Building Bridges

Prime Minister GilaniPrime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, while addressing the plenary session of the 17th SAARC summit at the Addu atoll of Maldives on Thursday, rightly pointed to the vast human and natural resources the region possessed and which, if put together, could work ‘the economic miracle of this century’.

There is little doubt that that would cause a historic transformation in the fate of the countries concerned, turning them into developed and prosperous states from their present condition of poor and underdeveloped ones. However, “Building Bridges”, which was the theme of the summit, could only be possible in the real sense of the word if the disputes existing between the various states were to be seriously addressed and resolved. Their resolution only could lead to the kind of trust that is a prerequisite to building bridges.

Then, it would be possible to see Mr Gilani’s dream become a reality, who in his speech, expressed the wish, “We (the SAARC countries) should build on our inherent strength and effectively address common issues such as socio-economic disparities, poverty alleviation, food security, energy security, women empowerment, health and education.” But, if issues as contentious and as crucial as Kashmir continue to remain unresolved, it would be an idle assumption to have said goodbye to the “acrimony”, at present existing between Pakistan and India, that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked about before the media after he and his Pakistani counterpart had held a one-to-one meeting.

That Pakistan is ready and eager to settle all disputes with India could be testified by any independent subcontinent watcher. It is India that has to muster the will to resolve them on the basis of its commitments and justice. The pity is that both the Prime Ministers failed to mention the Kashmir dispute in their main speeches, though in their separate meeting they are supposed to have discussed the whole range of issues, including Kashmir and water.

Nothing could be better than to see these two key players in the region cooperating with each other. The climate of friendliness between them would, no doubt, constitute a big encouragement to the rest of the SAARC countries to come forward and partake of the fruits of a wholehearted cooperation. According to observers of the summit, though India conducted itself like a superpower, Pakistan, despite the handicap of a battered economy, was also looked up to as an essential factor of stability and progress in the region. It received equal attention and respect not only from the participants of the conference, but also from the local people. What is required for Islamabad is to gear up its diplomatic and public contacts to project more forcefully its potential to develop and extend help. – Nation