Viewing terrorism as a 'serious threat' to South Asia's peace and development, members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation on Thursday decided to have regular exchange of information to combat the menace and push efforts for establishing a convention for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
"The meeting noted that terrorism remains a serious threat to sustainable peace and development in the SAARC region," Union Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta told media persons at the end of the three-day conference of SAARC Home Ministers.
He said considering the need for more frequent and higher level of interaction, it was agreed that the conference on cooperation in police matters should be upgraded to the level of police chiefs and held bi-annually as against the present system of annual meetings.
Gupta said Pakistan has offered to host the next meeting of police chiefs (intelligence heads) in Islamabad in February 2008.
Giving a push to efforts for tackling cross-border crimes, like drug and human trafficking, money laundering and arms smuggling besides terrorism, the SAARC countries decided to strengthen institutional mechanisms to facilitate 'closer cooperation and more frequent interaction,' he said.
He also said the need for better electronic networking among the eight-member grouping was also felt.
Regarding the proposed SAARC convention on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, Gupta said it was agreed that the process should be accelerated. He discounted reports that there was any objection from Pakistan or Bangladesh.
He said it was decided that Legal Advisors from member nations should meet before April next year in Sri Lanka to examine the draft of the convention.
Asked if any decision was taken on having a 'Saarcpol' on the lines of Interpol, he said 'enhanced coordination and networking' among the police forces of the SAARC countries was suggested at the meeting.
In this regard, he said, India offered to provide assistance in strengthening the SAARC Terrorist Offences Monitoring Desk and SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk located in Sri Lanka.
Gupta said an Indian team will visit Sri Lanka shortly to strengthen the Desks and operationally energise them. He said implementation of the SAARC regional convention on Suppression of Terrorism and Additional Protocol and SAARC convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was reviewed at the meeting, which felt the need for 'pro-active and sustained measures' and mutual cooperation to combat the menaces.
To specific questions whether linkages of recent terror attacks in India to Pakistan and Bangladesh was raised at the conference, he parried a direct reply saying that bilateral matters are not discussed at such meetings.
He said the next meeting of SAARC Home Ministers will be held in Islamabad in February next year, while Male will host the fourth such conference.
Gupta said the Home Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the need for a secure environment for facilitating economic growth, development and progress of the region.
He said the delegates emphasised that time has come to 'cooperate and collaborate' with each other to get rid of terrorism, terror financing, money laundering, drug trafficking and other organised crimes.
They also expressed satisfaction at the working of the institutional mechanisms within the ambit of the Home Ministries and urged enhanced coordination and networking among the police forces of the SAARC nations.
The Ministers also discussed the SAARC 'Visa Scheme' and it was agreed to provide a special tenure-linked dispensation to the officials of the SAARC Secretariat, he said.
Besides, it was agreed that retired judges of Supreme Court and serving high court judges should be included in the Consolidated List of Entitled Persons.
The conference took a decision that the Task Force on Women and Children will send information to the SAARC secretariat as and when necessary.
The SAARC Home Ministers' meeting, chaired by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, was preceded by SAARC Home Secretaries' meeting on Wednesday and SAARC Police Chiefs' meeting on October 23. Afghanistan attended the meeting for the first time after its induction into SAARC.