Prime Minister of Nepal Surya Bahadur Thapa's statement at the 12th SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan, on January 4, 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a matter of great pleasure for me to be in this beautiful city of Islamabad to attend the Twelfth SAARC Summit. We have been highly impressed with the excellent arrangement made and warm hospitality extended to us by the Government and people of Pakistan since our arrival in Pakistan. I have also the honour to convey the best wishes of His Majesty King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal for the success of the event.
I extend my warm felicitations to His Excellency Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Prime Minister of Pakistan, on his assumption of the Chairmanship of the SAARC. I am fully confident that your wisdom, leadership and experience will go a long way in further strengthening the organization and promoting regional cooperation. While wishing you all success in the discharge of your responsibility, let me assure you that His Majesty's Government of Nepal will extend all possible cooperation in the endeavours to further consolidate enhanced cooperation among the Member Countries.
After the assumption of the chair, we actively pursued the issues and agenda of regional cooperation as envisioned in the Declaration of the Eleventh SAARC Summit held in Kathmandu in January 2002. I am happy that a lot of progress has been made in various areas of cooperation. Nepal hosted the inter-summit session of the SAARC Council of Ministers in August 2002, preceded by the regular session of the Standing Committee. We also hosted a Special Session of the SAARC Standing Committee in July 2003, when the Twelfth SAARC Summit had remained postponed. The Foreign Secretaries deserve our appreciation for deciding the dates of the Twelfth Summit. The meeting also gave necessary momentum to different SAARC activities.
I had the opportunity to visit all the South Asian capitals for consultation. From my discussion with all the Leaders in the region, I am extremely optimistic of the future of regional cooperation in the SAARC. The recent meeting of the Council of Ministers has given a further fillip to our deliberations.
Nepal had hosted the informal meetings of the SAARC Foreign Ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in 2002 and 2003. It was in this meeting that our Foreign Ministers had come up with a suggestion that the poverty alleviation should be an "overarching goal" of the regional cooperation in the SAARC. I think the Summit should endorse this idea and focus our efforts in implementing tangible cooperation in the field of poverty reduction.
I am very pleased to note the progress in the field of poverty alleviation, especially in the implementation of the tasks mandated by the Eleventh Summit. During the Summit, the Heads of State or Government gave renewed emphasis on poverty alleviation. The reconstituted Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation (ISACPA) under the convenorship of former Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai has completed its commendable report. It should be the basis of future cooperation in the field of poverty alleviation. As mandated by the last Summit, the Secretary General has compiled a SAARC Regional Poverty Profile, including the data and the best practices of all the South Asian countries. A number of regional meetings of poverty-related Ministers and Secretaries have been held and a Plan of Action has been ready for our approval. We have to undertake a holistic and sustained approach towards poverty alleviation so that the poor and destitute are brought in the mainstream of development.
Substantive progress has been registered in the area of economic cooperation. The completion of fourth round of negotiations on the South Asian Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) is an important achievement. In line with our vision of a phased and planned process eventually leading to a South Asian Economic Union, the successful conclusion of the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) will be a big leap in the annals of our regional economic cooperation. This is the result of hard work and intense negotiations of our officials and Foreign Ministers.
Terrorism continues to haunt most of us. Only recently, His Excellency the President of Pakistan fortunately survived a severe terrorist attack. My own country Nepal is facing the wrath of terrorism. The campaign of terror and violence unleashed by Maoists is targeted against the Constitutional Monarchy, Multiparty Democracy, and Rule of Law, which have remained the hallmarks of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal. Despite our best efforts to solve the problem through negotiation, the terrorists have reverted back to violence. While we are very keen to have a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Maoist problem, we are compelled to maintain law and order and protect the lives of our innocent citizens. His Majesty’s Government is committed to handling the problem with expanded development activities, good governance and a forward-looking political, economic and social reforms package.
When we met in Kathmandu two years ago, we reiterated our support to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 for combating terrorism. Our Senior Officials assisted by legal experts were mandated to prepare an Additional Protocol to the SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism in line with the recent developments and the relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions and the international conventions against terrorism. The conclusion of this Additional Protocol is a result of extensive consultations among the officials of the Member States. This landmark Protocol will go a long way in combating terrorism. As terrorists disregard rules of international behaviour, there is the need to redouble our efforts to maximize regional cooperation against terrorism. The terrorists will not yield to words of condemnation and pledges of cooperation. We need to act together resolutely.
Our signing of the Social Charter will be an important step in reiterating our collective commitment to the social sector development. As mandated by the 11th Summit, an Autonomous Advocacy Group of Prominent Women Personalities has been constituted. The Group will advocate gender issues and act as a catalyst in formulating gender responsive policies, promoting equal rights for women and ensuring implementation of international instruments on women's rights. This will help galvanize the innate potentials of women in our development efforts.
We have been trying to evolve common positions on issues of shared interest at the international fora. SAARC common positions were evolved before the World Food Summit in Rome, World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, WTO Ministerial Meetings and the World Summit on Information Society held in Geneva last month. We must continue to work together to respond to the international issues as a bloc. That would give a collective strength in the international arena.
Technical Committees are backbones of our cooperation. The review of the Technical Committees and the formation of Specialized Working Groups on Telecommunications, Information and Communication Technology (ICT); Biotechnology; Intellectual Property Rights; Tourism; and Energy are welcome developments.
We need to give more attention to accelerating the momentum to combat HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and other deadly diseases.
The Foreign Ministers of the SAARC and ASEAN countries, in their informal meeting in New York, have come out with good recommendations. We may encourage them to further engage in constructive dialogue and partnership between the two regional associations. We could also think of having a joint SAARC-ASEAN Summit.
People-to-people relations have continued to grow. Thanks to the very active role played by the civil society, media and "track two" professionals and academicians. In this regard, we may consider the visa-free movement of media persons in our countries. Nepal has recently waived visa fees for the nationals of the SAARC countries. We would like to urge other Members to do so to encourage intra-regional travel and tourism.
It is matter of satisfaction that Nepal’s proposal for establishing a SAARC Award has been accepted. This will be awarded to honour the outstanding work of individuals and organizations within the region in the fields of peace, development, poverty alleviation and regional cooperation. The establishment of this Award will encourage creative and innovative endeavours in various areas of regional cooperation.
We have been very encouraged by positive developments that have recently taken place in improving relations between India and Pakistan. We welcome significant overtures and initiatives taken by His Excellency Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and His Excellency President Pervez Musharraf in this direction. We congratulate both leaders for their far-sighted vision, political acumen and a high degree of statesmanship. Nepal believes that improvement of relations between India and Pakistan will lead to relaxation of tension and help strengthen the SAARC and give a new and meaningful impetus to our search for a sustained and enhanced regional cooperation.
During the Eleventh Summit, we renewed our commitment to further strengthen the SAARC by making it more result-oriented and businesslike. The endorsement of Nepal’s proposals in this regard has been an important step towards institutional reform, simplification of work procedure, and focus on implementation.
There is a clear need for recollection of the past. May be we are giving too much focus on declaring our intents and are slow in implementing our pledges. Instead of continuation of proliferation of documents and institutions, it is about a time that we started focusing on making doable and achievable commitments. Instead of long declarations and commitments, we should rather stress on implementing what had already been agreed upon. Most importantly, we should stick to the deadlines we have set for ourselves. We should continue to allow the Secretary General the required flexibility to fix the meetings in consultation with the hosts and to implement our decisions. We may also consider meeting for our Summit at a fixed date each year, as recommended by our Foreign Ministers.
Ours is a region full of prospects, commonalities, and potentials. It is a cradle and continuum of ancient civilizations, place of origin of world’s greatest religions, melting pot of great cultural diversity, and reservoir of vast human and natural resources.
But our region is also beset with problems, paradoxes and differences. We have the largest concentration of poor in the world. Terrorism continues to haunt us. We are among the least integrated regions in the world, yet very slow in regional cooperation.
We should transform it into a region in which peoples, goods, services and technology move freely across the borders; the motor and railways systems are integrated; and pipelines, transmission lines and telephone lines are connected in a grid. We should respond to the world’s problems such as the challenges and opportunities of globalization as a united bloc. We should harmonize our economic policies and register a high economic growth. We should utilize and exploit our fullest human, natural and economic potentials and distribute the fruits of development to our peoples evenly and equitably.
In the last 18 years since its establishment, the SAARC has made some significant strides. Today it has created its own identity, space, and position in the world arena. Slow but steady, it has shown repeated resurgence despite delays and postponements. We have developed a huge network of institutions and mechanisms. Key areas of cooperation have been identified and substantive cooperation has begun in poverty alleviation, economic cooperation and social development. The SAARC has also provided opportunity for informal bilateral discussions between us helping to resolve our problems. The SAARC has traversed a journey with renewed commitments and reiterations for forging a more enhanced level of cooperation in the region.
We should strive to move further ahead for our collective advantage and for raising the quality of lives of millions of our peoples. We have cherished the ultimate goal of pursuing and achieving a roadmap of sustained socio-economic development of our region.
It is in this spirit that I pledge Nepal’s renewed commitment to the realization of our common objectives.