Declaration caters to India's desire to stabilise the organisation's internal processes and institutions instead of adding more Observers

India and Pakistan played out a draw of sorts over the future composition of the South Asian Association for regional Cooperation (SAARC), whose 17th summit ended here on Friday.

A few days before the summit, they had unveiled different positions on inducting more Observers and enhancing the existing ones' role. The eight-nation SAARC now has nine Observers.

An Addu Declaration adopted at the end of the two-day summit decided to meet halfway the stand taken by the two neighbours.

Strengthening mechanisms

The Declaration decided to strengthen the SAARC mechanisms, including the Secretariat and Regional Centres, through an inter-governmental process, thus catering to India's desire to stabilise the organisation's internal processes and institutions instead of adding more Observers.

It also accommodated Pakistan's view by resolving to undertake a comprehensive review of all matters relating to the SAARC's engagement with Observers, including the question of dialogue partnership, before the next Session of the Council of Ministers in 2012.

Pakistan had suggested that the moratorium on expansion of Observers be lifted, and supported Turkey's request for becoming an Observer. It has also welcomed China's interest in an interactive partnership with the SAARC.

India does not completely agree with Pakistan's position, arguing the SAARC should strengthen its Secretariat and begin implementing the decisions taken earlier — which the SAARC decided to do with respect to air and sea connectivity.

The SAARC's current engagement with Observers is based on the guidelines adopted in 2008. Observers are now allowed to participate in the inaugural and closing sessions of summits. That summit also imposed a moratorium on admission of new Observers.

At SAARC summits in the past, other members have sought to get back at India during periods of a trough in bilateral ties by proposing a greater role for Observers.

Time line for rail, sea connectivity

The summit has decided to set a time line for finalising a framework on rail and sea connectivity.

The Declaration shed some of the despondency reflected in the previous summit in Thimphu.

While the Thimphu Declaration has been disappointing over a “number of initiatives not translating into tangible and meaningful benefits to the people,” the latest one welcomed the summit recognising the importance of “bridging differences” playing on this summit's theme of “Building Bridges.”

In this respect, the eight leaders at the summit decided to finalise a Regional Railways Agreement and complete the preparatory work on an Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service by this year-end.

In his address at the inauguration of the summit on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for the full implementation of his six-year-old proposal for unrestricted access to airlines from the SAARC states. He also suggested giving priority to a Regional Railway Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement.

The Declaration made no mention of an air services agreement but met Dr. Singh's desire for SAARC-wide ferry and rail services. In the absence of seamless air, rail and sea connections among the SAARC member-countries due to traditional animosities, unsettled conditions and apprehension about the other country's designs, the common man travelling between some SAARC countries is forced to take circuitous routes.

For instance from this island itself, Nepalese citizens prefer to fly to Qatar and then to Kathmandu instead of travelling via India.

The Declaration also decided on early demonstration run of a Bangladesh- India-Nepal container train.

On the trade front, the emphasis was on effective implementation of the free trade pact, paring the sensitive lists, eliminating non-tariff barriers and harmonising standards and customs procedures. All these factors have limited the SAARC trade to 10 per cent of its actual potential.

With consensus eluding the SAARC on climate change, the Declaration made a bland one-line reference to the issue.

The mention of terrorism in the Declaration was more brief than earlier. But it touched most of the points with the regional grouping steering clear from mentioning “terrorist sanctuaries,” a staple in India's joint statements with other countries.

More In: National | News