Time for South Asia nations to deliver: ministers

NEW DELHI, April 2, 2007 (AFP) – South Asia’s expanding but underperforming SAARC grouping needs to work harder and overcome internal rivalries to boost regional cooperation, officials said Monday on the eve of a summit. “We are at a defining moment in SAARC history,” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said ahead of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We have a collective opportunity to leapfrog and undertake a quantum jump for development,” he said, calling for member states to set aside bilateral tensions and model infrastructure links on those of the European Union or the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

SAARC is made up of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan will also be formally inducted into the bloc at the summit.

The grouping was set up in 1985 as a collective development platform to do business with wealthier cousins, such as ASEAN, but scant progress has been registered between the region of 1.4 billion people.

Iftekar Ahmed Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s interim foreign minister, also echoed concerns over lacklustre progress.

“We have to interact between ourselves. W