In a veiled reference to Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has said that threats and incidents endangering South Asia’s peace and stability are on the rise.
“Regional prosperity, connectivity and cooperation can take place only in an atmosphere of peace and security,” she said while addressing a ministerial meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) on Thursday on the margins of the UN General Assembly Session here.
“It, however, remains at serious risk in the region. The number of threats and incidents that endanger South Asia’s peace and stability are on the rise.
“It is necessary for our region’s survival that we eliminate the scourge of terrorism in all its forms, without any discrimination, and end the ecosystem of its support,” she added.
Last year, following a cross-border terror attack on an army camp at Jammu and Kashmir’s Uri in September, India pulled out of the Saarc Summit that Islamabad was supposed to host in November.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka too followed suit thereby derailing the event.
Stating that India has hosted the first two meetings of the High Level Group of Eminent Experts to Strengthen Saarc Anti-Terrorism Mechanism, Sushma Swaraj said that implementation of the decisions of these meetings as well as those of the meetings of home ministers in both letter and spirit was crucial in this context.
“Regional cooperation can only be successful if it meets the expectations of the people,” she said.
“With a significant percentage of the region’s population still under poverty, Saarc needs to deliver on its commitments. Major Saarc initiatives have, however, not moved forward.”
Sushma Swaraj also said that Saarc’s immense potential for trade remained underutilised as further trade liberalisation under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and operationalisation of the Saarc Agreement on Trade in Services remained pending, “awaiting response by some member states”.
Stating that energy was the engine of growth, she said the Saarc Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation that the Saarc leaders signed at the 18th Saarc Summit and would facilitate cross-border power trade has not entered into force “due to non-ratification by some member states”.
“Connectivity is vital to achieve the goals of growth employment and prosperity,” she said.
“It is recognizing this importance of physical connectivity that we collectively decided to finalize a Saarc Motor Vehicle Agreement and Saarc Regional Railways Agreement. It would be important to conclude these agreements at the earliest.”
Sushma Swaraj also said that the construction of the campus of the South Asian University in New Delhi was going on in full swing.
On cooperation in disaster management, she said: “At our meeting in Pokhara (in Nepal) last year, India was entrusted the responsibility to set up the Saarc Disaster Management Centre. India has set up an interim centre, finalised its eventual blueprint and prepared a calendar of activities.”