Address by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the 14th
SAARC Summit, New Delhi 2007
South Asia is in the midst of an unprecedented political and economic
transformation. The political transitions, painful as they may be, are
something that each one of us has to work out for ourselves, within our
countries and between our governments.
I see signs of hope that our governments are now addressing the
bilateral political issues that have prevented us from achieving our
potential. We must now make a break with the past and join hands to
realize our common shared destiny.
There is also today economic vibrancy and social change in every
country of South Asia. Never before has it been truly within our
capacity to envisage a future where our people are free of the twin
curses of poverty and disease. It is possible today. It is here that
SAARC has the real opportunity to realize the goals of our Charter: “to
promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to accelerate
economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the
The question before us is whether we will seize this unique
opportunity that beckons us all. Can we make this association of states
touch and improve the lives of our peoples?
Connectivity — physical, economic and of the mind, enabling us to use
fully our geographical and resource endowments, has historically been
the key to our region’s peace and prosperity. South Asia has flourished
most when connected to itself and the rest of the world.
The SAARC Rally that we have just flagged off, and the popular
response that it has evoked, are graphic reminders of the potential of
connectivity. The study for a regional multi-modal transport system has
given us a useful basis to carry this work forward. As an immediate
step, I propose that we link all our capitals through direct flights.
However, the dream of full regional connectivity will not be realized
merely by building roads and railways. We must commit to actually making
the travel freer and easier. As an immediate step, India is announcing a
unilateral liberalization of visas for students, teachers, professors,
journalists and patients from SAARC countries. Let us aim to double the
intra-SAARC flow of tourists in the next five years.
We should encourage our civil society to interact and develop the
habit of cooperative thinking. Our agreement to establish a South Asia
University, as a world-class institution of learning, will be an
important symbol of the connectivity of ideas and of our youth that
would build the knowledge economies of the future.
There is an ongoing process of building an open and integrated market
from the Himalayas to the Pacific, covering a vast and dynamic economic
region. SAFTA could have a major role to play in this new emerging
India is ready to accept asymmetrical responsibilities, opening her
markets to her South Asian neighbours without insisting on reciprocity.
I am happy to announce today that we will allow duty free access to
India before the end of this year to our South Asian neighbours who are
Least Developed Countries and further reduce the sensitive list in
respect of these countries.
It is time that SAARC Region began to address global issues and to
consider how we might do so together. Energy security, food security and
climate change are all issues that impact on our development strategies
and which need our focused attention.
All of South Asia is now or will soon be short of energy. A South
Asian energy community could start by harmonizing systems and methods
and grid structures and ultimately move on to an energy exchange with
energy markets that cover the whole South Asian region.
Promoting appropriate local technologies for harnessing renewable
energy is an area we could consider for future cooperation. We are
taking a first step towards improving food security by setting up a
Regional Food Bank at this Summit. It will meet shortages and losses
caused by natural calamities such as floods and droughts.
I have a compelling vision of an inclusive, plural and rapidly
developing South Asia playing its role in an interdependent world’s
economic development and peaceful evolution.
I am therefore particularly happy that this Summit should see the
high level presence of observers from outside the region. In the coming
years, SAARC will learn to work with our partners from outside the
region evolving ways of involving them in our progress.
To realize our hopes, we need SAARC to be an efficient instrument
implementing what we member states seek.
After several years of effort, the time has come to move SAARC from a
declaratory phase to action and implementation. If we can complete work
on the tools that we need, such as the SAARC Development Fund, and work
realistically with each other, there is no reason why we cannot
translate the vision of our Charter into a solid reality.
However, a primary requirement for the fulfilment of our vision of
prosperity and cooperation in South Asia is peace.
We should therefore implement in a meaningful and sincere manner the
commitments and pledges to root out terrorism so as to create the
atmosphere in which our endeavours can succeed.
We stand today at a moment of great opportunity. It was once said
that, “positive expectations have a way of leading to positive
outcomes”. I believe that time has now come for SAARC to show that this
indeed is so. Let us work together to make it happen.