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January 4, 2004

PM's speech at the 12th SAARC Summit

“I join my other colleagues in congratulating the Prime Minister of Pakistan on his taking over as Chairman of SAARC. I would like to convey our sincere appreciation to the Government of Pakistan for the excellent arrangements made for this Summit, and for the warm hospitality extended to our delegation.

I also join other delegations in commending the immediate past Chairman – Nepal – for the energy and dedication with which it guided SAARC activities during these last two years. This was in spite of the many important domestic preoccupations of His Majesty’s Government of Nepal. The spadework for many of today’s successful outcomes was done in the various meetings of Ministers and officials in Kathmandu.

At the last Summit in Kathmandu, I had said that, at sixteen years of age, SAARC needed a dose of economic and social realism to move from adolescence to adulthood. Our organization is now 18 years old. I think we can look back with considerable satisfaction over what we have achieved since the last Summit. We have finalized a Social Charter. We have moved forward on Preferential Trading arrangements and have concluded a framework agreement for SAFTA.

We have agreed on an additional protocol, which significantly updates our 1987 Convention against Terrorism. Our Independent Commission on Poverty Alleviation has done sterling work in putting together a set of substantive recommendations for a regional approach to poverty alleviation.

Much more remains to be done. In its 18 years of existence, SAARC has created high expectations amongst the people of the region. We should be candid in accepting that these expectations have not been fulfilled in the measure of the potential. The benefits of SAARC have not yet touched the lives of ordinary people.

A Group of Eminent Persons, which we set up after the Male Summit, had reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of SAARC and made certain recommendations for its improvement. We are still debating how to make progress on many of these recommendations. We need to move from the realm of ideas to plans of action. Our statements of good intentions have to be translated into programmes for implementation.