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DateLine Wednesday, 04 April 2007

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Tasks for SAARC

The appeal in many a heart in South Asia is that SAARC would now make the all-important transition from symbol to substance. By saying this we do not intend to imply that SAARC has not achieved anything concrete so far but do so to indicate the increasingly proactive role it needs to play in easing the lot of the average South Asian.

The SAARC Heads of State and Government have met for their 14th Summit and this is indeed a joyous occasion which symbolizes the unity and solidarity of the members of SAARC, who represent around one fourth of the world's population.

These annual Summits do have the effect of reminding South Asians of their common identity and of the pledges they have given each other to work towards the collective good of the region.

However, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa reminded SAARC yesterday, the regional grouping is badly in need of a practical orientation or a dynamism and resourcefulness which would help translate the region's dreams of progress and prosperity into reality. In other words, SAARC must graduate fully from symbol to substance.

Practicable programmes and ventures, therefore, are a crying need. For, the majority of the region's population is continuing to wilter in poverty and hunger and its lot needs to be urgently alleviated.

Some heart could be taken from the fact that President Rajapaksa dwelt on the condition of the rural poor at some length too. His suggestion that the SAARC Eight adopt a resolution to work dedicatedly towards elevating the condition of the rural poor, needs to be considered very seriously. For, there could be no development without equity and satisfying the legitimate needs of all is central to the concept of equity.

However, underdevelopment and terror are the twin evils of South Asia and they are mutually reinforcing. Lack of development leads to disaffection, unrest and militancy and the latter degenerates into terror. Terrorism, on the other hand, when unleashed on a sustained basis, often stymies development. This truth Sri Lanka has learnt and LTTE terror is a glaring example of this causal link.

However, as the world has learnt, of the terror groups in South Asia, the LTTE is the most heinous and destructive. It has just demonstrated that it has an air capability of sorts and this makes the case for stamping out LTTE terror increasingly urgent. Besides, the LTTE has manifold links with other terror group in the region and outside it. Therefore, the LTTE is a threat to the whole of the SAARC region.

Given this background, President Rajapaksa's call to SAARC to work on a collective basis towards eliminating terror deserves the strongest consideration. Even as we write, the LTTE is demonstrating that it is stopping at nothing by spilling innocent blood in Ampara. It is proving very amply that its taste for blood is insatiable.

Given its region-wide tentacles, the LTTE could be considered a blight on the whole of South Asia and should be handled on a regional basis. Therefore, SAARC would do well to do everything within its capabilities to stamp out terror. This task cannot wait for another day because the LTTE just does not believe in relenting.

The Indian incentive to demerge

Though obviously it is in Sri Lanka's interests to maintain good relations with all concerned Asian powers, it would be a pity if it failed to keep in mind the crucial nature of its relationship with India. If therefore the Sri Lankan Government sees demerger as a priority, it should seek to convince India of the need for this.

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Sir John: A triumphant life

As Prime Minister, Kotelawala led Sri Lanka into the United Nations and contributed to Sri Lanka's expanding foreign relations. In 1955 he led Sri Lanka delegation to the Bandung conference in Indonesia. His party was defeated in the 1956 elections.

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Lack of jobs hurting Afghan war on Taliban

NATO, U.S. commanders and Afghan leaders agree without economic progress, without reconstruction and without new jobs the Taliban insurgency cannot be defeated. Poverty is driving people into the arms of the Taliban.

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