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Focus on HRD, Musharraf tells SAARC nations

By B. Muralidhar Reddy

ISLAMABAD April 8. The people of South Asia deserved peace and prosperity and it was possible only if the focus shifted towards greater human resource development, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, said today.

Inaugurating the third meeting of the SAARC Finance/Planning Ministers on poverty alleviation here, Gen. Musharraf made no bones about the perpetual conflict faced by countries in the region in the allocation of the limited resources. The reference was clearly to the allocation of huge funds to defence at the expense of social welfare programmes.

Throughout his 40-minute speech, Gen. Musharraf was remarkably restrained in his comments, barring some stray observations in the beginning. He avoided any reference to bilateral issues and his pet theme was the need for SAARC to expand its charter to include the resolution of bilateral disputes.

He started his address with the assertion that Pakistan favoured an active role by SAARC in all spheres and was opposed to the disruption of its activities for whatever reason. At another stage, he said the people of the SAARC region, confronted with conflict and instability, deserved peace and prosperity.

In contrast to the recent SAARC Information Ministers conference that was dominated by the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan, today's event was business-like. Even the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shaukat Aziz, and the newly elected SAARC Secretary-General, Q.A.M.A. Rahim, confined their observations to the theme of the meeting. Though Gen. Musharraf skirted bilateral and contentious issues, he could not resist the temptation to dwell at some length on the various achievements and experiments of his Government in poverty alleviation since he took over the reins two and a half years ago.

He asserted that his regime had ushered in a "silent revolution" in the country through the partyless local bodies election held last year and devolution of power to the lowest level. Gen. Musharraf proudly proclaimed that the credit for dismantling the British legacy of Commissioners and Maharajas should go to his Government.

In an indirect reference to politicians who had looted money and stashed it away in foreign countries, he said, "there is a requirement for evolving steps to prevent loot and money-laundering. We need to get this capital back. Once we get back this money we will wipe out our debts." It can be construed as a reference to the former Prime Ministers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who were accused of indulging in massive corruption. Gen. Musharraf said the SAARC region as a whole had become synonymous with poverty, conflict and instability. "The perception of the world is that the reforms would not be fruitful unless our countries address the social gap and governance of deficit individually and the stability collectively,'' he said.

He also spoke of the conflict faced by the developing countries on whether to invest in human resources or fast track development.

The conference attended by Ministers and officials of the SAARC countries was expected to come up with a declaration tomorrow to eradicate poverty in the region.

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