play role like Asean, EU: Chandrika
9, 2004 -
Courtesy: The News
International, Pakistan, January 07, 2003
Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has said that Saarc could play a more
vibrant role in the region if the political differences of two major
players-India and Pakistan-are resolved without further delay.
In an interview to The News panel comprising Salim Bokhari, Siddiq Asghar,
Awais Saleem and Naveed Akram at Punjab House here Tuesday, the
distinguished guest spoke on a number of topics and expressed her viewpoint
Saarc, she said, had the capacity to play a more proactive role like Asean
and EU provided the disputed issues between both the countries (India and
Pakistan) were resolved. "Amongst all the regional organizations, we
share the most closest cultural and traditional bonds," she pointed
While pinning her hopes on this factor to take Saarc on the course of
progress and prosperity in future, she said that all kinds of regional
differences had to settle down first and emphasized that the present summit
had made a good beginning towards this goal.
No tension between the two major countries, India and Pakistan, of South
Asia was also a very good thing to see during this summit, she said while
appreciating the recent goodwill gestures taken by the respective countries.
Replying to a question on whether Saarc was dominated by India and Pakistan
that resulted in the cause of other smaller countries being sidelined, she
said the problems between them had certainly been a major factor in their
dominance of the regional organization since its inception.
She agreed that the interest of smaller countries in Saarc could not be
taken up properly because of the tension and said nothing was taken
seriously in the region other than the India-Pakistan conflict over the
They should have been working purposefully on the social charter and the
agenda of poverty alleviation, she said while referring to the report on
poverty compiled by a Saarc committee. This would now be translated to the
concerned for developing a plan of action accordingly, she revealed.
The president disagreed that either India or Pakistan wished to ignore the
issues of their smaller counter-parts in the region and emphasized that both
the countries were just severely handicapped because of their political
When the focus would be on the issues pertaining to South Asia and both the
bigger players (India and Pakistan) start giving attention to them, the
problems would be resolved. There was no intentional effort on part of both
the countries to jeopardize the regional organization, she argued.
When asked about her role in bringing India and Pakistan closer during the
last Saarc summit in Kathmandu, she said she had also done this in Colombo,
but it was not a structured mediation role as such.
"I donít think that a mediation or a facilitator is required by
either of the two parties," she said while recalling India had clearly
stated that it would like to resolve its differences with Pakistan on
bilateral basis. "I would also not like to play a role unless it is
required," she said
"Whatever I had done was just as a friend of both the countries,"
she said while adding that she would continue to playing her part for the
improvement in Indo-Pak relations whenever possible.
She said she was taking an excellent impression from the 12th Saarc summit
back home and it had perhaps been the most productive conference in the
history of the organization.
"We have been able to sign the free trade agreement besides the social
charter," she elaborated while adding that this was due for a long
time. These, she said, were the important steps that the heads of state of
Saarc had managed to translate into actions during the summit. She sounded
very positive about these measures and the general atmosphere of friendship
for the future of the region.
On a question about SAFTA (free trade) agreementís benefit to smaller
countries in wake of the WTO around the corner, she said that both were
different prepositions. SAFTA, she said, had several clauses to protect the
rights of smaller and less developed countries.
"There is considerable concern amongst ourselves on this subject,"
she said while terming the SAFTA agreement as good for the future of these
countries. An effort, she said, had been made to extract the benefits of
free trade while protecting the rights of smaller countries in the region as
The preposition of WTO, like all other issues, had to be decided
collectively by the Saarc countries, she said while giving a reference to
her speech on the inaugural session of the summit. "If we can have a
common stand, it would be very good," she said adding that issues have
to be discussed one to one basis in order to develop consensus.
"Sometimes, we may not come to a conclusion and agree to
disagree," she said while stressing the need for discussing everything
When asked what Sri Lanka was doing to counter WTO challenges, she said,
"we had a clear stand on it during my first government but then, there
was a break because of change of government two years ago." The present
Sri Lankan government, she said, was in the process of discussing and
deciding on the appropriate strategy with reference to WTO.
Previously, there was an ad hoc arrangement and discussions used to take
place once a year on certain forums. Her government would like to change
this policy, she declared.
Giving her views on the political crisis in Sri Lanka and the divide in two
major political parties, she said that she was trying quite hard and wished
to resolve it. "There are good chances that these political differences
in Sri Lanka would be sorted out," she said adding that there were
other political options of doing so if it did not work out in due course of
Talking about Sri Lankan ethnic problems particularly the Tamil rebels (LTTE)
issue, she said they had managed to reduce it considerably as compared to
previous years. The Kashmir issue has persisted for 56 years without any
solution while the Palestine issue has also taken a long time, she said
while hoping that it would not take that long to settle internal disputes in
The president termed bilateral relations of her country with Pakistan as
excellent and said the both countries shared very good relationship.
"Pakistan has extended great cooperation to us in many areas like
defence besides culture exchanges etc," she said adding that the
relationships between both the governments had remained cordial over the
She said she had last paid a state visit to Pakistan in 1996 while President
Musharraf visited Sri Lanka last year. "I have, during the summit, also
extended an invitation to Prime Minister Jamali to visit Sri Lanka,"
When asked her plans for the next visit to Pakistan after coming to attend
the 12th Saarc summit this time round, she said that the invitation from
Pakistani government was always there and Prime Minister Jamali had
reiterated it during the concluding session. However, this had to be planned
in light of the commitments and busy schedules of the heads from both the
countries, she added.
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Date: January 09, 2004 -8.30