بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
اَلحَمْـدُ لِلّـهِ رَبّ العَـالَمِـين، وَالصّـلاة وَالسّلام علـى سيدنا محـمَّدٍ، خاتم الأنبياء والمرسلين، وَعلـى آلـه وَصَحْبِـهِ أجمـعـين.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Prime Minister of Nepal, Excellencies, Honourable Ministers, the Secretary General, Distinguished Observers, Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen;
We have come from the shores of the lowest lying country in the region, to the highest peaks and the most beautiful valleys. I must commend Your Excellency Mr Sushil Koirala, Prime Minister of Nepal, SAARC’s new Chairman, for the excellent arrangements made for us.
I would also like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to His Excellency Mr. Arjun Bahadur Thapa, on his assumption of office as the Secretary General of our Association.
During our recent Chairmanship, the Maldives took a keen interest in institutional reform of the organisation. We sought to make SAARC more relevant, goal-oriented, and results-based. We listened to the often heard saying that SAARC was very efficient in having meetings regarding every aspect of South Asia, but less effective in delivery than perhaps we had hoped to be. We wanted SAARC to move towards regional resilience; to make SAARC an organisation that gives the people of this region a collective and common identity; one that made South Asians proud.
I congratulate you, the Member States, and the ever-so diligent Secretariat, on delivering reforms that are necessary and essential.
Our engagement with other regions and countries has been revitalised. I have no doubt that there is, indeed, much scope for further strengthening such ties. We live in a globalised world where inter-regional relations matter: we need to focus on internal regionalisation, but we also need to focus on building our relationship with other countries that are keen to work with us. Dialogue partners are interested in the advantages that our innovative, creative and youthful populations can offer. And it would only be to our benefit to engage with partners as a group, rather than individually.
The chosen theme for this Summit “Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity” encapsulates some of the core values and stated objectives of our Organisation.
This region accounts for one-quarter of the world’s population, yet as a region we hold limited sway, have limited say and we have not been heard enough, in the power rooms of the world.
The vision of our founders was clear. It was grounded on the cherished bonds of the shared civilisation, common history and culture; on the genuine desire to build relations between us; on the sacred premise that regional cooperation is mutually beneficial, desirable; and indeed necessary.
There is no doubt that the Twenty First Century is indeed the Century of Asia. Ours is the region within Asia that holds the most advantages in both human and natural resources, to benefit from global undercurrents.
I firmly believe that trade and commerce hold the key to the future prosperity of our peoples and for peace within our region. SAARC must attune itself to the realities of the day and seize the opportunities that are presented to us. We must not be left behind.
Thirty years after the inception of SAARC, how far have we managed to come towards realising the dream of our Founding Fathers? SAARC has managed to hold countless meetings. It has expanded into many fields, many services and many issues. It has contributed to building confidence and trust among the top leaders of our nations.
But, let’s take a step back. Let’s review our progress and the way ahead. Let’s rethink our priorities, our goals: the ultimate vision of what we want SAARC to be.
The last time we were here, in Nepal was at the dawn of the new millennium. At that meeting, we concentrated in a big way, on the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals, in the hope of realising poverty eradication around the region. Twelve years later, we are here again, at the cusp of the post-2015 development agenda. And yet again, we shall renew our commitment to end poverty across this region.
One such avenue to deepen our integration, to realise poverty alleviation, is trade. Commerce underscores good neighbourly relations, unlocks the doors to each other’s communities. Trade fosters mutual understanding and benefits, moving entire communities from poverty to prosperity.
If trade holds the answer to tackling poverty, eliminating barriers to trade is its linchpin. Without mutual trust, trade can never foster. And without trade, without commerce, we cannot improve the lives of our peoples.
The true potential of this region may be unlocked, and the relations between us deepened, through innovation, drive, and most importantly leadership. Regional growth and prosperity most certainly requires the contribution, cooperation and commitment of all States within the region. Yet, given the geographical, economic, and political complexities, it is natural that some States will take the lead role, and steer the region on an upward developmental trajectory.
We are particularly encouraged by the example set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We are inspired, Excellency, by your various initiatives, in this short period of time, towards strengthening regional relationships including the “neighbourhood first” policy. These are steps in the right direction, a signal of the renewed activism with which India is facing SAARC. As Prime Minister Modi noted in his inaugural address, the one occasion where all SAARC Leaders met outside of a SAARC Summit, South Asia has overcome enormous challenges, passed huge obstacles to get to where we are, to secure our independence, so there is no question about our potential to secure a prosperous future for our peoples.
As a region, SAARC has the right, and surely has the might, to make it one of the most powerful regions in the world. Yet we continue to be led, rather than lead. Even when we continue to progress and bring development to our countries, poverty and destitution remain rampant. Despite our share of the global population, we have no collective voice.
Our region will be one of the most affected by climate change. Yet we continue to be complacent in taking action as a group. We continue to leave climate change on the back burner. The Maldives, as the next Chair of AOSIS, will be looking to our friends for support during the crucial years ahead.
I ask you, should we not demand for what we want? Should we not stand up for what we believe? Dare we not speak up for what is right for our people? Is it not time, Excellencies, that we stand up to receive our share, raise our voice, in the international arena?
Is it not time that we forge common positions on critical issues of importance, and defend them ardently? Individually, most of the countries in this region, are too small to hold a loud voice, yet collectively, we can cross oceans and scale mountains. It is time that we start putting “South Asia first”.
Our challenge today is to work towards peace, security and economic sustainability in the SAARC region; to harness the full potential of every corner of this region; to deliver prosperity that is felt by every individual, seen in every community, realised in every country, and appreciated by the rest of the world; to transform SAARC from a group of aspirations to an Association of actions and results.
Next year SAARC celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. It is also a time of celebration and joy in the Maldives, as we celebrate our Golden Jubilee of Independence. Such milestones not only offer us an opportunity to look back on what has been achieved. It is, more importantly, an opportunity to chart the course for the future, reaffirm resolve and reassess priorities. I firmly believe that, at this important juncture, our priorities for future collaboration and cooperation should be the 4 “P”s – peace, prosperity, progress, partnership.
The objectives of SAARC were not in doubt. The potential of South Asia is not in doubt. The resolve of its leaders and expectation of its peoples must not be in doubt. And, hence, the success of the Organisation will surely not be in doubt.
As the last speaker of this distinguished gathering, I’m particularly happy and duty bound to acknowledge the contributions of my predecessor speakers, and I’m particularly encouraged by the parting words Prime Minister Modi has expressed towards making SAARC a real success. I congratulate Mr. Prime Minister.
The success of this organisation should not be held in doubt. Big or small, in the south or in the north, we are bound by common identities; we are bound by a common culture. Each one of us has a contribution to make this region a success.
The lives and livelihoods of a billion people are in our hands. It is time, my distinguished colleagues, we show leadership, and we walk the talk.