I have had a productive and useful visit to Pakistan for the SAARC Council of Ministers meeting. The Council meeting has resulted in significant steps in key areas of regional cooperation. Our basic approach was to give SAARC greater relevance and meaning and to enable it to meet the aspirations of our peoples. As SAARC moves into its third decade, we hope to move from studies and meetings to implementation of projects.
At the Council of Ministers meeting, India made the following proposals:
i) Setting up a South Asian Parliamentary Forum to deliberate on issues pertaining to regional cooperation endeavors. India also offered to host the next meeting of the South Asia Association of Speakers and Parliamentarians to consider the establishment of the Form.
ii) Establishment of a SAARC High Economic Council with Finance and Commerce Ministers of the SAARC Member Countries to promote ideas and initiatives related to regional integration in economic, trade, financial and monetary areas.
iii) Setting up a SAARC Infrastructure Fund, which could have a corpus of about US $ 10 billion, to fund major infrastructure projects in the region.
iv) Setting up National Committees in member countries to monitor and devise programmes to implement the goals of the SAARC Social Charter, and the promote collaborative poverty alleviation projects, including those under the SAARC Poverty Alleviation Fund.
v) As part of the SAARC Awareness Year for TB and HIV/AIDS, the Council decided to give a SAARC Youth Award for "Dedicated Community Services in the field of TB and / or HIV/AIDS. India offered to host a meeting this year of experts and community workers, to train paramedics from SAARC countries, and offered to send medical vans and mobile awareness units to each SAARC country. We would also host a variety of youth activities, and promote youth and academic exchanges in the next twelve months.
The other SAARC countries endorsed these proposals.
On the margins of the Ministerial meeting, I had very useful bilateral discussions with my colleagues from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. We discussed bilateral and SAARC related issues in detail. My colleagues and I called jointly on the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan.
I also utilized my presence in Pakistan for separate meetings on the sidelines with the leadership of Pakistan. I called on President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, senior Minister Shaukat Aziz and Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri. This was my third meeting with Foreign Minister Kasuri in the last month. These meetings were an opportunity to review our bilateral relations. I found the attitude of the Pakistani leadership constructive and positive. We discussed progress so far in the process of composite dialogue that began in February. As you are aware, the next three weeks will see intensive interaction between our countries, with six meetings on different subjects in the composite dialogue process. Thereafter, FM Kasuri and I will meet again on September 5 and 6 in New Delhi.
In my meetings, we shared perceptions on several issues. We expressed satisfaction at the wide range of contacts taking place at governmental and non – governmental levels between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are committed to discuss and settle all bilateral issues, including that of Jammu & Kashmir, to the satisfaction of both sides.
During my call on President Musharraf earlier today, I mentioned our intention to carry on a sustained and steady dialogue with Pakistan.We reviewed all significant aspects of our relations. Both sides reiterated the importance of continuing the dialogue process in an atmosphere free of violence, and to tackling the scourge of terrorism with renewed vigor. I deeply appreciated the time and consideration shown to me and my delegation by H.E. the President of Pakistan. No aspect of our relationship including Jammu & Kashmir was left out of our warm, frank and realistic discussions. The meeting lasted one hour and thirty minutes.
I leave Pakistan with renewed determination to work with Pakistan, bilaterally, to normalize our relations and to resolve differences while building on many commonalities. I am grateful to the government of Pakistan for the excellent arrangements and many courtesies shown to me and my delegation during the visit. The warmth of our welcome by the Government and people of Pakistan touched us deeply.
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