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India unveils roadmap for peace in South Asia

By T V Parasuram in Washington
January 21, 2004 10:53 IST
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As part of its vision to achieve 'peace and prosperity' in South Asia, India on Wednesday outlined a ten-point roadmap that includes cooperation in combating terrorism, preventing activities of forces that seek to undermine security and stability and resolving all disputes through peaceful means.

Delineating the roadmap in a speech at the prestigious Woodrow Wilson International Centre, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, now on a three-day visit to the US, expressed the hope that South Asian countries of the region will adopt it.

Observing that later day scholars would certainly count this one as one of the 'defining moments' in contemporary history, Sinha said, "India is ready to do everything that is necessary, to walk as many extra miles as may be required, to make this vision a reality... It marks the launch of a world war against terror."

The roadmap envisages advancing democracy and strengthening democratic institutions throughout the region to ensure good governance.

It includes cooperation in combating terrorism, and other forms of cross-border crimes; such as trafficking in narcotics, arms and human beings; smuggling, money laundering and illegal migration.

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"In this connection," said Sinha, "I would like to draw attention to the courageous action taken by His Majesty the King of Bhutan and his government against insurgent groups, which were trying to use Bhutanese territory to launch terrorist activities in India.

"It (Bhutanese action) is an outstanding example of how a small nation has shown the will and determination to act against powerful non-State actors in the interest of its security and in order to prevent violation of the sanctity of its territory by external forces.

"In the process, it also advances the security of its neighbour, makes a major contribution to a long and arduous road that lies ahead in the global war against terrorism," Sinha said.

The roadmap seeks to adopt national policies that encourage broad-based economic development and address the 'concerns and sensitivities of our diverse population groups' and foster greater economic engagement, cultural interaction and people-to-people contacts in the region.

At the same time, 'we must cooperate to ensure an end to illegal migrations', it said.

The roadmaps calls for investments in cross-border infrastructure projects for energy, transport and water resources and contributions in special funds and programmes for poverty alleviation, health care, education and environment management.

"We can use India's space assets, for example, to provide tele-medicine in remote areas of the SAARC region," Sinha said.

The roadmap seeks to create a climate of opinion that emphasises 'our South Asian identity and the many currents and commonalities that flow through our nations'.

Finally, it aims at working towards creating a common economic space, and, eventually an economic union.

Commenting on Indo-US relations, Sinha said ties between the two countries had never been better.

This, said Sinha, has been an equally extraordinary time for India-US ties, 'a period in which we have decisively turned away from the doubts and distance of another era to embark on a journey towards close friendship and a new relationship'.

"We reached another milestone as Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Bush outlined the next steps in our strategic partnership -- cooperation in civilian nuclear activities, civilian space programme and 'dual use' goods and technologies, besides expanded dialogue on missile defence," Sinha said.

The statement by the two leaders, Sinha added, underscores their personal commitment to complete the process of qualitatively transforming India-US relations.

"Our interests and positions do not always coincide, but they do not become a source of conflict and confrontation," Sinha said.

India and US are cooperating in several areas, including science and technology.

"We have crossed new thresholds in defence coopertion, high technology commerce and strategic trade. Bilateral trade is showing strong growth, and we believe that the immense synergies between India and the US will define a new success story of international economic partnership," Sinha added.

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T V Parasuram in Washington
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