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SAARC Summit Rescheduled for November


Shaukat Aziz
Pakistan has announced that the twice-postponed summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC, will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on November 12.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the current chairman of the seven-nation regional group, issued the dates at a news conference in Islamabad.

"It gives me great pleasure to formally announce the dates of the next SAARC summit that have been agreed through consultations amongst the member states," said Shaukat Aziz. "The 13th SAARC summit will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from November 12-13, 2005."

The SAARC summit had originally been scheduled to take place in January in Dhaka, but was canceled after the deadly tsunami in December. The summit was then rescheduled for February, but was again postponed after India pulled out, citing security concerns in Bangladesh.

The regional organization groups Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Bhuttan and Sri Lanka. It was established in 1985 to force economic cooperation, mainly to alleviate poverty and improve health, education as well as environment in the region of 1.4 billion people. Mr. Aziz says the summit will review progress on various programs initiated to achieve those goals.

"We believe that regional cooperation is an important vehicle for faster economic growth and development," he said.

The regional cooperation group has few achievements to show, mainly because of tensions between its two largest members, India and Pakistan. The unresolved territorial dispute over Kashmir is at the center of bilateral tensions.

But Prime Minister Aziz says a peace process between India and Pakistan to resolve the issue is moving in the right direction. He says a historic visit by separatist leaders from the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir has reinforced efforts for lasting peace in the region. The Pakistani prime minister says the delegation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, or APHC, will go a long way in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

"I would say that the visit of the APHC leaders is a step in the right direction," he said. "Overall, it will create a better atmosphere and a better direction."

The separatist leaders from Indian Kashmir have crossed the border after more than five decades to visit Pakistan and parts of Kashmir Islamabad controls. Previously, India refused to allow such visits.

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