SAARC summit opens with appeals to battle terror

August 2nd, 2008 - 4:24 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Colombo, Aug 2 (IANS) South Asian leaders joined Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday in calling for a sustained campaign against terrorism, as the 15th SAARC summit opened here under an unprecedented security blanket also involving the Indian military. One after another, leaders from the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) emphasised the need to wipe out terrorism from the region in speeches they made at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Convention Hall.

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives make up the regional grouping.

Manmohan Singh, the first prime minister from India to visit Sri Lanka in a decade, described terrorism as the biggest threat to the stability of the regional countries.

“Terrorism continues to rear its ugly head in our region. It remains the single biggest threat to our stability and to our progress. We cannot afford to lose the battle against the ideologies of hatred, fanaticism and against all those who seek to destroy our social fabric.

“Terrorists and extremists know no borders. The recent attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad are gruesome reminders of the barbarity that still finds a place here in South Asia.

“We must act jointly and with determination to fight this scourge. We must defend the values of pluralism, peaceful coexistence and the rule of law.”

About 50 people, including two Indian diplomats, were killed in the devastating July 7 suicide bombing in Kabul, for which India blamed the Pakistani intelligence. Serial bombings in Bangalore and Ahmedabad killed another 50 people last month.

In an implicit attack on Pakistan, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said terrorism in the region was “the result of institutional support and narrow minded politics”.

While underlining that Pakistan too was a victim of terrorism along with India and Afghanistan, he said that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December last year “because of sanctuaries provided to the Taliban inside Pakistan”.

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani too referred to Bhutto’s killing to say that his country also had suffered enormously due to terrorism. “We need to fight terrorism individually and collectively.”

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who earlier in the day took over the chairmanship of SAARC from India, called terrorism a “plague” and called upon countries of the region to redouble efforts to combat “the curse of terrorism”.

Calling for strengthening the regional legal mechanism and intensifying intelligence sharing, he said: “Terrorism anywhere is terrorism and there are no good terrorists or bad terrorists.”

All the SAARC leaders also called for better economic progress within the region, with Manmohan Singh making a pointed comparison with the Association for South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As the South Asian leaders exchanged ideas, watched by observers from half a dozen countries, including China, Iran and the US, vast parts of Colombo turned into a ghost town, with strict security forcing many residents to remain indoors.

Many streets were closed for traffic, particularly near the summit venue and the hotels where the delegates are staying. Schools and many shops were shut. A few banks temporarily moved out of Colombo’s commercial district to escape the oppressive security.

The Indian military, in particular the Indian Air Force (IAF), has been roped in to provide fool-proof security to Colombo to prevent possible air attacks by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Although the LTTE had declared a unilateral truce ahead of the SAARC summit, the government rejected it, leading to intensified fighting in the island’s north even as SAARC continued with its deliberations here.

Elsewhere in Colombo, security forces remained on high alert. The police and the military checked vehicles and pedestrians at random. No trains operated out of Colombo.

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