South Asian Leaders Want Joint Action to Fight Terrorism

Concerns about terrorism and accusations of responsibility for recent bomb blasts in Afghanistan and India are overshadowing the annual summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Colombo.

South Asian leaders are pledging, albeit in vague terms, to work together to fight terrorism.

The SAARC summit convened a day after Pakistan refuted accusations its intelligence service had a role in last month's fatal bombing at India's embassy in Kabul. U.S. media reports Friday quoted American intelligence sources as saying electronic intercepts connected the bombers to Pakistani intelligence.

Indian officials here say Pakistan's prime minister, during a "candid and open conversation" with his Indian counterpart, promised he will conduct "an independent investigation" of the bombing.

India media report that prime minister Manmohan Singh told Pakistan's Yousuf Raza Gilani that "such attacks" would have to stop for the two nuclear armed neighbors to repair their strained relationship.

Speaking at the opening of the SAARC summit, Mr. Gilani deplored the July 7 blast.

"I condemn the attack on Indian Embassy on Kabul though Pakistan has suffered the most terrorism afflicts (sic) on countries of our region," he said.

Mr. Gilani added that regional leaders have a joint responsibility to rid South Asia of terrorism.

India and Afghanistan have also accused Pakistani elements of having a role in the blast in which about 60 people died, including two Indian diplomats.

India is also reeling from a series of domestic bomb blasts. Indian media quote officials as saying terrorist groups based in Pakistan or Bangladesh are suspected.

The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, speaking at the opening of the summit, called the blast in the Afghan capital a gruesome reminder of the "barbarity" of terrorism.

"It remains the single biggest threat to our stability and to our progress. We cannot afford to lose the battle," he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, who said there could not be greater regional
integration until terrorism is overcome. He called for a joint fight to combat it in a region where countries have supported extremists across borders to further their own interests.

"It is time we all realize that the pursuit of narrow geo-political interests and the use of militant radicalism as an instrument of policy can not succeed or serve any long-term purpose," he said.

The heads of all governments of SAARC member states on Sunday are to sign a mutual cooperation agreement to share information on terrorists. It is unclear if and when actual exchange of such information would begin. The 23-year-old regional institution has a record of issuing declarations and making agreements but little success in implementing them.

SAARC is composed of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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