SAARC Summit: PM pitches for freer movement in South Asia

16th SAARC Summit begins

SAARC Summit: PM pitches for freer movement in South Asia

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with his Bhutanese counterpart Jigme Y Thinley (R) on his arrival at Paro Airport in Bhutan on Wednesday. PTI



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Addressing the 16th SAARC Summit here, he regretted that the share of intra-regional trade and investment in total trade and investment flows in the region was far below that of East and South-East Asia and much less the potential.

"The 21st century cannot be an Asian century unless South Asia marches together," Singh said as he underlined the need for translating regional institutions into activities, conventions into programmes and official statements into popular sentiments.

"I have a vision of inclusive growth in South Asia both within our countries and for the region of South Asia as a whole," Singh told the Summit attended by leaders from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

"Regional and sub-regional imbalances in growth affect all of us in varying degrees, and have led to social unrest," he said, adding "This will require much greater attention in the future, with an emphasis on development at the grassroots level."

Pressing for greater regional cooperation, he said it should enable freer movement of people, of goods, of services and of ideas.

"It should help us re-discover our shared heritage and build our common future," Singh said.

"We must ask ourselves what kind of South Asia we wish to create for our present and future generations? At this anniversary Summit we should renew our compact to build a region that is better connected, better empowered, better fed and better educated," he said.

He said South Asia can once again become part of global trading routes and networks and "influence the global discourse" on issues of concern to the region. "If we do not, we run the risk of marginalisation and stagnation."

Noting that SAARC member countries are able to cooperate individually as members in various international fora, he said, it was, however, "unfortunate that, together, the people of South Asia do not have the voice they should and could have in the global polity."

Singh said over the last two-and-a-half decades South Asian sub-continent has been witness to much progress. "Yet, each one of our countries, and our region as a whole, has a long way to go in fulfilling the aspirations of our people," he said.

"In looking back at these two and a half decades we can claim the glass is half full, and compliment ourselves, or, we can admit the glass is half empty and challenge ourselves," the Prime Minister said.

He said the SAARC countries should "challenge ourselves by acknowledging that the glass of regional cooperation, regional development and regional integration is half empty."

Singh said that by rising to this challenge, "we will not only help ourselves but also become a net contributor to global economic prosperity."

The Prime Minister said SAARC has created institutions for regional cooperation, "but we have not yet empowered them adequately to enable them to be more pro-active."

He referred to the remarks of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the first SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 1985, where he described the establishment of the body as an act of faith. "Based on our experience so far, we can affirm that this was also an act of great foresight and statesmanship," Singh said.

"We have opened new windows of cooperation," he said, while describing the SAARC Development Fund, the Food Bank, the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and the South Asian University as "examples of new institutions that will knit our region more closely together."

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