Prime Minister’s Speech at the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi
"It is a great honour and privilege for me to welcome you all to New Delhi for the 14th SAARC Summit. Excellencies, Please allow me to express, on behalf of all member states, our deep appreciation for the excellent leadership that Bangladesh has provided to SAARC during its Chairmanship over the last one year. I must also thank the SAARC Secretary General and the SAARC Secretariat for their commendable contribution to SAARC and the preparatory work for this Summit.
I also wish to welcome President Hamid Karzai and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into the SAARC fraternity. India feels privileged that Afghanistan’s first SAARC Summit, as a full member is being hosted by India.
I also welcome amidst us, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, Republic of Korea, the United States of America and the European Union, who are Observers to this Summit.
South Asia is in the midst of an unprecedented political and economic transformation. The political transitions, painful as they may be, are something that each one of us has to work out for ourselves, within our countries and between our governments. I see signs of hope that our governments are now addressing the bilateral political issues that have prevented us from achieving our potential. We must now make a break with the past and join hands to realize our common shared destiny.
There is also today economic vibrancy and social change in every country of South Asia. Never before has it been truly within our capacity to envisage a future where our people are free of the twin curses of poverty and disease. It is possible today. It is here that SAARC has the real opportunity to realize the goals of our Charter: "to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region."
The question before us is whether we will seize this unique opportunity that beckons us all. Can we make this association of states touch and improve the lives of our peoples?
Connectivity -- physical, economic and of the mind, enabling us to use fully our geographical and resource endowments, has historically been the key to our region’s peace and prosperity. South Asia has flourished most when connected to itself and the rest of the world.
The SAARC Rally that we have just flagged off, and the popular response that it has evoked, are graphic reminders of the potential of connectivity. The study for a regional multi-modal transport system has given us a useful basis to carry this work forward. As an immediate step, I propose that we link all our capitals through direct flights.
However, the dream of full regional connectivity will not be realized merely by building roads and railways. We must commit to actually making the travel freer and easier. As an immediate step, India is announcing a unilateral liberalization of visas for students, teachers, professors, journalists and patients from SAARC countries. Let us aim to double the intra-SAARC flow of tourists in the next five years.
We should encourage our civil society to interact and develop the habit of cooperative thinking. Our agreement to establish a South Asia University, as a world-class institution of learning, will be an important symbol of the connectivity of ideas and of our youth that would build the knowledge economies of the future.
There is an ongoing process of building an open and integrated market from the Himalayas to the Pacific, covering a vast and dynamic economic region. SAFTA could have a major role to play in this new emerging architecture. India is ready to accept asymmetrical responsibilities, opening her markets to her South Asian neighbours without insisting on reciprocity. I am happy to announce today that we will allow duty free access to India before the end of this year to our South Asian neighbours who are Least Developed Countries and further reduce the sensitive list in respect of these countries.
It is time that SAARC Region began to address global issues and to consider how we might do so together. Energy security, food security and climate change are all issues that impact on our development strategies and which need our focused attention.
All of South Asia is now or will soon be short of energy. A South Asian energy community could start by harmonizing systems and methods and grid structures and ultimately move on to an energy exchange with energy markets that cover the whole South Asian region. Promoting appropriate local technologies for harnessing renewable energy is an area we could consider for future cooperation.
We are taking a first step towards improving food security by setting up a Regional Food Bank at this Summit. It will meet shortages and losses caused by natural calamities such as floods and droughts.
I have a compelling vision of an inclusive, plural and rapidly developing South Asia playing its role in an interdependent world’s economic development and peaceful evolution. I am therefore particularly happy that this Summit should see the high level presence of observers from outside the region. In the coming years, SAARC will learn to work with our partners from outside the region evolving ways of involving them in our progress.
To realize our hopes, we need SAARC to be an efficient instrument implementing what we member states seek. After several years of effort, the time has come to move SAARC from a declaratory phase to action and implementation. If we can complete work on the tools that we need, such as the SAARC Development Fund, and work realistically with each other, there is no reason why we cannot translate the vision of our Charter into a solid reality.
However, a primary requirement for the fulfillment of our vision of prosperity and cooperation in South Asia is peace.
We should therefore implement in a meaningful and sincere manner the commitments and pledges to root out terrorism so as to create the atmosphere in which our endeavours can succeed.
We stand today at a moment of great opportunity. It was once said that, "positive expectations have a way of leading to positive outcomes". I believe that time has now come for SAARC to show that this indeed is so. Let us work together to make it happen."