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Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia's statement at the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 4, 2004

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Khaleda Zia addressed the 12th Summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on January 4, 2004. Presented below is the full text of the statement:

04 January 2004

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Mr. Chairman,


Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Assalamu Alaikum.

I am delighted to be here in beautiful Islamabad. We come with the profound hope that this twelfth Islamabad Summit will mark a crucial turning point for the peoples of South Asia, so that they may have a better quality of life in larger freedom, peace and prosperity.

Mr. Chairman,

I warmly felicitate you on your assumption of the Chair. I am confident that you will infuse new dynamism in reviving and revitalizing SAARC. I also thank the government and people of Pakistan for the excellent arrangements made for this conference and for their warm and generous hospitality. Special tributes are due to Nepal for their dedicated services during two difficult years of Chairmanship. Secretary-General Q.A.M.A Rahim deserves our thanks for his efforts to make the Secretariat more purposeful and vibrant.

Mr. Chairman,

In the two years since the last Summit, our world has literally been transformed. Inter-state relations have become more uncertain and difficult. Multilateral institutions have been sidelined. Globalisation has intensified, but its benefits have not accrued evenly. Economies of the South, especially the least developed among them, have been marginalized. Terrorism has further spread. The heinous attempt on the life of President Pervez Musharraf for the second time which we whole-heartedly condemn, graphically shows the extent and unpredictability of the threat. In this backdrop our Summit assumes a special significance. We must chart a realistic and forward-looking course.

Mr. Chairman,

We are all aware of the limitations of SAARC. Yet its strengths cannot be underestimated. We must build upon them. We have shaped a structured institutional base; narrowed the information and communication gap; sharpened a sense of South Asian identity and created a web of technical interaction in new and imaginative ways. We have carried forward pioneering studies on poverty alleviation, trade, manufactures and services and on natural disasters. New studies have been commissioned in critical fields, such as energy cooperation, integration of telecommunication networks and transport infrastructure. Let me underline here, that a key imperative for SAARC is to have a long-range vision. We must concentrate on projects that have a regional focus and orientation.

Mr. Chairman,

SAARC has moved ahead in many other important ways. The adoption of various Conventions, Treaties and Agreements demonstrate both wide variety and potential in areas such as drugs, combating terrorism and preferential trading. Adoption of regional Conventions on Women and Child Trafficking and for promoting Child Welfare were major milestones at the 11th Summit. Long-range focus through measures such as the Decade for the Girl Child (1990’s) and Decade for the Rights of the Child (New millennium) are also a case in point.

Mr. Chairman,

We must seize the present momentum and forge ahead. We are fortified by one strength—a sense of practicality. Shaheed President Ziaur Rahman in pushing South Asian Cooperation pursued a purely pragmatic path. This was to achieve what was attainable; to advance cooperation where possible; to concentrate on what unites rather than what divides us and to underscore our inter-dependence in the midst of our diversity. These precepts remain ever more valid today as SAARC remains poised to take-off.

Mr. Chairman,

There is a strong push for early conclusion of a separate SAFTA Treaty. Obviously, facilitating intra-regional trade must remain high on our agenda to add substance to our cooperation. We intend to move towards this goal through the vehicle of a framework treaty. However, I must add here that trade promotion critically calls for reducing tariffs, dismantling non-tariff barriers and impediments of an institutional and attitudinal nature affecting exports from smaller to larger SAARC countries. Trade liberalization, should lead to a win-win situation for all. In other words, it needs to be approached with a more open mind. These could include reduction of the content of value addition requirements; special measures for the Least Developed Countries; an adequate time-frame for freeing trade; compensatory financing for revenue loss and the concept of an early harvest.

Supplementing the above, some useful measures are already afloat for regional arrangements. These relate to investment; avoidance of double taxation and settlement of commercial disputes.

Mr. Chairman,

One of the highlights of the Summit is finalization of the SAARC Social Charter. In signing this Charter, the Heads of State and Government are demonstrating their commitment to give the social dimension of our SAARC Charter more substance. They are also stressing the importance of equity in economic development. Though the Social Charter is a declaration of intent, it is also an indicator of accountability and transparency on humanitarian matters.

Mr. Chairman,

Reduction of poverty is our foremost objective. We are yet to make any real dent in this direction. South Asia remains the region with the largest concentration of absolute poor. I commend the Report of the restructured Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation. It has updated ways and means to address this issue; pooled together information and data on experiences and best practices and made suggestions for their widespread dissemination.

Poverty alleviation in South Asia hinges around social mobilization, decentralization and human resource development. At its core lies the principle that poverty reduction is the center-piece of development, and that both the rate and pattern of economic growth are essential to reduce poverty. I myself have stressed that the essence of poverty alleviation is the "Dal Bhat" approach, incorporating a sustained movement to facilitate basic needs, especially education for girls, primary health care, safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter, voluntary family planning and protection of women and children.

Of key importance for this Summit is to identify follow-up mechanisms that will ensure implementation of the Commission’s recommendations, particularly regional experience sharing, capacity building and monitoring of progress. I believe that the experts involved in preparing of the Report should be retained in an advisory capacity. Also, the three-tier mechanism should be charged with the follow-up task. The last meeting of SAARC Finance and Planning Ministers indeed, adopted an Action Plan suggesting concrete measures for dealing with poverty. The SAARC Secretariat has published the First Regional Poverty Profile, which is another useful document on the dimensions of poverty in the region.

Mr. Chairman,

SAARC must move simultaneously in many new directions if we are to visibly improve, living standards. The need of the hour is to consolidate past gains, move towards actual implementation of projects and strengthen common resolve. Among areas of recognized potential are the following:

First, to use ideas and techniques generated by information technology to promote development. We should strengthen regional integration of telecommunication networks and establish a Regional Centre dealing exclusively with ICT and concentrate on research and training of personnel in this sector.

Second, we need to coordinate our think-thanks to move towards a long-term vision for energy cooperation incorporating development of energy markets; establishing a regional energy grid and connectivity; and promoting use of alternate energy sources.

Third, to move towards early adoption of an inter-regional investment agreement aimed at increasing employment opportunities, reducing trade imbalances and promoting South Asia as a common investment area for the rest of the world.

Fourth, to promote sustainable development in keeping with the recommendations and Plan of Action of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development and SAARC's own initiatives in this field.

Fifth, to facilitate an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance and encourage a sense of identity through more people to people contact, especially strong cultural and sports exchange programmes.

Sixth, to enhance cooperation to confront terrorism, curb organized crime and contain drug abuse.

Mr. Chairman,

SAARC represents the hopes and aspirations of about one-fourth of the humanity. Expectations from our meetings are high, and we must not fail our peoples. We must make our meetings result-oriented, so that we move forward.

In a fast changing international environment, our region faces numerous challenges. We now live in a world with heightening security concerns, increasing donor fatigue and shrinking markets for our products. It is imperative that we face these challenges together. Let us make SAARC a more vibrant institution, so that it becomes a strong voice in international economic forums, and meaningfully contributes to achieving peace, progress and prosperity in our region.

Allah Hafez

Long live SAARC

Source: Official Website of the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh





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