SAARC is common vehicle for peace and prosperity in SA: Ex Nepal PM

Telegraph Nepal

I would like to congratulate both the Centre for South Asian Studies and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation for this noble initiative of not only organizing this conference but for also bringing in so many well-known luminaries from across South Asia. A warm welcome on my personal behalf and on behalf of my party to Dr. Friedbert Pfiuger, former Deputy Minister of Defence of Germany to Kathmandu. While underscoring the old and cooperative relations that we enjoy in our relations with Germany, may I also mention the special bond of closeness that the people of Nepal feel towards our German friends which I am sure you will experience during your few days here.

The 17th SAARC Summit is being held in The Maldives in just a few days from today. Being the only regional organization in South Asia comprising of all 8 South Asian countries, it possesses hopes and aspirations of the teeming millions of our region aspiring for a better future out of destitute and poverty. Since 1985 when the SAARC was established, we have made numerous commitments and created several laudable frameworks to provide enabling structures for cooperation in a wide-range of areas. There is no doubt that SAARC is our common vehicle for ensuring peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.

However, we must not be overly complacent. All of you are aware that despite of the’ great expectations that we have from the SAARC, it has fallen short of delivering from the pledges and promises that it itself undertook in the last 26 years of existence. Therefore the 17th Summit must erect clearly identifiable signposts to direct our collective future. As I had said in my address to the 16th Summit held in Thimpu, “When we speak about the roadmap, the most common denominator is that SAARC is all about regional integration — economically, culturally, and socially. It is about inclusive growth and development of the region. It is about greater connectivity and easier movement of goods and people in the region. It is about eventually an economic union, with a common market and common currency for optimum utilization of resources in the region and for their shared benefits to our people.” Therefore, given the momentum of global economic activity and the dramatic advancements of India and China, regional integration must be given the top most priority and we must open doors to the free flow of people, goods, services and capital. Time has come for us to start implementing with sincerity and move ahead to achieve the goals and objectives for a cohesive and prosperous region.

Some academics and writers have diagnosed the shortcomings of SAARC as having been the result of a general lack of political will. Being part of the Nepali delegation to the 8th Summit held in New Delhi in 1995 as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and the last Summit in Thimpu as leader of the Nepali delegation, I found intense passion and commitment of the SAARC Heads of States and governments towards the goals and objectives of SAARC and a broad consensus that it has to turn itself into a robust, agile and dynamic organization similar to the ASEAN and the EU. During the Retreats, there was no disagreement amongst us on the imperative to act swiftly on decisions already reached, strengthen the SAARC Secretariat, reduce bureaucracy and red-tapism and turn the organization into a shared project of the people of South Asia. If there is any deficiency in the organizational structure, I must say, the burden lies elsewhere and certainly not at the highest political level.

One of the critical areas that I would like to point the attention of this august gathering is the dire need to strengthen and intensify regional cooperation to preserve, protect and manage the diverse and fragile eco-systems of our countries. Devastating consequences of climate change is a global phenomenon and all our countries in the region are prone to negative effects of global warming. We are a region that is experiencing the rise of the sea level such as The Maldives to the snow melts of the Himalayas in Nepal. This is an issue that I gave much importance to when I was Prime Minister and I am happy that a recommendation on ‘Energy and Environmental Security: A Cooperative Approach in South Asia’ is being released today as part of the Consortium of South Asian Think-tanks initiative.

Sensing erratic weather patterns, swinging from prolonged droughts to heavy rainfall causing flash floods and landslides and directly impacting on agriculture and food supply, I initiated a cabinet meeting in Kalapatthar at the base camp of Mt. Everest on the eve of COP-15 on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009. We sent a clear message to the international community of the looming threat of climate change to mountainous countries like Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bhutan. While we need to work together for a Hindu-Kush Initiative for Climate Change to vigorously push the agenda in regional and global climate change forums, SAARC also needs to realize that its processes will be judged by its ability to deliver concrete results on issue as vital as this. Combating trans-boundary environmental pollution, and ensuring conservation and sustainable management of natural resources must be taken up by SARAC in an earnest manner.

In conclusion, I am elated to see that a more cooperative South Asia is slowly beginning to see the light of the day through increased connectivity, people to people contacts, democratic aspirations of the people of South Asia and the South Asian consciousness that is growing among the people of our region. SAARC is budding into a people- oriented organization and this conference with participation of so many of you from the region is a testimony of this reality. You are the optimists who have not given up on the idea of a South Asian Union. You are the future of this region whether a young person like Mr. Pandey or an experienced soldier like General Banerjee, whether an academic like Prof. Swaran or Prof. Cheema or a media-person like Shahedul Anam - I am confident too that you will be able to provide strategic guidance for the future direction of SAARC with the aim to further deepen cooperation to achieve a stable, prosperous and outward-looking region.

Inaugural Statement by Hon’ble Madhav Kumar Nepal, Former Prime Minister of Nepal at the conference “Towards a More Cooperative South Asia” organized by Centre for South Asian Studies (CSAS) in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), held in Kathmandu, Nov. 7, 2011:ed. Published with the permission of CSAS. 

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