Focus on climate as summit starts today
The leaders of eight South Asian nations will gather today for the two-day Saarc summit in Thimphu to take united initiative to deal with climate change and boost trade for economic development of the region.
The theme of the summit is Conservation of Environment and Climate.
The stage is set for today's opening of the 16th Saarc Summit at 1:30 pm, which is expected to outline a "new vision" for addressing other challenging issues like terrorism, poverty alleviation and regional cooperation, and further strengthen the economic integration of the South Asian countries.
Leaders will figure out ways to address the threat of climate change as an integral part and pull millions of people out of abject poverty, combat terrorism and deal more effectively with the region's natural disasters.
Thimphu is ready to hold the 16th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) comprised of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka amid tight security.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina, Indian PM Manmohan Singh, Pakistani PM Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, Nepalese PM Madhav Kumar and Bhutanese PM Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley will attend the summit, which will mark the 25th year of the establishment of the body in Dhaka in 1985.
In these 25 years, Bhutan could not host the summit for once and had skipped being the host thrice, citing lack of infrastructure. However, it has agreed to host, coincidentally, the silver jubilee of the Saarc summit on April 28-29.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who reached Thimphu yesterday, will take up the issue of climate change at the summit and it will be the burning issue in Thimphu. She is expected to emphasise the importance of a new commitment from Saarc countries in dealing issues like poverty alleviation, combined fight against terrorism, economic integration and natural disasters, while pointing out that this region not only has shared boundaries and history of civilisation but also a shared destiny.
The panoramic mountainous city has been put under a thick security blanket and it has donned a festive look as the main thoroughfares from Paro airport to the summit venue and places where the heads of the state and government of Saarc nations will reside. Hotels have been decorated with flags of the member countries and banners inscribed with welcome slogans and portraits of the leaders.
Cooperation in the aftermath of natural disasters will also figure prominently on the agenda for discussion. Sources at the Saarc Secretariat in Kathmandu said Nepal would push for an effective regional mechanism to cope with the climate change.
Also, Bangladesh and Maldives are likely to support Nepal's effort to set up a regional body, as both the countries will face the most drastic impacts of climate change.
South Asia has been hit by some of the world's worst natural disasters in recent years, including tsunami, Kashmir earthquake and Aila in Bangladesh.
The other issues likely to taken up by the summit would be energy and food crisis, and the effective implementation of Saarc Development Fund. The permanent secretariat of SDF with initial fund of $300 million will also be inaugurated during the summit.
Two agreements one on environment and another on trade in services will be signed at the summit.
In addition to making formal speeches at the summit today, Saarc leaders will have the opportunity to sit together for several times, mainly during the retreat on the concluding day tomorrow at Saarc Village.
The retreat is considered as one of the most interactive part of the summit as the heads of state and government will sit together with open agendas.
The Saarc leaders have a packed schedule with a number of bilateral meetings being worked out around the summit schedule.
Sheikh Hasina's meetings with her Indian and Pakistani counterparts will be crucial since they will discuss a whole gamut of bilateral issues. The Indian prime minister is likely to have meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister.
The summit will adopt a Thimphu Declaration that has been prepared through intensive consultations by senior officials, foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of the member countries for the last four days.