India takes dim view of economic cooperation

New Delhi Nov.7. India is less than enthused at the lack of progress in economic cooperation within the SAARC framework and has begun questioning the efficacy of the Association itself. Hence, it has no hesitation pointing the finger at Pakistan for stalling progress on the economic front in SAARC at Islamabad.

Informed sources said that if Pakistan persisted with the approach it demonstrated at the SAPTA negotiations in Kathmandu then there was little point in the summit meeting in Islamabad. However, no decision has been taken yet about whether or not the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, would travel to Islamabad. The sources said Pakistan had set a "deadline" (later this month) by which time all member nations have to give their consent to allow the host nation to make arrangements for the SAARC meeting. Accusing Pakistan of making a mockery of the SAARC process, they said that Islamabad was not even willing to extend the Most Favoured Nation treatment to India. As long as Pakistan did not extend the status to India, preferential trade arrangements meant very little.

Calling upon Pakistan to "revisit" the issue, they said that economic cooperation was at the "core" of SAARC, given the fact that politically contentious issues were outside the Association's framework. Islamabad should take a leaf out of Europe's book.

India was the pivot as far as economic cooperation within SAARC was concerned as was demonstrated by its special relationship with Nepal and the free trade area with Sri Lanka, the sources said. For the moment, Bangladesh had its own problems and was not keen on exporting gas to India.

At the last SAARC summit in Kathmandu the Association's leaders had set a goal (end-2002) to formulate a draft treaty for a South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).When contacted in Kathmandu this evening, the SAARC Secretary-General, Q.A.M.A. Rahim, said they were trying their best to ensure that the draft was prepared by the end of the year. "We are still trying to fulfil the mandate,'' he told this correspondent, adding that a meeting of the SAARC Commerce Secretaries would be held within the month in Kathmandu.

Asked about Pakistan's "deadline", Mr. Rahim took the view that it was not a "hard and fast rule". Conceding that there were problems, Mr. Rahim said that discussions were going on and he was hopeful that the SAARC summit would be held on schedule.

New Delhi sources, however, point out that apart from styming the progress on economic cooperation, Pakistan is showing no signs of deviating from its anti-India policies. They specifically pointed out the "highly vitriolic and poisonous statements" of the Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the U.N., Munir Akram.

Among other things, Pakistani press reports have spoken of Islamabad seeking the prosecution of the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, for "genocide". This, the sources said, showed that there had been no lessening of the rhetoric or the "downright negative approach."

Also, the Indian officials are worried over high-profile terrorist strikes before and during the possible visit of Mr. Vajpayee to Islamabad for the SAARC summit.

The rise of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan's political horizon is causing concern to India as at least two of the "political parties" in the right-wing Islamist alliance are directly linked to the promotion of terrorism in India.

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