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Kabul to join Saarc in April

August 03, 2006

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DHAKA, Aug 2: Afghanistan will join the south Asian economic grouping at its next summit meeting in New Delhi in April, India’s foreign secretary said on Wednesday.

The decision was formalised at a conference of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) foreign ministers which ended in Dhaka on Wednesday, Shyam Saran said.

The New Delhi summit would be held on April 3-4, he added.

Afghanistan’s entry was proposed at the previous summit of the grouping in Dhaka last November. Kabul hopes its membership will boost development and trade in the war-battered country.

Afghan officials took part as observers at this week’s Dhaka conference.

“Afghanistan is an important part of the south Asian region. Afghanistan plays a key role in the transit of not only south Asia but linking south Asia to central Asia, linking the Far East to the Middle East,” Afghan deputy foreign minister Mahmoud Saikal said earlier this week.—Reuters

Qudssia Akhlaque adds from Islamabad: Pakistan on Wednesday categorically rejected as baseless a report by an official Indian news agency PTI that Pakistan would oppose extension of South Asia Free Trade Agreement benefits to Afghanistan which has been inducted as the eighth member of the Saarc.

Taking a strong exception to the report and terming it as part of a “disinformation campaign” the Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam declared: “Pakistan fully supports Afghanistan’s integration into the Saarc.” The spokesperson pointed out that Pakistan had proposed Afghanistan’s membership of the Saarc at the 13th Saarc Summit in Dhaka in November 2005.

Notably the PTI report coincides with the India-Pakistan controversy over Safta with the India accusing Pakistan of jeopardising the process. Pakistan, however, rubbishes the Indian claim, saying it is committed to the regional trade agreement.