In a veiled attack on Pakistan, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday termed terrorism as one of the most serious challenges facing South Asia and said it can be tackled only when every country recognises that there are “no good or bad terrorists”.
Underlining that all terrorists “are the same”, Swaraj said SAARC countries must remain sensitive to each other’s security concerns and should neither encourage nor undertake any activity that might be detrimental to the security and welfare of the neighbour.
“Only then can we create a genuine, cooperative, South Asian security community,” she asserted in comments that came amid increasing attacks by Pakistani militants in Jammu and Kashmir that have claimed the lives of 14 Army personnel in less than a month.
“Terrorism is one of the most serious challenges facing the entire South Asian region and it can only be dealt with when each one of us recognises that there are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. They are all the same,” she said in her address at an event organised by South Asian University.
Pakistan has been accused of playing favourites when it comes to tackling terror. While it is taking action against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan terrorists, terror groups inimical to India have been nurtured.
“As neighbours we must remain sensitive to each other’s security concerns and neither encourage nor undertake any activity that might be detrimental to the security and welfare of the neighbour,” she said.
The Minister said that SAARC nations must also strengthen defences against illicit narcotics, fake currency, weapons smuggling, human trafficking and cyber crime.
“We must work together to neutralise the threats posed to each other by sharing resources and intelligence and data about extremists and terrorist outfits. Only then can we create a genuine, cooperative, South Asian security community,” she said.
Talking about need for regional connectivity and trade, Swaraj said India had hoped to sign the SAARC Motor Vehicle and SAARC Railway Agreements at the recent Summit.
“Unfortunately, however, this was not to be. SAARC Transport Ministers would now be meeting within three months to finalise and approve these two agreements for signature,” she said.
She recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words to highlight the need for connectivity.
“As Prime Minister pointed out, goods travel from one Punjab to the other Punjab (in Pakistan) through Delhi, Mumbai, Dubai and Karachi, making the journey eleven times longer and the cost four times more,” she said.
With reductions in tariff and non-tariff barriers, intra-regional trade could be enhanced by as much as 250 per cent of the current level, with much of the gain flowing to the smaller members of SAARC, she said.
She noted that while regional economic integration has already achieved remarkable successes in Europe, South East Asia, and elsewhere, SAARC region seems to have been left behind.
The problem is that our land, air and maritime connectivity are still very tenuous, she said.
The reasons she listed were weak transport connectivity, complex procedures of customs clearances at the border, limited crossing points for entry of goods, onerous and costly trans-shipment requirements, and inefficiencies in the payment systems.
Swaraj said another area where SAARC can make a huge difference is energy.
She said the region’s per capita consumption of power is among the lowest in the world and as much as thirty per cent of the region’s energy demands are met through imports.
At the same time, the presence of natural gas in Bangladesh, coal and petroleum products in India and hydro-power in Nepal and Bhutan provides a basis for regionally integrated energy cooperation, she said.
Swaraj stressed on the need to harness conventional and renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and hydropower.
“We also need to build inter-connected transmission grids and forge effective power trading agreements in hydro-power, petroleum products, bulk electricity, natural gas and coal,” she said.