by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
Aug. 27, 2002
INDIA OKAYS PAKISTAN SUMMIT; DIPLOMATS HELP COOL WAR FEVER
KATHMANDU, Aug. 27, 2002 -- Despite growing tensions in South Asia due to the mobilization of about 1,000,000 soldiers by India and Pakistan, a meeting of South Asian foreign ministers held here in the Nepalese capital last week brought the two nuclear rivals closer to resolving their differences, senior officials said in Kathmandu. Topping the list of accomplishments was an Indian commitment to attend a January summit on regional issues - thought not the bilateral dispute - in Pakistan.
Among the developments, India agreed to attend the seven-nation member SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in January in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.
"The bilateral issue should not affect the international forums like the SAARC and United Nations," an official statement by Indian diplomats said. Although brief, the statement was hailed as a very positive step towards reducing growing tensions in the region over territorial disputes in the Jammu and Kashmir border region between the two countries.
Established in 1985 to strengthen economic cooperation among the South Asian nations, the rotating SAARC summit takes place once a year.
Due to the conflict between India and Pakistan, the regional summit has not taken place since 1998. The two major members of the organization.
Headquartered in Kathmandu, the SAARC nations are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. This year's summit, in Kathmandu in January, was the first since one in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 1998.
Indian foreign minister Yaswanta Sinha said the bilateral issue should not and does not affect the process of the regional organization.
The refional summit faced the possibility of India's being absent since the summit would take place in Pakistan. India has not agreed to hold talks with Pakistan to resolve the dispute over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, a divided Himalayan area claimed by both since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over the issue of Kashmir.
India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring Muslim militants in the Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir and says the infiltration is continuing despite a commitment made by Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf's much publicized January 12 speech, in which he reiterated his commitment to end the infiltration permanently.
Though the meeting here in Aug. 21 and 22 was a regional meeting of the South Asian countries, the Indian and Pakistani officials held talks in cordial manner. "They shook hands, shared words and smiled at each other," a senior Nepali official said.
"Dispute did not figure out and the tension of the two countries did not reflect in the meeting," according to the joint secretary of the Nepali foreign ministry, Pushkar Rajbhandari, who attended the meeting and spoke at a press conference afterwards.
India proposed that the SAARC summit should be held every year between January 5 to 20, and Pakistan supported that diea. That shows the two countries have no real dispute, an official of the SAARC secretariat said.
The SAARC ministerial level meeting convened to discuss increased cooperation to combat terrorism in the region and agreed that the SAARC countries should make their national laws compatible with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1373. which was adopted after the September 11 terrorist attack on American cities.
The UN Security Council resolution prohibits support of terrorists in any form, including financial and military support that encourages terrorism. India says that the Kashmiri Muslim militants are terrorists, but Pakistan considers them freedom fighters who want to separate or merge Kashmir with Pakistan.
Senior ministers of the seven nations will meet soon to discuss in details of their cooperation in combatting terrorism in the region, which has been the focus of the war on terrorism led by the United States.
The ministers will have a very difficult time trying to define terrorism, says a South Asian diplomat, as India's terrorists are Pakistan's freedom fighters. The Security Council resolution and U.S. and British pressure on both countries will help them come to a conclusion, he said.
The tension of the India and Pakistan has created obstacles to the process of the regional development. South Asia, with more than 22 percent of the world's total population, is the home for 40 percent of the poor of the world. More than 500 million people in the region live under the poverty line on less than a dollar per day. Almost all the countries have intertwining social, cultural, religious and economic ties. Among the issues they hope to face on a regional basis are the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus and trafficking in female children. These issues are linked with one another and cannot be resolved in isolation, diplomats say.
Around 500,000 young girls are believed to be sold into prostitution, and India - being the largest country of the region - absorbs many of them. More than 200,000 Nepali women are living hellish lives in the red light districts of Indian cities including Mumbai (the former Bombay), New Delhi, Calcutta and others.
The HIV/AIDS virus has been a serious problem in the region. According to an estimate by the World Bank, South Asia will be home for the largest number of AIDS patients after the African continent. Free movement of the people due to relatively open borders makes the problem more serious, and there is a need of more regional cooperation to tackle these problems, they say.
Pakistani and Indian leaders reiterated that the bilateral dispute of the two nuclear rivala should not affect the whole region. There is no provision for discussion of bilateral issues in the south Asian regional organization, however.
"The bilateral issue should not hamper the development of SAARC and India is very clear about it," the Indian foreign minister said.
Pakistani minister of state for foreign affairs Haq said that Pakistan wants to see the development of the SAARC and wants to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue.
Other small nations including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives do not influence Pakistan and India. These countries are not so poor in terms of their resources, but the political instability, rampant corruption and brain drain has affected them deeply in the process of development, says a professor of political science of Nepal's Tribhuvan University.
"Effective mobilization of internal resources will be very fruitful for the development and there is no shortage of budget and other resources from the international community at this time due to the fight against international terrorism and the region being focused, there is no resource crunch for these nations," he said.
Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh all victims of the terrorism. Nepal has been under a state of emergency for over nine months and much of its resources are mobilized in the fight.
Despite abundant water resources, natural gas, mineral and forest products, the region has lagged far behind in economic development. Some see it as an irony that the region under the threat of violence boasts a glorious past as an ancient civilization where the message of peace espoused by Guatama Buddha spread throughout the world.
America, Britain, Japan and other major donor countries have been providing financial help and many forms of cooperation to the countries of the region. The major obstacles to development are the Indo-Pak conflict, the internal political instability, corruption and lack of strong political will to implement the programs effectively.
The South Asian ministers meeting to some extent has been able to pave the way for the success of the regional organization, at least for now.
"The pressure and cooperation of the international community for the development of the region is always needed due to the serious problems of South Asia and the consolidation of the democratic system in the region," an influential diplomat of a major donor country told The American Reporter.