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.
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