SAARC Its Challenges and Prospects

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to share some of my thoughts with such a distinguished gathering present here. Indeed, the talk programme is being organized at an opportune time. Nepal is playing host to the 18th SAARC Summit. It is a matter of great pride for us that Nepal will be on the international and regional spotlight this time around for a better reason. I thank United Nations Association of Nepal, Centre for South Asian Studies and Asso.Prof. Dambar Bir Thapa and Mr. Nishchal Nath Pandey in particular for providing me with this opportunity.

South Asia is a cradle of ancient civilizations and cultures possessing the precious treasures of cultural pluralism, religious diversity and multi-ethnicities and vast potential resources. Born in 1985 in order to promote the ideals of peace, nonviolence, international understanding and cooperation among the South Asian people SAARC has been effortful to meet people’s expectations and aspirations on one hand and on the other to fulfill the objectives enshrined in its charter.

Mr. Chairman,

SAARC embodies the vision of our leaders to create a peaceful, prosperous and stable South Asia through promoting regional economic cooperation. The initial phases were full of promises. The leaders were able to agree on a number of landmark agreements thus, laying the foundation for accelerating regional economic development.

Yet, if we look back at the periods spanning three decades, in term of achievements, there is little to feel satisfied. The challenges that the countries of the region faced in the early eighties remain more or less the same. Widespread poverty, energy crisis, terrorism and of late the growing threat of climate change continue to bedevil us.

SAFTA marks a milestone in taking the regional cooperation ahead. But, it has failed to make a difference significantly in boosting regional trade and creating investment opportunities- a necessary condition to address poverty. I must say, it suffers from tardy implementation due mainly to the lack of conviction and differing perceptions of the member nations. Naturally, this has had a deleterious effect on rapid regional economic integration. Similarly, there are a number of other important agreements, which are awaiting effective implementation.

Mr. Chairman,

Talking about poverty alleviation programs, I am aware that it requires a multi-dimensional approach and solution. The level and concentration of poverty in each SAARC member country vary. Even in our country, concentration of poverty in the west as compared to the east is quite different and severe, requiring a region specific program intervention.

Therefore, I feel any poverty reduction programs have to be tailored to the country specific needs. A massive regional project to reduce poverty may not yield desired result. I think, each member country should be allowed to identify the poverty-stricken community in the country and formulate plans accordingly. Suggestions and recommendations of concerned experts from the SAARC countries, together with the sharing of best practices during the plan formulation stage can go a long way in developing realistic country-specific poverty reduction plans.

Apart from poverty, terrorism continues to be our biggest challenge. We must be candid enough to admit that we have failed to combat this menace effectively, despite the SAARC instrument we signed and exchanged decades ago. Many member countries have become the victim of worst terrorist attacks. However, collective efforts to fight against the menace of terrorism are not visibly forthcoming.

Needless to say, terrorism is the worst enemy of mankind in its desire to live in peace, enjoying progress and prosperity. It retards socio-economic development endeavors, obstructs cooperative environment and contributes to the erosion of mutual trust among countries. Therefore, I am of the view that all the member countries should not only strive but also be seen making collective efforts in the fight against this scourge.

Energy crisis is yet another challenge for the region. Almost all the countries are energy deficit. Most of the countries have been reliant on non-renewable energy sources to meet their development requirements. The nuclear energy considered to be a clean energy source has also come under serious scrutiny following the nuclear disaster in Japan. The relatively safe and environment friendly source of clean energy is undisputedly the hydropower. Nepal has abundant potential for hydropower development and perhaps a new regional thinking is necessary to harness this clean energy for the progress of the region. I wish to underline that meaningful regional cooperation in this area, therefore, should be, among others, the major focus of the 18th SAARC Summit in Nepal.

Climate change is as much a regional issue as it is global. Nepal is already beginning to bear the brunt of the climate change. Our glacial lakes in the Himalaya regions are witnessing gradual melting, consequent upon the effect of the global warming. Like terrorism, this is an issue of immense cross- border implications. In the upcoming SAARC Summit, the SAARC member countries must pay high attention to this issue and forge a collective regional response to reinforce global efforts to meet its challenges.

Mr. Chairman,

I have briefly touched upon some of the major challenges that SAARC countries have been facing. There may be other equally pressing areas of cooperation that I may not have been able to touch. Nevertheless SAARC, during the last 27 years of its existence, has evolved, despite its obstacles, an important regional organization capable of catering to the interest, aspirations and concerns of the people of this region and holding promise of a better future for them.

Before concluding, let me also share my thoughts on our own domestic situation. In Nepal, as you all know changes of monumental proportion have occurred in the political arena. But, we are still grappling with how to institutionalize those changes. The interminably long transition and the growing inter-party mistrust have worried us all as much as our friends from the international community.

Perhaps, Nepal, at this point in time, find itself in one of the most difficult periods of its history. This is a moment of truth for all of us and at the end of the day hopefully reason and sanity will prevail on our key political parties to forge national unity, consensus and understanding as advocated relentlessly and practiced faithfully by late Girija Prasad Koirala. On this optimistic note, I wish to conclude my brief remarks.

Thank you all

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