SAARC summit opens with hopes to make a difference


As the two-day 17th SAARC Summit opened on Thursday with heads of state and government attending the inaugural session at the Equatorial Convention Centre, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said terrorism, in all its form and manifestation, presented an enormous challenge to the region and the world.
“Pakistan supports efforts under SAARC at enhancing cooperation to eliminate this menace,” the prime minister said in his address. The opening of the summit was carried out by the chairman of the 16th SAARC Summit and Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lynchhen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley. President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed assumed the chair of the 17th SAARC Summit and addressed the gathering after the adoption of the agenda.
The inaugural session was also addressed by the heads of states and governments of the SAARC countries – Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India. Gilani said Pakistan attached great importance to SAARC. “Our association has come to epitomise the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of our region for peace, progress and prosperity,” he said, adding that South Asia had the potential to become an important engine for global economic growth, as it had all the necessary ingredients in terms of human and natural resources to work the economic miracle of this century. “Time has come for SAARC to lead the way in a historic transformation of our region by utilising its vast capabilities and build on the sure foundations of great civilisational heritage of the peoples of this region.” He said the theme “Building Bridges” reflected the common desire for promoting mutual understanding and reaching out to each other to create win-win scenarios, as it also resonated with SAARC’s avowed goal to enhance “Intra-regional connectivity” by 2020. Gilani stressed the need for building on inherent strengths and effectively addressing common issues such as socio-economic disparities, poverty alleviation, food security, energy security, women’s empowerment, health and education. He welcomed the establishment of SAARC development fund as an achievement and said this fund must be enabled to lead a region-wide developmental effort.
He said the economic development of South Asia was closely linked to the availability of energy at affordable price. “With abundant alternate energy resources available region wide, we need to collectively focus on harnessing indigenous energy production potential such as solar, wind, bio and hydel. We should also consider arrangements for trans-regional oil and gas pipelines.” Gilani expressed happiness over the concept of SAARC Energy Ring. “The way forward would be to consider regional framework arrangements on energy cooperation,” he said, adding that climate change was another common challenge confronting the SAARC region. “Having suffered from unprecedented floods in past two summers, Pakistan fully understands the urgent and compelling need for concerted and focused attention on this issue by SAARC member states. “Green South Asia” would be a befitting theme for SAARC to pursue.” In his speech, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to promote fair trade in the region. He spoke positively of the progress made in SAARC, terming it as “impressive” and pointed out that many sectors, including trade, transport, health and education have benefited from it. “Our summit is taking place at a time when the West is having an economic crisis. In the meantime developing countries like ours will be squeezed for capital and markets and we should look for innovative solutions within South Asian region,” he said. He urged for this process to continue and admitted that India had a special responsibility to make a trade liberalisation method that would reduce the sensitive list of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement.
Singh insisted that India was committed to free and fair trade in the region and dismissed concerns that smaller economies would be flooded out.