King’s Speech at the 13th SAARC Summit in Dhaka
His Majesty Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev
King of Nepal
At The Thirteenth Summit of the Heads of State or Government of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Dhaka, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 12 November 2005
Distinguished Heads of State or Government,
Secretary-General of SAARC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. We are happy to be here in this beautiful city of Dhaka to participate in the Thirteenth SAARC Summit. We bring with us greetings and best wishes of the people of Nepal for the success of this Summit. We extend our sincere appreciation to Her Excellency Begum Khaleda Zia and the Government and people of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to us and our delegation since our arrival here.
2. We congratulate you, Madam Prime Minister, on your election as the Chairperson of the Thirteenth SAARC Summit. We have every reason to place our full confidence in Your Excellency’s wisdom and statesmanship to steer our association in these defining times. We assure Your Excellency of our full support in your endeavours to make this Summit a success.
3. Our tributes must also go to His Excellency the Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Mr. Shaukat Aziz for the ingenuity and dedication with which he guided our association for the last two years.
4. We would be remiss without expressing our appreciation to the Secretary-General of SAARC His Excellency Lyonpo Chenkyab Dorji and his team at the SAARC Secretariat for their hard work.
5. It is our great honour and privilege to confer the First SAARC Award on the late President Ziaur Rahman in appreciation of his outstanding contribution to SAARC and its ideals, despite an inhospitable international climate that prevailed in those formative years.
6. We are meeting here today against the backdrop of the recent devastating earthquake in Pakistan and India and also of the tsunami of last year. The pains and sufferings of both catastrophes will continue to reverberate for many years to come. While our brothers and sisters have not yet been fully able to dry their tears, we deem it our bounden duty to express, once again, our solidarity with them in overcoming this irreparable loss. Natural calamities of such scales underline an urgent need for an ever stronger regional partnership and concerted effort not only to mitigate the burden of sufferings but also to take preventive measures to avoid huge loss of lives and destruction of property in the future. We call for a strong and well coordinated regional mechanism to deal with natural calamities and disasters. We hope our meeting here in Dhaka will give a serious thought to it.
7. It is with an open mindset that we have come to participate in this Summit. The contemporary trends in international geo-economics dictate that the time has come for us to take bold initiatives and concrete measures to realize SAARC goals and objectives to satisfy the ever-exorbitant expectations of our peoples. We have to move swiftly to recover the lost opportunities and maximize gains by forging regional synergy. Regional cooperation today is not merely a simple political aspiration; it has rather become an economic necessity accentuated by the forces of globalization. If the present reminds us of our duty to bring about qualitative change in the living standard of our peoples, the future demands of us fulfilment of our important responsibility to posterity: the responsibility to handover SAARC to future generations in a much better shape than it is today. We surely want a future that is better and prosperous. While we cannot convince our peoples by borrowing successful historical anecdotes of others alone, we must learn to create success stories strengthened by the glorious inspirations that fortify South Asian values and ethos.
8. It will not be an exaggeration to mention that South Asia, with one fifth of humanity, is a microcosm of the world. Our region possesses great potential to be a vibrant force in the international arena. What is urgently required is unity of purpose and cooperative resolve to gain collective benefit from our own strengths. We may think of a bigger reflection outside the region, but the reality is that we have to first rediscover South Asia to find out its inherent strengths. Many countries and peoples around the world have learnt from our rich history and enduring experiences. Unfortunately, we remain deprived of the benefit of our own rich heritage.
9. It is a stark reality that our region has been mired in terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and environmental catastrophes as well as unbridled spread of pestilent diseases like HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. As these problems are transcendental in nature, we have the daunting challenge to address them mutually by enhancing coordination among us.
10. Poverty remains the most daunting challenge to our collective wisdom. Our past efforts have certainly helped reduce its intensity. Yet, we have to traverse a long way before this social evil is completely eliminated. We congratulate the South Asian Independent Commission on Poverty Alleviation for having suggested intellectually exciting, yet practically achievable, measures to cleanse this scar from South Asia. We endorse the SAARC Development Goals (SDGs) and call for the galvanising of our visions, ideas as well as efforts and resources to achieve these goals. Success is a matter not so much of talent or opportunity as of concentration and perseverance, where commitments are matched by actions.
11. Programmes and activities of regional cooperation must contain poverty reduction elements. The SAARC Social Charter must be integrated into the overall SAARC activities to promote an inclusive social development for all - men, women and children. The SAFTA regime needs to be made responsive to the development needs of the poorer countries amongst us. As trade has direct consequences for poverty reduction efforts, we must take adequate measures to ensure that poverty reduction becomes the outcome of a free trade regime.
12. The success of SAFTA will depend on judicious sharing of benefits by all partners. SAFTA should serve as a forerunner of a more ambitious and deeper economic integration to eventually realize the goal of a South Asian Economic Union. We believe that the signing of the four agreements on Promotion and Protection of Investments, Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters, SAARC International Commercial Arbitration Centre and Avoidance of Double Taxation will further strengthen the SAFTA regime with a positive bearing on the growth of intra-regional trade and investment.
13. Regional economic integration entails sound policy measures and capable institutions together with an adequate infrastructural network at the regional level. As far as infrastructure is concerned, road, air, waterways and railway links across the region are vital for its success. It has become imperative that we introduce and carry out parallel processes of economic integration and infrastructure development. Infrastructure development will obviously require huge investments. The South Asian Development Fund (SADF), which was created, among other things, to mobilize resources for infrastructure development, remains underutilized for lack of adequate resources and common regional projects. We need to revitalize this Fund with required resources and appropriate technological and institutional design.
14. Our offer that Nepal serve as a transit point between India and China, the two largest emerging markets in the world, has been born out of our deep conviction that, in an era characterized by heightened competition to capture world markets and capital, increased trade and economic interaction between the two up-and-coming economic zones, facilitated by transportation and communication links, would provide a level playing field for both our neighbours to reap benefits of a promising global economic order.
15. South Asia has a great potential for tourism development. Our rich socio-cultural mosaic adds up to an unparalleled natural beauty to make our region an attractive destination for tourists from both within the region and abroad. Common religious and cultural sites, such as Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, if promoted jointly, will make significant contributions in our efforts to promote tourism at the regional level. The establishment of direct air links connecting major South Asian cities will give a powerful boost to our tourism industry. Promotion of tourism will have a salutary impact on our poverty reduction efforts through a distribution of income among the poor, including those living in rural areas.
16. We are convinced that with our collective efforts and coordinated positions, the process of globalization can be turned into a force of growth and development in South Asia. Globalization in itself is not right or wrong; the impacts it creates on our way of life should be carefully analyzed. We do not want globalization to upset our harmonious social balance and crumble our rich traditions and cultures.
17. Knowledge-based economy is emerging as the defining feature of our time. Effective utilization of information and communication technologies will tremendously facilitate our march towards this end. We can no longer afford to see the digital divide widening. An inclusive global information society must be our goal and we must firmly and collectively reject digital domination that seeks to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
18.Terrorism has emerged as a serious threat to international peace, security, stability and democracy. The growing menace of terrorism, both at home and abroad, concerns us all. Terrorism has metamorphosed our world. My country has been the victim of senseless terrorism for nearly a decade now. The agents of terror are bent on overthrowing a constitutional order and replacing it with a rejected ideology of a one-party communist dictatorship.
19. We would like to emphasize that, as terrorism knows no geographical boundary, terrorism in Nepal is certain to affect the whole of South Asia. Nepal condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, whatsoever and for whatever reasons. We expect a similar attitude on the part of the international community. South Asia must send a clear message that violence cannot be an instrument to further political objectives.
20. The February First step in Nepal was necessitated by ground realities, mainly the failure of successive governments to contain ever-emboldening terrorists and maintain law and order. It has not come at the cost of democracy, as some tend to project it. We remind the international community of the pre-February First situation in Nepal. Our friends and well-wishers were warning us of the danger of Nepal turning into a failed state.
21.The security situation is slowly but surely improving and the people have benefited by a growing sense of confidence. We have been touring different parts of the country and have interacted directly with the common man so as to instil in them a greater sense of unity, especially against the malicious designs posed by terrorists. Peace has been their overriding concern. We are convinced that those who believe in people’s welfare cannot be debarred by any force to reach the people. There is no place today in the Kingdom where security personnel cannot go at will.
22. The improved security situation has allowed us to announce a date for municipal elections. The elections are scheduled for February 8, 2006. Believing that successful completion of municipal elections will create an environment conducive to conducting general elections, we have asked the Election Commission to make necessary preparations to hold general elections by April 2007. We believe that there cannot be a meaningful exercise in democracy without elections. We have also asked those who have been misguided to renounce violence and to take part in a competitive democratic political process.
23. It is ironical to note that the global war on terrorism is not matched by global action against it. The global war on terrorism has failed to reach every nook and corner of the world, especially in weak and vulnerable countries, as if they do not deserve justice and protection from terrorism. It is this double standard and selective approach that is assuming a dangerous character rather than terrorism itself. We cannot make a distinction between good and bad terrorism; terrorism is terrorism. In our region, the Declaration of the 11th SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu categorically stated that "terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, is a challenge to all states and to all of humanity, and cannot be justified on ideological, political, religious or any other ground". We agreed that "terrorism violates the fundamental values of the United Nations and the SAARC Charter and constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security in the Twenty-first century". Nepal has ratified the SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism and its Additional Protocol with the belief that these instruments provide an effective tool to counter terrorism in the region. We call upon the SAARC member states to forge a strong partnership to eliminate terrorism from the region as well as spearhead a coordinated and earnest action against it.
24. SAARC is not an association meant for economic cooperation alone. We visualize it as an embodiment of South Asian identity. We believe the South Asian leaders assembled here have both the vision and courage to define a trajectory to achieve this goal. Central to this idea is increased contacts amongst our peoples to create a strong basis for greater cohesion and solidarity in the region. In order to promote people-to-people contacts on a larger scale, we must think of a visa-free regime in South Asia along with a free trade regime. It will be a flagship among the array of SAARC achievements.
25. We stand for a South Asia, which is free of troubles and tensions. We believe that scrupulous observance by all countries in the region of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence will contribute to developing a healthy pattern of inter-state relationship. We, on our part, have been observing these principles as articles of faith. Peace and stability in South Asia is indispensable for our association to grow and develop. The recent thaw witnessed in relations between our two great neighbours, India and Pakistan, has given us great comfort, rekindling our hope for a peaceful and prosperous South Asia.
26. The strength of SAARC lies in our collective wisdom, commitment and dedication. Meaningful regional cooperation is possible only when our goals are clear and achievable, our commitment is backed by requisite political will, our efforts are full of resolve, our course of action is steadfast and our achievements are concrete. Regularity in annual meetings of the South Asian leaders, as the supreme decision-making body, will give continued momentum to the SAARC process. Free and frank exchange of views among the leaders in an environment characterized by a greater degree of informality will help further promote trust and understanding.
27. From Dhaka, we started our journey two decades ago. We are meeting again in Dhaka at the launch of the third decade. Let us hope our association evolves with the trends of the time. We take this opportunity to renew our profound commitment to the process of regional cooperation under SAARC. And, we believe that SAARC is the only appropriate forum to advance the cohesive voice of South Asia. Let us dedicate ourselves to make SAARC an effective instrument of our shared destiny. After all, thoughts lead on to purposes; purposes go forth in action; actions form habits; habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny. May the Dhaka Summit inspire us to march towards this end!