Leaders of South Asia meeting in Colombo are set to sign an accord on Saturday that is being touted as their first significant effort jointly to fight terrorism.

The proposed convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters drafted this week by the foreign ministers of the member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation includes “terrorism” under its definition of crime.

But few are optimistic that the pact will be effective after India last month accused Pakistan of involvement in a recent terrorist attack against its embassy in Kabul and renewed border skirmishes between the two sides in the disputed state of Kashmir. India has also blamed its Islamic nuclear-armed neighbour for last week’s bombings in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, accusations denied by Islamabad.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan foreign minister, on Friday said: “This region is suffering from this menace of extremism and terrorism. And that is why Pakistan has played a significant role . . . to reach an agreement for a mutual legal assistance to co-operate on criminal matters.”

The leaders of Saarc – which also includes Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives – are in the Sri Lankan capital for their annual two-day summit.

But the most important event is expected to be a meeting on the sidelines of the summit between Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani.

Although the problems facing the region are pressing – South Asia accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s population but 40 per cent of its poor – the forum has become known as not much more than a talking shop. It was set up in 1985 to tackle regional poverty and promote trade, but has since been bogged down by differences between India and Pakistan.

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