Even as the member-states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) gear up for a summit in Bhutan next week, members of social movements, civil society organisations, labour unions, peasant movements, other working people's organisations and women's groups gathered here this week as part of the process of People's SAARC to forge a vision for a People's Union of South Asia.

Reaffirming the South Asian People's commitment to creating a better South Asia free from all forms of discrimination, exclusion and domination, a draft declaration adopted at the end of the four-day meeting also called for the people of all SAARC countries to struggle against militarism and jingoism.

“All our countries are suffering the economic travails of neo-liberal economic policies. Poverty and exclusion have increased and the already marginalised, particularly women and the girl child have suffered more. It is time we develop new paradigms of peaceful, equitable, and sustainable paths of development that truly reflect the economic potential of our countries and meet the need of our peoples. SAARC countries must ensure the rights of all workers, especially women and Dalit workers in accordance with international standards including ILO conventions, international covenants and national constitutions,” the declaration said.

“Climate change and ecological degradation have become a species threat and a threat to the very survival of all life on the planet. Unfortunately, the South Asian governments, including those like India which were part of the BASIC alliance, failed to get an equitable treaty signed at Copenhagen because of resolute resistance by the U.S.A. Even after the Copenhagen document was arrived at, no urgent steps have been taken towards reversing ecological degradation, the reduction of greenhouse gases, all necessitating more sustainable forms of transport, construction, workers and peasants conditions and mining among others,” the declaration said.

Further, it said a major positive response would be facilitated at the South Asia level if people-to-people contact throughout the region was facilitated. This would enable experts and activists to interact across countries and regions to explore possibilities of a more just, peaceful, sustainable and equitable path of development which is also gender just.

Highlighting the need for alternative regional trade and economic framework that meet the needs and aspirations of small and medium producers and labour, the declaration said this would ensure the defeat of neo-liberal instruments such as the WTO and free trade agreements in the region.

The SAARC countries must be wary of imperialist machinations, designed to overthrow pro-people regimes or to play countries off against another to weaken SAARC unity. Calling upon these countries to avoid strategic alliances with the U.S. and allied powers, the declaration has urged that there be a no-war pact among all SAARC countries.

Drawing attention towards the serious problem of terrorism in Pakistan, India and recently in Sri Lanka, the declaration said where these movements involve alienation or deprivation of natural resources, there must be dialogue.

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