Thimphu: Following is the text of Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh`s opening statement at the Sixteenth
At the outset, I wish to congratulate His Excellency
the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley for his
unanimous election as Chairperson of the South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation. I assure him of India?s
I also take this opportunity to convey our deepest
appreciation to His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and
the Royal Government of Bhutan for the excellent arrangements
made for this Summit.
It is a singular pleasure for me to visit Bhutan once
again and to experience its pristine beauty and the warmth of
I wish to welcome the two new Observer countries,
Australia and Myanmar, to the SAARC fraternity.
This is to be an historic Summit. This year we mark
the twenty-fifth anniversary of our organisation. This is also
the first time that we meet in the beautiful country of
In the last few years Bhutan has witnessed momentous
changes, and I take this opportunity to wish its people even
greater prosperity, peace and progress.
Speaking at the first SAARC Summit in Dhaka in 1985,
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi described the establishment of
SAARC as an act of faith. Based on our experience so far we
can affirm that this was also an act of great foresight and
In these two and a half decades our 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.
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.
I believe we should challenge ourselves by
acknowledging that the glass of regional cooperation, regional
development and regional integration is half empty.
Intra-regional trade flows have grown and transport and
telecommunication links have expanded. Yet, the share of
intra-regional trade and investment flows in total trade and
investment flows in South Asia is far below what we see in
East and South-east Asia. It is also well below the potential.
We have created institutions for regional cooperation,
but we have not yet empowered them adequately to enable them
to be more pro-active.
We have opened new windows of cooperation. The SAARC
Development Fund, the Food Bank, the South Asian Free Trade
Agreement and the South Asian University are examples of new
institutions that will knit our region more closely together.
The challenge before us is to translate institutions
into activities, conventions into programmes, official
statements into popular sentiments. Declarations at summits
and official level meetings do not amount to regional
cooperation or integration. Regional cooperation 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.
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.
By rising to this challenge we will not only help
ourselves but also become a net contributor to global economic
and social prosperity. We can once again become part of global
trading routes and networks. We can influence the global
discourse on issues of concern to us. If we do not, we run the
risk of being marginalised and suffering from stagnation.
We are able to cooperate individually as members in
various international fora. But it is unfortunate that,
together, the people of South Asia do not have the voice they
should and could have in the global polity. The 21st century
cannot be an Asian century unless South Asia marches ahead and
marches ahead together.
There is perhaps no region more vulnerable to the
effects of climate change than ours. Bhutan has led by example
in combining development with conservation of the environment.
It is therefore most appropriate that our Summit focuses on
this important issue.
Regional cooperation can be a significant multiplier
in improving the quality of governance in managing our natural
resources, in preventing land and water degradation and in
strengthening our food, water and energy security.
We welcome the conclusion of the SAARC Convention on
Cooperation on Environment. I am happy to announce the setting
up of an ‘India Endowment for Climate Change in South Asia’ to
help Member States in meeting urgent adaptation and capacity
building needs. I would also propose the setting up of Climate
Innovation Centres in South Asia to develop sustainable energy
technologies based on indigenous resource endowments.
India has recently launched a National Mission on
Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem. The National Institute of
Himalayan Glaciology under development at Dehradun in India
could serve as a nucleus for regional cooperation in this
I have a vision of inclusive growth in South Asia both
within our countries and for the region of South Asia as a
whole. Regional and sub-regional imbalances in growth affect
all of us in varying degrees, and have led to social unrest.
This will require much greater attention in the
future, with an emphasis on development at the grassroots
level. We will have to institute the right policies in the
areas of agriculture, forestry, appropriate technologies and
South Asia is emerging as the hub of technological
innovation. The manner in which we are able to harness
technology for development will be crucial. Initiatives such
as tele-medicine and tele-education are already having a
profound effect on our societies. There is much that we can do
together and learn from one another in all these areas.
Health and human resource development are perhaps the
most compelling of the areas that impact on the dignity and
wellbeing of our people. We need to bring on the agenda issues
relating to basic education, skill development, the creation
of a scientific temper among youth, women’s empowerment and
improving the quality of nutrition.
I am happy that we are ready to begin the first
academic session of the South Asian University in August 2010.
India will provide 50 ‘SAARC Silver Jubilee Scholarships’ for
meritorious students from SAARC LDC countries for the South
Mutual respect and tolerance are part of our
civilisational heritage. So is the abhorrence of extremism,
radicalism and terrorism. Let us pledge to revive the South
Asia of our dreams that is once again a source of new ideas,
new knowledge and new opportunities.
Let us make SAARC a dynamic organisation that can
realise this collective vision for all our people.
I thank you for your attention.