SAARC must realise its enormous potential - President
INDIA: SAARC must become a Union where we will endeavour to
achieve our political and economic pursuits. It is also high time that
it adopts a single currency, which will enhance the productivity of the
region and improve trade without barriers, President Mahinda Rajapaksa
"Countries, particularly in Europe, have come together to form
regional blocks despite major differences in language, culture,
religion, income levels and deep seated historical enmities bringing
benefits to their people that could not have been possible only a few
years ago. I am particularly concerned that SAARC has not realised its
enormous potential yet," he said, addressing the 14th SAARC Summit in
The text of the President's speech: "Mr. Chairman, let me
congratulate you on your election as the chairman of the 14th SAARC
Summit. Your stewardship will no doubt see SAARC meet the challenges of
the 21st century, based on the goals set for the third decade of its
journey. Sri Lanka will wholeheartedly extend its cooperation and
assistance to the Government of India in its position as the new Chair
I take this opportunity to pay my tribute to the outgoing Chair,
Bangladesh. I compliment Lyenpo Chenkyab Dorji, Secretary General of
SAARC and his team for their commitment.
I also take this opportunity to extend a warm welcome to Afghanistan,
the most recent addition to SAARC membership.
Our region is the proud inheritor of a unique historical tradition.
Our common contribution to religion, art, literature and moral values is
second to none. But, today, we are a region of contrasts. There are
significant disparities in GDP, income levels, natural resources,
SAARC, as I see, today stands at a critical point. A large majority
of our peoples are living in rural environments. We should pause for a
moment to ask ourselves, "What have we really done for our rural
masses?" Whilst we like to have sprawling cities in our countries,
haven't we neglected the majority of our people, the rural poor? The
little we have done in our rural areas has been small initiatives. Most
villages stand with little or no basic infrastructure.
Our region, home for over one fifth of the global population, must
focus on the livelihoods of most of our people. Let us not forget that
the entire SAARC region is still seriously affected by poverty, although
during the last two decades, we have concentrated on reducing it.
However, for most people in our region life is far from satisfactory.
We, as leaders, therefore, have an enormous responsibility on our
shoulders to deliver now, and not wait for the future.
We should be able to transform our people to be the producers for the
world given the diversity and the rich soils of our region. I request
this august forum, to adopt a resolution to work with dedication and
commitment to uplift the quality of our people in the rural areas.
Undoubtedly, this summit must resolve to improve the indices relating to
poverty within the next three years, through positive and fast action.
I am a strong believer of practicality. While endorsing and fully
subscribing to the values of SAARC, we badly need to be action oriented
rather than dependent on rhetoric. Merely saying good things about each
other and ignoring the reality will take us nowhere.
Therefore, all what we have endorsed over the years, must without any
further delay, be transformed into action.
Promotion of intra-regional trade is important to realise the goals
enshrined in the SAARC Charter to improve the image of the region as a
viable economic powerhouse.
We must have a region-centric approach to make the SAFTA work in a
real sense and give it effective force. I believe that a sincere
commitment and a strict timetable to implement the SAFTA will lead to
whole of South Asia becoming one massive region for enhancement of
Coincidentally, year 2007 has been named the "South Asia Year of
Tourism". Tourism is one of the most lucrative trades that has not been
fully tapped and developed systematically in our region.
Our governments need to find new avenues to develop inter-regional
and intra-regional tourism in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.
More intra-regional travel will promote people to people contact we have
advocated for so long. Further, this initiative will help our peoples to
begin to appreciate the different cultures, different religions and
multitude of traditions in our region.
Deviating from economic issues, I wish to touch upon the question of
human rights in the region - an issue that is close to my heart and
which has been a critical motivating force in my political career. Human
rights have been a part and parcel of the great cultural tradition of
the sub-continent for Millennia. The edicts of Emperor Asoka scattered
around the sub-continent are an ample testimony to that.
Guided by the principles of our great religions, we have respected
the rights of our fellow human beings, and it has not been necessary for
us to wait for the calamity of global wars or the deaths of millions due
to misguided philosophies to recognise their value.
We, in our region, will continue to protect and advance human rights,
including economic rights, despite having to struggle with differences
and the poverty left behind by centuries of colonial domination.
Speaking of terrorism, no country could sustain itself and flourish
without addressing the need to maintain security and no country could
afford to limit their resolve to the eradication of terrorism to a mere
subset of national security.
Terrorism anywhere is terrorism and is a global menace. Unless we act
collectively as a region, trans-border terrorist groups will find safe
havens in other parts of the region. 'Modern day terrorists operate in a
multi-dimensional fashion. They operate politically, militarily,
financially and ideologically.
Therefore our effort to curb this menace should also be multi-pronged
and sustained and far reaching and must include their sources of
sustenance. We need to implement the provisions of the International
Agreements on terrorism related matters with zest and enthusiasm.
The recent air attack at Katunayake by the LTTE must attract
attention of all of us to the fact that our region as a whole is not
safe from the barbaric terrorist groups. I wish to appeal therefore to
this august forum to work jointly on a counter terrorism strategy for
our entire region to defeat terrorism.
My government has placed great emphasis on eradicating terrorism and
making Sri Lanka a safe place for our people. It is not lost on us,
however, that terrorism, whilst needs to be suppressed, also has to be
grappled with, on a political platform.
Mr. Chairman, I am very much in agreement with your proposal to
establish a South Asian university. I whole-heartedly agree with you
that this institution should be a Centre of Excellence, which will work
towards promoting a common identity and a sense of togetherness within
the SAARC region.
Brilliant minds that are in our rural areas, yet undiscovered, will
be able to benefit out of this great initiative. This university need
not be confined to one country. We need to ensure that learning is
borderless and that any student in any of our countries could benefit
out of this unique initiative.
The time has come to move away from 'fancy rhetoric' and give way for
action and relentless effort in our resolve to achieve the collective
aspirations of all of us.
In conclusion, may I therefore be permitted to quote a great son of
the region, Emperor Asoka, (I quote) 'May my sons, grandsons, and great
grandsons strive for the welfare of all mankind. But this is difficult
without great and sincere effort."
May the Noble Triple Gem Bless you all!