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Terror was the talking point
Recognising the "serious threat" posed by terrorism to the peace and stability of South Asia, the 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit on Sunday in a declaration supported "strongest possible cooperation" against the menace and signed a key agreement in this regard.
Wrapping up the two-day meet, attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] and leaders of other seven member states, the grouping also vowed to collaborate in tackling issues like energy by developing the regional hydro potential, grid connectivity and gas pipelines, as well as food security, climate change and trade barriers as part of an endeavour to prosper as a collective unit.
The summit, which took place in the backdrop of attack on Indian embassy in Kabul and serial blasts in Bengaluru [Images] and Ahmedabad [Images], was dominated by the theme of terrorism, with leaders of all member countries recognising it as a destabilising factor which had to be guarded against.
The meet saw firming up the SAARC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters after hard negotiations in the wake of resistance by Pakistan to the extradition clause.
The convention will provide a legal framework for greater cooperation amongst security forces of member countries to track, arrest and handover of criminals and terrorists on request from any member country.
Appreciating the convention, the leaders noted that the mechanism would provide for the "widest measures of mutual assistance in criminal matters to ensure greater sense of security within the region."
The summit emphasised the need for early ratification and implementation of the convention by the member countries.
The South Asian grouping, comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka [Images], Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives [Images], reached the significant agreement amid serious worries about terrorism gaining in intensity and spreading its tentacles in the region.
"The heads of state or government strongly condemned all forms of terrorist violence and expressed deep concern over the serious threat posed by terrorism to the peace, stability and security of the (South Asian) region," said a declaration adopted at the end of the meet.
"They (the leaders) emphasised the need for strongest possible cooperation in the fight against terrorism and transnational organised crime amongst the relevant agencies of the member states, especially in the area of information exchange," it said.
The summit recognised the growing linkages between the phenomenon of terrorism, illegal trafficking in narcotic and psychotropic substances, illegal trafficking of persons and firearms and underscored the need for addressing the problem in a comprehensive manner.
The leaders emphasised the need for criminalising any act of provision, collection and acquisition of funds for the purpose of committing terrorist acts in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
A need for completing all legislative and other relevant measures to implement within member states the provisions of the Regional Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was also underscored.
As part of the effort, they decided to hold the SAARC meeting of Ministers of Interior or Home Affairs later this year in Islamabad [Images].
The leaders also signed a pact for setting up a SAARC Development Fund that would cater to social development and empowerment in the member countries.
The summit also discussed the pressing problem of energy security and agreed on the urgent need for developing regional hydro-power potential, grid connectivity and gas pipelines.
The leaders favoured exploration of possibility of evolving an appropriate regional inter-governmental framework to facilitate such an endeavour.
With regard to the "onslaught" of climate change, the leaders stressed the need for intensification of cooperation within an expanded regional environmental protection framework to address the problem.
Asserting that every citizen of the planet must have equal share of atmospheric space, the SAARC endorsed the convergence of per capita emissions of developing and developed countries on an equitable basis for tackling climate change.
The SAARC leaders were of the view that any effort at addressing climate change should take into account historical responsibility, per capita emissions and respective country capabilities.
On SAFTA, the leaders affirmed their commitment to implement it in letter in spirit to enable the SAARC region emerge as a power house of the world.
Recognising the need for addressing major barriers hindering effective trade liberalization in the region, the leaders pressed for early implementation of the decision to revise the sensitive lists by the SAFTA Ministerial Council.
While revising the sensitive lists, they directed that special consideration be given to the Least Developed Countries.
The leaders directed that the SAFTA Committee of Experts should expeditiously resolve the issue of non-tariff measures and para-tariff measures to facilitate and enhance trade under the regional trade agreement.
They pitched for concrete and early measures to improve trade facilitation in terms of the mutual recognition of standards, the adoption of common tariff nomenclatures and the harmonisation of customs procedures.
An emphasis was laid on development of communication and transit facilities to promote intra-SAARC trade.
This measure has been hampered due to Pakistan's denial to grant transit facilities to Indian goods bound for Afghanistan.
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