SAARC should allow discussion on contentious issues: Subramanian Swamy

source:Press Trust Of India

Beijing: SAARC should shed the rule "barring discussion on contentious bilateral issues" and agree to a larger role for China and the US to improve its functioning, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said today.

Founded in 1985, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) charter excludes "bilateral and contentious issues" from the ambit of deliberations, he said at a panel discussion on regional cooperation in South Asia at the World Peace Forum here.

Swamy, however, clarified that he is expressing his own views on the issue and not on behalf of the ruling BJP.

His observation calling for an end to India's longstanding view that no bilateral contentious issues should be raised at SAARC evoked immediate reaction from a Pakistani participant, who asked whether Islamabad could raise the Kashmir issue at a SAARC meet that New Delhi has tried to stall since the beginning of the grouping.

Acknowledging that it was a sharp question, Swamy said Pakistan could raise Kashmir issue at SAARC if Islamabad agrees not to raise it at the United Nations and other forums.

"If the suggestion is that it can be discussed only in SAARC, nowhere else, then there is no difficulty in discussing it.

"But if Pakistan says no and wants to raise it at the UN and elsewhere, the meaning of it goes," he said.

He mentioned former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had taken the Kashmir issue to UN and there were differences about the way partition was handled.

"Minus that, there is no room for dispute and even that we could discuss. But the commitment has to be from Pakistan they are not going to discuss it anywhere else," Swamy added.

Significantly, besides Swamy the panel comprised of representatives from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar.

None of Pakistani leaders and officials attending the meet that includes former Prime Minister Shoukat Aziz, former Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokhar and former Joint Chief of Staff of Pakistan Army Ehsan-ul-Haq, were present at the discussion on South Asia.

"We have bilateral problem that made SAARC look like an anaemic body. We had a dispute with Pakistan on terrorism, they have issues with us on Kashmir.

"We have problems with Bangladesh on infiltration, issues with Sri Lanka," he later told PTI elaborating his stand.

He said the stiff rule not to let discussion on contentious bilateral issues made SAARC "toothles."

USA, China, Iran, EU, and Myanmar have observer status in SAARC. Its membership includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Swamy said SAARC will play an important role under the new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"Neighbours come first in Modi's foreign policy. Modi said the civilisation aspect that is Asia, neighbours, SAARC countries will come first followed by the US," he said.

"We are expecting Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit India. US is good for us in terms of technology transfer but our approach would be to deal with Asian neighbours first and then proceed further," he added.

He also said India has violated the rule of non-interference in SAARC by seeking the cancellation of SAARC Summit in 1999 by the Vajpayee government following the coup by then Pakistan army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf.

New Delhi has violated the non-interference norm again by internationalising human rights issue of Sri Lanka, he added.

SAARC cannot be refurbished unless we amend the charter, Swamy said.

Former Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, who spoke earlier also said SAARC was hobbled by the rules to have decisions based on consensus. As a result no sensitive issues can be discussed, which rendered it into a talking shop.

China and the US, which are observers in SAARC should have a broader role to prevent their rivalry spilling into the regional bloc.

"India should have a trilateral mechanism with the US and China to discuss SAARC related issues", he said stating that they need not be made regular members but could be given a bigger role.

"Then SAARC will get some teeth," he said dismissing the perception that China will get a bigger role in India's backyard pointing to China developing ports in Sri Lanka after Indian declined to do so.

Swamy said India should shun the "Look East Policy", pursued by the previous UPA government to develop ties with Vietnam and Japan and other countries in China's neighbourhood.

"India can have close economic ties with Japan but better avoid a larger role in East Asia in view of deepening China-US rivalry," he said.

The emphasis instead should be on West Asia in view of the extremists take over of Iraq.

"Real thing to look for West Asia. We have to take serious call, due to developing conflict between Shias and Sunnis. All the external threats we face are all Sunni based.

Internally the Shia, Hindu relationship is cordial for centuries. We never had a conflict. We should bring Iran into SAARC's fold," he said.

He also criticised Manmohan Singh's government's decision to not to develop the Chabahar port in Iran which provided entry into Central Asia and Afghanistan.

About China's plans to have an economic corridor to Pakistan through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir(PoK), Swamy said there are several projects but it is to be seen whether they materialise due to the volatile situation prevailing in the region.

If Taliban takes over Afghanistan after American troops leave in 2016 and subsequently have a Taliban compliant Pakistan, then the whole situation changes.

"Then these things mean nothing. The same way the trade route also," he said adding that India feels vindicated for its caution over Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project which has not materialised so far.