to compartmentalise our problems, especially the India and Pakistan issue. If we can put aside border and territorial issues, recognising that these are difficulties and these are the issues that have to be understood separately, we can move forward on important issues related to SAARC.”

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