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Build Bridges Of Minds And Hearts: PM @SAARC

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Regional integration in its real sense can be advanced only when there is an intermingling of people and ideas, says PM Bhattarai, addressing the 18th SAARC summit in the Maldives.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has underlined the need to develop SAARC as an institution in tune with the 21st century. Addressing the summit he said: "Yes, we must build physical bridges among ourselves, but more important would be to build the bridges of minds and hearts. We believe regional integration in its real sense can be advanced only when there is an intermingling of people and ideas."

What follows is the complete text of his address:


Text of Statement by PM Baburam Bhattarai at the 17th Meeting of the Heads of State or Government of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Addu City, Maldives, November 10, 2011

Mr. Chairman
Excellencies
Distinguished Delegates and Observers
Ladies and Gentlemen

At the outset, may I express my warm congratulations to Your Excellency, President Mohamed Nasheed, on your assumption of the Chair of the SAARC. I am fully confident that with your vision, wisdom and leadership, SAARC will be led to a newer height of dynamism and success during your tenure.

2. I would like to express our gratitude to Your Excellency and through you to the Government and the people of Maldives for the warm reception and generous hospitality extended to us ever since our arrival in these pristine islands and for the excellent arrangements made for the Summit. I congratulate Your Excellency, President Nasheed, for putting an extra and gratifying effort to expand the outreach of the Summit to the southern hemisphere.

3. I also take this opportunity to express our appreciation to His Excellency Lyonchhen Jigme Y. Thinley, the outgoing Chairman of our Association, for the sterling leadership provided to SAARC since the 16th Summit.

Mr. Chairman,

4. I have brought with me greetings from the 27 million toiling but proud people of Nepal, who have recently liberated themselves from the age-old feudal monarchy and autocracy. I have the distinct pleasure to share amongst our friends that the course of the peace process that we charted after years of struggle is bearing fruit through dialogue, understanding and consensus among major political actors in the country. Early this month, we made a significant breakthrough in the crucial issues of integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist army combatants and remaining issues of the framing of the new constitution through the first ever elected Constituent Assembly in the Nepalese history. This has brought the peace and the democratic process closer to its conclusion. We believe that the process of political and economic transformation should go parallel and we are resolute to deploy all our efforts to fulfill the aspirations of our people for a peaceful, stable, equal, just and prosperous future.

5. In its 26 years of existence, time has come for SAARC to take stock of achievements, identify challenges and chart out a course for future action. Despite being a cradle of major world civilizations, rich in history, culture and natural as well as unparalleled human resource endowment, our peoples' aspiration for progress and prosperity remains unfulfilled. In the midst of pockets of growth and prosperity, the region is marred by widespread poverty, inequality and unemployment. The adverse impact of environmental degradation and climate change is taking its toll on the most vulnerable for no fault of their own. Terrorism, trafficking in women, children and drugs and other transnational crimes pose serious threat to peace and stability in the region. Our intra-regional trade and investment flows remain one of the lowest in the world mainly due to constraints like poor physical connectivity, energy shortage and trust deficit. Flow of goods, people and ideas remains constrained and potentials under-realized. Implementation of SAFTA is hindered by tariff, non-tariff and para-tariff barriers and suffers from slow progress in reducing the number of items in the sensitive lists and constraints of trade facilitation.

6. Challenges abound. However, the region possesses enormous resilience and capacity to transform the challenges into opportunity. We have been able to set norms, build institutions and establish linkages among ourselves in social, economic, trade and environmental sectors. SAARC Development Fund, South Asian University, SAARC Food Bank, commencement of SAFTA, SAARC Social Charter and conclusion of a host of other regional instruments constitute important milestones. They all provide a basis for cooperation. But achievements so far have not been up to our expectations. Unleashing of the region's full potentials is what our people have been eagerly awaiting from us. This can be achieved through building on the strength of our rich endowments, including shared cultural heritage and vast network of social capital. This is where comes in the importance of the very thoughtfully conceived theme of the present Summit- Building Bridges.

7. Smooth physical connectivity is critical for building bridges in terms of mobility of goods, services, people, ideas and innovation in the region. Present state of physical connectivity poses a major constraint in realizing the long-cherished vision of the South Asian integration. The region still lacks world class network of highways, railroads, seaports and air connection. If we have any lesson to draw from other regions, connectivity perhaps comes as the most important element that we cannot further delay in emulating. It is our conviction that development of SAARC multi-modal transport system by upgrading existing infrastructure and building new ones as well as by providing smooth transit facilities to land-locked member states would greatly facilitate deeper integration of the region. The proposed draft Regional Railway Agreement and draft Agreement on Motor Vehicles should be accorded due priority for their early conclusion. Our endeavor to build bridges should touch all dimensions of South Asian lives, be it social, cultural, physical, or in terms of transportation and communications. Regional energy connectivity and energy trade also become important elements in this regard.

8. Yes, we must build physical bridges among ourselves, but more important would be to build the bridges of minds and hearts. We believe regional integration in its real sense can be advanced only when there is an intermingling of people and ideas. We note with satisfaction that the South Asian University has entered into the second year of its intake. It is an important achievement that should be complemented by similar other efforts to encourage people-to-people contact, including through collective promotion of culture, music, sports, entertainment and intra-regional tourism. It is gratifying to note that the idea of creating South Asia Forum as a mechanism for public-private partnership has been realized. The unique nature of this Forum may be preserved with an expanded base of participation in the future.

Mr. Chairman,

9. Trade constitutes the lifeblood of economic prosperity and it should be treated as such. Favorable trade and investment environment kindles economic growth, helps improve the living standards and facilitates greater interaction among the people. Elsewhere, we have seen examples of prosperity bringing about peace and stability which in turn helps consolidate democracy and mutuality of interests. There is no reason why such an experience cannot be emulated in our region with full implementation of SAFTA in its letter and spirit.

10. Effectiveness of SAFTA is contingent upon crucial factors, such as, removal of trade barriers, reduction of items in the sensitive lists, substantive and workable trade facilitation measures, and smooth transit facilities. Overcoming the hardships and capacity constraints that the LDCs in the SAARC family suffer becomes important for them to be able to augment their share of trade in the region.

11. Environmental degradation and climate change have posed serious challenges to the wellbeing of our people in the region. All our countries are prone to the devastating effects of global warming in the form of fast retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas and the dangers posed by the outburst of glacial lakes, sea level rise and erratic weather patterns and climatic disasters. The trend is likely to exacerbate. While building robust regional institutions and norms to collectively address this common challenge is essential, at the international level, they should be complemented by transfer of resources, technology, and capacity building for adaptation and mitigation.

Mr. Chairman,

12. The increasing gap between the rich and poor has given way to enormous stress on social harmony, peace and security in the region. It is a big blot on all of us that the largest number of poor in the world live in our region. This challenge demands that poverty eradication strategies be comprehensive and socio-economic and political development processes more people-centered, inclusive and equality and justice-based. Some of the internationally acclaimed poverty eradication strategies, such as, rural micro-credit scheme, have their origins in South Asia. They need further development and expansion with focus on women and disadvantaged sections of the society. Despite some quantitative changes, the fundamental politico-economic characteristics of our societies on basic class relations cannot be assumed to have undergone any qualitative change as long as we continue to lack on objective and holistic approach to development and fail to locate the solution in the need to bring about structural change in the existing archaic and retrograde relations of production, especially in the vast countryside. In the context of feminization and ruralization of poverty, our efforts to eradicate it should focus on structural changes in traditional production and social relations, promotion and industrialization of agriculture, indigenous skills and small scale industries and empowerment of women and marginalized communities. The existing regional normative standards in the social sector and the SAARC decisions and commitments need to be internalized in national policies and programs. Active and forthcoming involvement of the civil society and the private sector in the region may add value to this process.

13. The Success of the SAARC process as a whole will be judged by what we deliver to our people, and not by what ritual pronouncements we make. Commencement of the SAARC Development Fund's social window is a welcome beginning in realizing our efforts to eradicate poverty from the region. Its activities can be made more effective if they are harmonized with the priority areas enunciated in the SAARC Social Charter and the SAARC Development Goals. Early opening up of the Fund's infrastructure and economic windows is important for it to be able to bring tangible results with wider impact on the lives of the masses in the region.

Mr. Chairman,

14. Peace and security are some of the most important pre-requisites for a harmonious society. The scourge of terrorism and other transnational organized crimes perpetrated by abusing modern technology calls for cooperation, information sharing and better understanding among the law enforcement agencies of our region. While we have defined norms and mechanisms to deal with such a menace, enhancing efficacy of those mechanisms and continuous strengthening of the legal framework in tune with the changing complexities would be a useful strategy to pursue. We are committed to work closely with fellow SAARC member States in our fight against such crimes.

Mr. Chairman,

15. While we get thrilled with the international perception that the 21st century belongs to Asia, South Asia should by all means prepare itself to act and reap its fair share in the process. We the leaders should rise up to the challenge as our enterprising people rightly expect from us to create enabling environment and provide ways and means for them to fully unleash their potentials. This will surely help change the face of our region. The best we can do in the long run would be to synergize all our efforts based on the complementarities of South Asia and to realize the objectives of greater integration of the region leading to the South Asian Economic Union as envisioned by the 11th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu. For this, we need to think and act beyond the box of 'business as usual' attitude and collectively remove barriers and impediments and redeploy our combined efforts to reinforce the bonds of South Asian unity. As a founder and committed member of SAARC, Nepal stands ready to play her due role in the family of South Asian Nations. Let us turn South Asia into a power-house of growth and development and a beacon of human civilization in the 21st century. Let us collectively think big and act big.

I thank you.

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Brihát Śhānti Sámjhautā, 2006
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