Exclusive interview: Colombo wants SAARC to have more teeth

Sri Lankan FM Peiris says leaders should be pragmatic, not just vocal.

Jaffer Bilgrami November 06, 2011

COLOMBO: While lauding Pakistan’s clinical role in combating terrorism, Sri Lanka is hoping that a comprehensive and well-conceived strategy to weed out terrorism in the region would be the priority of member countries in the upcoming 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit.

In an exclusive interview with The Express Tribune, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister GL Peiris shared his views ahead of the regional summit which is scheduled to be held in Addu City in the Maldives, next week.

Stressing the need to evolve a “counter-terrorism strategy”, Peiris said: “It is a menace which is unfortunately confronted by all Saarc member states in one way or the other.

“Terrorism is a threat which hampers the socio-economic progress of countries and disturbs the fabric and tranquillity of any society.”

Pakistan and terrorism

The foreign minister said Sri Lanka realises how terrorism had affected Pakistan.

“Pakistan is a country which happens to be a front-line state in the fight against terrorism and has paid a heavy price,” he contended.

Lauding Pakistan’s role as a Saarc member state, Peiris said that it has played a “very productive and purposeful role” on all fronts, including the recently concluded Commonwealth summit in the Australian city of Perth.

Peiris, a former academic-turned-politician, while discussing the role of Saarc as a regional organisation, said: “The way forward for the grouping will be to lay down priorities, select a few model projects capable of being delivered within a reasonable timeframe.”

According to him, in order to avoid turning Saarc into a mere “talk shop”, the leaders should execute pragmatic strategies instead of just dialogue. Peiris said that some important issues such as counterterrorism, food security and plan to tackle natural calamities have already been identified, and now they need to be further augmented.

Regional economic growth

Underlining the importance of augmenting economic development among the member countries, the Sri Lankan minister said it was essential for organisations to develop rapidly as stable institutions which will ensure tangible benefits to the people of the member countries.

“That is the yardstick on which the success of the group will be gauged at all levels.”

He also emphasised that interaction among member countries dealing with various segments of co-operation should be based on “sustainability” with an active and focused follow-up strategy.

Peiris also underscored the need to spend money on development projects rather than on strengthening and creating heavy bureaucracies. He further stated that “a sharp emphasis is also needed on other activities apart from political and trade issues”.

“The reality remains that the volume of intra-SAARC trade is of a very low threshold which needs to be developed. For instance, the Free Trade Agreement with Pakistan, which came into effect in 2005, has resulted in considerable benefit,” he asserted.

In response to a question, the Sri Lankan foreign minister said that the collective strength of SAARC member countries was based on a firm foundation of their common values including “social justice, rich civilisations, a caring society and above all a desire of bringing economic progress for its people”.

(Read: Comparing Pakistan regionally)

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th,  2011.


Sachal Sarmast | 10 years ago | Reply

"Terrorism is a threat which hampers the socio-economic progress of countries and disturbs the fabric and tranquility of any society.” In fact, socio-economic progress coupled with political inclusiveness, integration and harmony within SAARC countries and within region can be able to defeat the terrorism. SAARC countries has huge potential for energy cooperation, for infrastructure, for trade, for education, for sharing health expertise and facilities and for cultural exchanges. Without wasting further time, tourism among these countries should be made un-cumbersome and attractive. Rather education, tourism and health facilities should be subsidized for each other. There could be a SAARC TV which should focus on above mutually beneficial projects and which should promote peace in the region. Project of South Asian University should be fed with more funds, more resources and more opportunities. It should prove itself as leading and top of the line university. It is goes without saying that issue like Kashmir should be attended on priority. UN declaration or no UN declaration; rhetoric of integral part or not must not come in the way of practical solution or at least process leading to solution. SAARC should also think of being part of new Silk Road, great infrastructure plans with China and Asean etc.

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