SAARC sure to let in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is set to join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation bouquet. Its request to be formally inducted into the regional group to boost its economic prospects is unlikely to face opposition at the Saarc summit in Dhaka next month.
Heads of the governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are likely to give their approval to the proposal when they meet for the 13th summit on November 12 and 13.

India, which has backed the country's entry, will "welcome" such a decision, official sources indicated. Enhanced trade with regional partners would strengthen Afghanistan's meagre economic base while transit facilities would allow it access to a sea port.

PM Manmohan Singh, who will attend the summit, is particularly keen that neighbours should all be covered by a free trade agreement arrangement, to enable them to have greater stakes in each other's economies.

It is another matter that the seven-nation Saarc as an entity has not managed, in 20 years of its existence, to jointly execute a single regional initiative.

The South Asia Free Trade Agreement is scheduled to begin functioning from 2006, but, analysts said, will "not have enough teeth" to boost intra-regional trade. Even concepts like a food bank or a poverty alleviation Fund, to jointly tackle infrastructure projects, have not become functional.

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