What Thimpu means
THE heads of state/government of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives. Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka attended the two-day (April 28-29) Saarc Summit in Bhutan. It ended with a 36-point "Thimphu Silver Jubilee Declaration," which contains statement of aspirations, intentions and decisions.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her speech reminded the South Asian leaders of their responsibility towards peoples of the region. "Is it not fair that we, as their entrusted leaders, consider their dilemma seriously, determinedly rise above all our differences, and plunge with firm resolve to change their life?" she said.
She added: "I firmly believe we can, and do so we will, with some bold decisions here. I am convinced that this maiden Summit of the Kingdom of Bhutan will lead us across the threshold to a new era of peace and prosperity of our peoples."
It seems that President Nasheed of the Maldives spoke his heart out and, for the first time in 25 years, a member state took India and Pakistan head on, blaming them for making Saarc virtually non-functional.
"I hope that neighbours can find ways to compartmentalise pending differences, while finding areas on which they can move forward." And he did not stop at that: "I am specifically referring to differences between India and Pakistan," the president added.
However, the Press Trust of India said that it was "unusual" for the Maldives to talk bilateral ties in the multilateral forum of Saarc.
Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigmy Y. Thinley could not put it more bluntly than when he told the summit: "Some 200 meetings take place every year amongst Saarc countries but these meetings are not matched by results."
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh echoed a similar view, that after two decades the sub-continent remains divergent and socio-economic integration is still far away. "Regional integration is half empty. Despite the telecommunication connectivity, intra-trade and investments flow is far less compared to East and Southeast Asia," he noted.
Saarc, he added, had put in place creative institutions but they were not empowered enough to address the needs of South Asia.
In his speech, Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani called for harmony and stability in South Asia to realise socio-economic development and ensure the well-being of the people in the region. "For many years, real progress remained stalled due in part to hesitancy borne from historical legacies, differences and disputes."
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said that the most challenging threats facing the South Asia were terrorism, extremism, narcotics and organised crime, and that Saarc could be a platform for combatting these threats together.
At the Thimphu Summit, all leaders must have been aware that half of the world's poor live in the region, although it constitutes only 3 percent of the surface area of the world. The insulting poverty level in the region is not acceptable in the 21st century.
Against the above background, many decisions were adopted at the summit. Some of them are mentioned below:
-The Silver Jubilee Year should be commemorated by making Saarc truly action-oriented through implementing declarations and decisions and operating instruments to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people of the region.
-To form a "South Asia Forum" for generating debate and exchange of ideas on South Asia and its future. The forum will consist of eminent personalities from diverse backgrounds and is expected to function on a public-private partnership basis.
-To convene a "Conclave of Saarc Parliamentarians" in line with the Saarc Charter.
-Initiating a process to formulate a common Saarc policy position for the Mexico UN Conference on Climate Change in December this year.
-An action plan on energy conservation would be prepared by Saarc Energy Centre in Islamabad.
-Welcomed Bhutan's offer of a Saarc workshop on Gross National Happiness (GNH) in 2010 -- focusing on people-centric development in the region.
-Expressed their firm resolve to root our terrorism and reiterated their commitment to address illegal trafficking in drugs, firearms and people.
It is good to note that the Declaration has incorporated Bangladesh's proposal for a "Charter of Democracy" for regional cooperation and aimed at strengthening good governance.
On poverty alleviation, the leaders called for mainstreaming of the Saarc Development Goals and completion of the mid-term review of the goals as scheduled. On a Saarc Development Fund (SDF), the leaders welcomed the operations of the permanent secretariat of SDF underway, including the appointment of its chief executive officer.
On the agriculture sector, the leaders called for early consideration of the concept of a regional seed bank, regional testing and certification of seeds and framework for transfer of plant genetic material and seeds.
On interconnectivity, acceleration of intra-regional trade, water management, cooperation in energy, the leaders recognised their need but no concrete decisions appear to have been taken.
What will make the Thimphu Summit different from other summits is in the early implementation of the decisions. The Saarc, despite its difficulties, has come to stay, and because of its geo-strategic importance, the US, China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Australia, Myanmar and the European Union, have observer status.
We hope the Thimpu Summit has opened a new page of Saarc for the people of South Asia.