Remarks by Chairperson Hon’ble Sujata Koirala at the session on ‘Deepening Integration through Enhanced Connectivity in South Asia from Poverty Reduction Perspective’

We have come to the end of the session. I would like to thank Ms. Rajju Malla Dhakal for her comprehensive paper on ‘Deepening Integration through Enhanced Connectivity in South Asia from Poverty Reduction Perspective’ and excellent presentation.

I thank distinguished commentators on her paper. Hon. Lal Babu Yadav, and Prof. Dr. Gopal Pokhrel for their insightful comments on the paper.

While talking of ‘Deepening Integration through Enhanced Connectivity in South Asia’ we are reminded of the eighteen SAARC summit held in Kathmandu in 2014 with the theme: Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity. I think this captures the needs and urgencies of works that we need to do in the region. Connectivity is the lifeline of any nation and it is indispensible for promoting peace, progress and prosperity. Ms Malla’s presentation examines the connectivity from different perspectives.

I personally feel that while assessing the SAARC process and its spirit, we need to look at how SAARC started and also think of difficult circumstances at its birth, and regional situation prevailing at present, and the context of evolving dynamics of relations in bilateral relations.

SAARC started more on cautious note than on enthusiastic spirit. It has done too much and too little in 27 years. Too much in terms of expressing commitments and nurturing apprehensions, and too little in actions in opening up their minds to each other.

SAARC has been a silent observer of growth and development process elsewhere. It remains left out from successful economic arrangements forged in other regions. Given the right mix of policies, priorities and abundance of resources in the region, SAARC remains the best hope of the region.

As we all know SAARC economic road map has been too slow and painful. A doable and implementable road map is needed. SAARC has spread like a tree that has produced no fruits. What we need today is to trim the unproductive portion and focus on nurturing of what could yield fruitful results to make the organization more relevant to the daily life of the common people.

As we all know, SAARC is the most politicized region and it appears least equipped to deal with the fundamental causes of the conflict. I feel that closer integration and a dense networks of connectivity-rail, road, air, even water navigation and enhanced people to people contacts would greatly contribute towards bringing the people together and addressing the most pressing issues of the day.

SAARC has a mixed bag, and it has exhausted its potential as an intergovernmental movement. It has become the victim of Government’s lethargy, bureacratic inhibitions and national prejudices, as was aptly remarked by Prof. Mahendra Lama earlier today. We now need imaginative ideas. Moving from capital to capital is no solution.

‘Governments have to listen and act what the people want.’ SAARC suffers from the lack of political will as has been mentioned by Ms. Dhakal in her presentation. This is compounded by the non-implementation of decisions, over ambitious goals, overlapping organizations and endemic poverty among others.

The SAARC process has become irreversible and taking it further is a matter of compelling urgency. I am reminded of a saying by one of the leaders, ‘we may have differences, which region does not? However, we should not allow this to come in the way of forging positive ties of economic cooperation which would benefit the entire region.’

SAARC has every potential to develop as a vibrant regional cooperation organization for advancing regional integration and act as confidence building measures. SAARC meetings provide platform for bilateral discussions, though bilateral issues are excluded from SAARC. Retreat for leaders is the finest beauty of SAARC and remains a unique strength for it to continue. SAARC countries as a group can offer more than they do individually.

SAARC should be a vehicle of vision and voice of reason. It has missed several opportunities. SAARC process needs to be backed by rigorous researches and policy discourses.

I accompanied my father Girija Prasad Koirala to attend the 7th SAARC summit in Dhaka. I remember what he told the leaders there. He said, and I quote, ‘poverty is our biggest threat. Empty stomach becomes a devil’s workshop ‘. unquote. When people have no work, and no food to eat, they are inclined to engage in destructive things for their survival by easy means. I think is what is happening in the region. It is from the nursery of these empty minds and empty stomachs that terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, crimes of all sorts to the fore. These are our common enemies and we all have to come together and work together to feat these sources of evils, and take the marginalized people and mainstream them in the process.

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