Published on - 8/4/2008
SOUTH ASIA has traveled a long distance in the 23 years since SAARC was established. The winds of democracy and political change have swept across our region.
Our people's aspirations, particularly of our youth, for a better life and for greater empowerment, are rising and rising very fast. With globalization, our economies are ever more inter-connected with our neighbors and with the world as a whole.
It is however a fact that South Asia has not moved as fast as we all would have wished. We have only to see the rapid integration within ASEAN and its emergence as an important economic bloc in Asia to understand the opportunities that beckon us all.
The speech delivered by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the inaugural session of the 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo on Saturday
The success and prosperity of each one of us provides opportunities to the others to promote their own success and prosperity. This mutuality of interests is the central driving force of regional cooperation everywhere. Our aim should be to create virtuous cycles of growth in our region.
A prosperous South Asia will also be a peaceful and stable South Asia. Realising this vision requires a change in our mindsets, and a new paradigm of creative thinking. We can and must do more to give meaning to the theme of this year's Summit: â€œGrowth through Partnershipâ€.
Terrorism continues to rear its ugly head in our region. It remains the single biggest threat to our stability and to our progress. We cannot afford to lose the battle against the ideologies of hatred, fanaticism and against all those who seek to destroy our social fabric.
Terrorists and extremists know no borders. The recent attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the serial blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad in the last few days is gruesome reminders of the barbarity that still finds a place here in South Asia.
We must act jointly and with determination to fight this scourge. We must defend the values of pluralism, peaceful coexistence and the rule of law.
South Asia clearly has the resources and the skills needed to meet our development challenges. I am happy to say that India has experienced vigorous growth at an average of 8.8% per year for the past four years. India is now an open economy welcoming investment from everywhere.
The other countries in our region have also done well. Today, Asia has become the engine of growth of the world economy and South Asia is a part of this resurgence.
This growth must have a multiplier effect in our region. We have rich and varied experience in development, which we must pool together to create a model of inclusive and sustainable regional development.
The SAARC Development Fund has made a promising start with the launching of two maternal and child healthcare projects. The development of SAARC Model Villages in each of our countries within the last year is an equally encouraging development. We must build on these innovative programmes.
Economic cooperation, connectivity and integration will be the cornerstone of SAARC in the years ahead. We have already agreed to move towards a South Asian Customs Union and a South Asian Economic Union in a planned and phased manner.
India has granted zero duty access to our markets to LDC members from January 1, 2008, one year ahead of the target and also pruned our sensitive list for these countries. India's FTA with Sri Lanka is working satisfactorily bringing benefits to both our economies.
We will go ahead with these initiatives at a pace we are all comfortable with. All the leaders have emphasized the importance of physical connectivity. On its part, India has upgraded its railway connection to broad gauge at the Raxaul-Birgunj and Jogbani-Biratnagar borders, the Dhaka-Kolkata rail service has begun, and work is underway to upgrade infrastructure along our borders with other neighbours.
India looks forward to the finalization of the draft Agreements on Motor Vehicles and Railways. I have always believed that the people of South Asia know much more about countries of the West than they do about themselves. The fraternity that exists among our students and professionals outside the region must be re-created here in South Asia.
The overwhelming response generated by the first SAARC Cultural Festival and the first SAARC Youth Camp reflects the latent desire for such exchanges. We are excited about the establishment of the South Asian University.
The land for the University in New Delhi has been acquired and a Project Office has been set up. When the University becomes operational in 2010, it will cater to 5,000 students, and will create a pool of world-class scientists, technologists and thinkers. When they go out into the world, they will represent not just their respective countries but all of South Asia.
To be a dynamic and responsive body, SAARC must identify and address new challenges as they emerge. The unprecedented increase in oil and food prices risks jeopardizing our developmental gains.
SAARC must make its voice heard in the councils of the world to ensure that there is an effective global response that protects the interests of oil consuming countries. We should also pool our resources to tap renewable sources such as solar energy, hydropower and wind energy, all of which South Asia has in abundance.
The establishment of the SAARC Food Bank in 2007 was an extremely forward looking decision. In the context of the global food crisis today, this decision stands out as an example of our foresight and our ability to help ourselves.
We should now move forward to an early ratification of the Intergovernmental Agreement by all the Member States. We in India are acutely conscious that we need a Second Green Revolution.
The countries of South Asia need to work towards a collective response that leads to a quantum leap in agricultural productivity, foodgrain output and farm incomes so that the spectre of food shortages and hunger vanishes from our region.
India will actively work with Member States to realise the several proposals that have been made, including greater exchange of knowledge and experience on breeding livestock, improvement in yields of protein rich pulses and in adoption of modern post-harvest technologies.
We are inheritors and trustees of one of the most vulnerable eco-systems in the world. It is most encouraging that our Ministers have finalised a SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change, which recognises that rapid development provides the best form of adaptation.
India has recently launched a National Action Plan on Climate Change, and we will be more than willing to share experiences.
There are a number of areas in this Plan where we need to cooperate with SAARC member countries such as in our mission on sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, in our plans for protection of coastal areas, in disaster management strategies and programmes, early warning systems and collaborative research on climate modelling.
SAARC already has projects on water harvesting and afforestation but we all need to do much more in these vital areas. (Courtesy: Daily News)