Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigmi Y Thinley's statement at the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 4, 2004
"Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Mr. Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen,
My delegation and I would like to express our deep appreciation to the Government and people of Pakistan. We have been touched by their warmth and kindness from the moment of our arrival in the folds of this garden city. Like many others, I am also convinced that the grandeur of this country’s rich civilization and cultural heritage provides a magnificent and inspiring backdrop for the Twelfth Summit of the South Asian Family. Going by the excellent progress that our officials and the Council of Ministers have achieved thus far, Islamabad, in fact, has already provided an opportunity for us to move ahead.
I would like to offer to you, Mr Chairman, our good wishes as you assume the responsibility of guiding our collective endeavours to build and strengthen the bases of cooperation for the benefit of more than one sixth of humanity. To this end, I am confident that the proceedings of this Summit will make a substantive contribution under your guidance. I acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment to the SAARC process, and share the belief that our regional cooperation is in able hands. . On the part of my delegation, let me offer Your Excellency the fullest support of Bhutan not only for the success of this Summit, but in all your efforts to further raise the relevance, vitality and effectiveness of our association.
His Majesty’s Government and the people of Nepal deserve rich accolades for the exemplary manner in which they discharged the duties of the Chair during a difficult and extended period. We would also like to commend our Secretary General and his team for diligently and very ably pursuing the innumerable tasks entrusted to them.
Mr Chairman, the Eleventh Summit issued a number of directives in pursuance of a more vigorous program of cooperative efforts in our region. These included, inter-alia, re-invigorating our commitment to poverty reduction, making the social agenda more coordinated and practical, and quickening the pace of work on core economic issues. My delegation is pleased to share its views on these crucial areas.
First of all, we look forward to the report of the reconstituted Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA). I would like to see the report providing insightful knowledge and understanding of the nature and root causes of poverty in our region. We wish to find in it fresh direction on how we can, individually and collectively, fashion the means to remove the dark and cold blot of misery, despair and deprivation that has come to mark the life of the majority of our people. It must illustrate how a regional approach and collective response to poverty is not just desirable, but also practical.
Secondly, we are pleased to note that most of the Member States have deposited the instruments of ratification for the two conventions, which we signed at the Eleventh Summit. As the central goal of the SAARC Charter is to improve the quality of life of the peoples of South Asia, we have rightly placed high priority on health, education, human resource development, and to the protection and promotion of the welfare of our women and children. Serious acceptance and implementation of these conventions and the Social Charter will make our social agenda more coherent and better focused on the key issues.
Thirdly, without economic cooperation becoming the core basis of our Association, the primary goal of eradicating poverty within the framework of sustainable development will remain elusive while major players move towards complete integration, become bigger, stronger and more domineering.
It is in this context that my delegation welcomes the finalization of the main text of the SAFTA Agreement for signature at this Summit. We have finally come to accept that if we do not close ranks, our peoples will sink deeper into poverty - that our countries will continue to suffer the consequence of discord and weakness in the fiercely competitive world. It is unconscionable that our peoples should continue to be deprived of the power of the collective will and strength of the largest constituency and market in the world. Let us strive to ensure that work on various components of the Free Trade Area are completed as early as possible so that the Agreement comes into force. Let us build on our momentous decision, shift gears and move to a faster track toward our common destiny of shared well being.
Mr Chairman, we believe that the purpose of development is not to become clones of industrialized countries. Indeed, such an unsustainable path would not only devastate our planet in the long run, it would first rob us of our soul and impoverish our spirit. While we must learn from the experience of others, we strongly believe that the best solutions will come from our own south Asian genius. Most local problems call for local solutions. The need for ownership over conception, design and increasingly, management of projects by the beneficiary communities themselves has been one of the key lessons in development. This must be borne in mind even as we concern ourselves with delivering poverty-alleviating services to the poor.
I am pleased to report that Bhutan’s relatively brief experience with planned development has been a positive one. Our people are now leading better and longer lives than they did a few years ago. In an age when the hazards of environmental degradation is growing every where, our Kingdom in the fragile Himalayas is becoming greener and shares little of the guilt that burdens many nations for the dwindling health of our planet. Much of the credit for our modest success goes to the sound advice and generous support from friends and development partners. Above all, Bhutan has been blessed with monarchs with vision, wisdom and selfless dedication to serve rather than lord over the people. The steady process of creating within the Bhutanese polity a truly functioning and sustainable democracy is now in its final stage with the drafting of a formal Constitution.
In policy terms, Bhutan’s development approach has meant putting people at the center: of consistently allocating over 22% of our national budget to health and education; of conserving our pristine environment; of promoting basic human values and preserving our cultural heritage; and of emphasizing small, clean and efficient government. The goal is to create an environment within which every citizen will have a reasonable chance of finding happiness.
Mr Chairman, During the Eleventh Summit Bhutan drew attention to the fact that South Asia has been living with the nightmare of terrorism for too long and that little had changed after the signing of the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism. Too often and in too large numbers, our innocent citizens continue to suffer the pain of insecurity and fear. While we take comfort in the failure of the attempts on the life of HE President Musharraf, we cannot but see it as yet another rude reminder of our lack of will to root out the menace of terrorism. It is very clear that not only must we give effect to the SAARC Convention on Terrorism, but immediately put to force the Additional Protocol to the Convention which my country will gladly sign at the end of this session.
My own country has suffered for some time the presence of three armed extremist groups from the adjoining Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Having sneaked into Bhutan, they had established as many as 30 camps in the dense jungles along the entire Bhutan-India border. The strategically located camps were used to train insurgents, store arms and ammunitions, and to launch terrorist attacks inside India. Their presence impeded trade; brought about the closure of several large industries as well as educational institutions in the affected areas and inhibited general socioeconomic development in southern Bhutan. Innocent people in Assam, West Bengal as well as in Bhutan have been victims of threat, coercion, and extortion. Unprovoked attacks against Bhutanese nationals traveling through Assam and inside our own territory have resulted in the tragic loss of many lives. Furthermore, they threatened to create misunderstandings and undermine our excellent relations with India.
Being deeply opposed to the use of force, we explored, for six long years, every peaceful option and engaged in a painstakingly long and frustrating dialogue with the militants in the hope of persuading them to leave the country peacefully. Finally, after their repeated refusal to leave the country and upon having given them definite ultimatums by the National Assembly and through other means, military action was brought to bear upon all the three groups. On 15 December 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army launched operations to flush them out. Thankfully, almost all their leaders who were in the country have been apprehended while others continue to surrender or find their way out of the country, hopefully to become law-abiding citizens.
Bhutan deeply regrets the casualties on both sides as well as the pain and suffering experienced by the peoples of Bhutan and India. However, our comfort comes with the knowledge that we have contributed to creating a safe and secure environment for socio-economic development in Bhutan and the neighbouring regions of India. Hopefully, we will also have contributed in some measure, to the eradication of the evil of terrorism in south Asia. Most happily, I am pleased to inform this august gathering that in the grave hour of need, we received the full understanding and cooperation from our friend and fellow SAARC country, India.
Mr Chairman, our hearts are lifted by the winds of rapprochement that are blowing across our region, raising hopes of a more durable environment of peace and stability within and among our states in South Asia. At the same time, we are reminded that there will always be those who will see profit in conflict and instability and will attempt to derail any move towards reconciliation and peace. Their just fate is and must be rejection, isolation and ignominy. As a small, peace-loving nation, Bhutan fully supports the positive developments and the people and the Government offer their prayers and best wishes for forward movement in the interest of all South Asians.
Mr Chairman, The founders of SAARC brought our countries together to pursue a shared vision. Eighteen years later, even our most sympathetic observers seem to agree that SAARC has already reached a plateau, that there is something intrinsic in our nature, which is holding us back. We ourselves cannot deny the fact that all the problems as well as the intended solutions, come to us with a sense of deja VU.
South Asia need not be home to the largest number of poor people. We know that the key to unlocking the vast potentials of our region lies in the substance of faith and trust in each other - in our ability to break free from the shackles of mutual fear and suspicion. We need to realize that our failure to cooperate has as much to do with the lack of confidence in our selves as individual countries.
Why can we not draw inspiration from the fact that ours is the region which spawned great civilizations, cradled profound thinkers and spiritual leaders? Ours is the hallowed ground from which the idea of non-violence gained nourishment and found sustenance. It is where a frail Mohendas Karamchand Gandhi found the inspiration to become an immortal giant.
Let us continue to deploy our best and brightest to identify common problems and seek solutions, as we did with the Group of Eminent Persons, the formation of the Women’s Advocacy Group or the reconstitution of the Independent South Asia Commission on Poverty Alleviation, to cite a few examples. We must carry on with every attempt to make the SAARC Integrated Program of Action more effective. Likewise let us keep trying to broaden the base of regional cooperation by encouraging people-to-people contact and selectively increasing our interactions with civil societies and multilateral organizations.
Mr Chairman, allow me to reiterate once again, that if SAARC is to forge ahead as a regional group with relevance and vitality against the backdrop of fast evolving global trends, we must learn to look to each other as partners with shared goals, mutual interests and common challenges. Conventions, treaties and such like legal undertakings that we have signed and will continue to craft must become effective means for the collective will and spirit that we must find and strengthen. Only then can we free SAARC to fulfill our aspirations to reduce poverty, to accelerate social development - to realize the benefits of economic cooperation. Only then, Mr. Chairman, will SAARC be able to make a positive difference to the lives of the peoples of South Asia.
Thank you and Tashi delek!"