Thursday, November 10, 2011

17th SAARC summit kicks off in Maldives

The 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit kicked off here on Thursday with the theme of "Building Bridges - both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue".

At the opening speech, 16th SAARC Chairman and Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Y. Thinley said, "I am deeply honored to open the 17th session in the pristine island of Addu. Holding the summit south of the equator is truly a reminder of the vastness of our region and its diversity," said Thinley.

Photo taken on Nov. 10, 2011 shows the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Addu City of Maldives. The 17th SAARC Summit kicked off here on Thursday with the theme of "Building Bridges -- both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue".

He remarked that Bhutan's chairmanship was a successful one with key developments on food security, renewable energy and establishment of the SAARC campus. He also thanked the South Asian governments for the assistance given to him during his tenure.

This was followed by the inaugural address that was made by Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed said, "I believe that the 21st Century will be Asia's century. I believe that Asia, and South Asia in particular, is becoming more powerful and more prominent than any other time in our history. In short, I believe the future is ours to shape. Our economies are booming. Our political influence is growing. And our ability to shape the course of world affairs has never been stronger."

"Our populations are youthful and energetic. Our thinkers, researchers and scientists are globally renowned. Our culture is internationally acclaimed. Our private sector companies are some of the world's largest and most profitable. For too long, South Asia was considered a sideshow in the theater of global politics. But today, we occupy center stage. The eyes of the world are upon us. This is our time to shine," said Nasheed.

The SAARC region has great wealth, he said, adding that it is possible for the people to have a decent life. He insisted that they want to live in societies of law and order so that they can have a decent life. Growing economies and deepening democracies and ensuring stability is the possibility of south Asia.

"For this we must work together. Economic stagnation in one member nation causes insecurity in another. We must integrate economically and create a political environment that creates security. There are many reasons to be positive Afghanistan remains stable and as a region we must assist them," he said.

President Nasheed said that key aspects, among others, trade and transport connection, economic integration climate change, disaster management, will be the top agenda in the summit.

Nasheed said, "The theme of this summit is building bridges. I hope one of the things we can achieve, at this and future summits is greater integration and co-operation between SAARC countries.

The Republic of Maldives declared "Building Bridges" as the theme for the 17th SAARC Summit.

"Building Bridges - both in terms of physical connectivity and figurative political dialogue. However, the notion of bridging differences would be represented as the overarching theme of the summit rather than any set diplomatic or development aims," a statement issued by the Maldivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

President Nasheed said, "Today, the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers met in the lovely setting of the Shangri La in the Maldives. These developments are extremely welcome. I hope all political parties in India and Pakistan applaud these encouraging moves. I hope this summit will be enthused with optimism. And I hope both countries can work to resolve their core issues."

Earlier in the day, Indian and Pakistan prime ministers met for talks in what seems to be one of the focal points of the summit. Increasing warmth of relations were observed during the talks between the two parties with hopes for a "new chapter" opening during the next round of talks.

At the opening ceremony of the Summit, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for all SAARC countries to work together to eliminate terrorism.

"Terrorism presents an enormous challenge to the people and SAARC needs to work together to eliminate this menace," he said. SAARC can also work together to promote culture and arts that can be used to promote tourism in the region. He welcomed a consideration to establish dialogue with partners to promote the travel industry.

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to promote fair trade in the region. He spoke positively of the progress made in SAARC, terming it as "impressive" and pointed out that many sectors including trade, transport, health and education have benefited from it.

"Our summit is taking place at a time when the West is having an economic crisis. In the meantime developing countries like ours will be squeezed for capital and markets and we should look for innovative solutions within South Asian region," he said.

Development within countries would attract foreign investors and freeing of trade between SAARC members would create benefit for all nations.

South Asia has been able to maintain a respectable growth rate and this encouraging trend has resulted in the integration of SAARC and shows the region is on the right path, Singh said.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in his address focused on the need to create solutions for the youth of South Asia.

He expressed confidence that the SAARC summit would result in more agreements that will promote trade. Belief in the people is the greatest strength for this region, he opined, urging all members to develop their potential.
The SAARC is an organization of South Asian nations, founded in December 1985 and dedicated to economic, technological, social, and cultural development emphasizing collective self-reliance. Its seven founding members are Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan joined the organization in 2007. Meetings of heads of state are usually scheduled annually; meetings of foreign secretaries, twice annually. It is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal.


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