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Opening Remarks by Foreign Secretary at SAARC Standing Committee Meeting on the SAARC Secretary General's Report

April 25, 2010

Thank you Mr. Chairperson

Let me begin by congratulating you on your election as Chairperson of the 37th Session of the Standing Committee. I have no doubt that SAARC will be greatly benefited by your able leadership. I also wish to express, on behalf of my delegation and my own behalf, grateful thanks to the Royal Government of Bhutan for the warm hospitality accorded to us and the excellent arrangements for the Meeting. It is indeed a pleasure to be here in this beautiful city of Thimphu.

I also wish to place on record our appreciation of the stewardship of the former Chair, Sri Lanka, of our Association. We have seen significant forward movement during their tenure.

I would like to thank the Secretary General of SAARC, H.E. Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma, and his very able team of officers and staff, for the valuable preparatory work that has gone into making a success out of the Summit and its preceding meetings.

In considering the Periodic Analytical Report before us, I wish to, at the outset, commend the Secretary General for presenting a very comprehensive assessment of the progress achieved in SAARC on various issues of regional cooperation since the last session of the Standing Committee.

As several issues raised in the report would be revisited under specific agenda items, I would like to restrict our intervention, at this stage, to general comments on some of the key issues raised in the Report. Our specific comments would be made against individual agenda items.

In perusing the report it becomes evident that valuable progress has been achieved in developing a regional framework of cooperation in areas such as environment, energy, agriculture and rural development, food security, health, trade and transportation. SAARC has also facilitated slow but sure steps towards greater cooperation in the security sector and in the prevention of trafficking of women and child development. Increased people-to-people interaction has been facilitated by greater cultural and social exchanges under the auspices of SAARC.

The thrust of most of these regional projects and activities is at grassroots levels where the results are less visible but far more significant and rewarding. Each of the areas of cooperation under SAARC has a direct bearing on the lives and livelihoods of the people of our region. Our leaders have correctly identified the focus of SAARC as being development oriented.

In the last few years, SAARC has also been laying the institutional framework for greater regional cooperation. For the first time, regional institutions are being created in the form of the South Asian Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) in Dhaka, the SAARC Arbitration Council in Islamabad, the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in Thimphu and the South Asian University in New Delhi.

In this 25th year of SAARC, we can take satisfaction from the fact that SAARC has evolved into a service provider for the economic and development needs of the people of the region.

At the same time, this milestone also provides us with an opportunity to introspect on the experience of the last 25 years and the course we need to chart in the future not only to maintain, but to accelerate, the momentum SAARC has achieved in the recent past.

Let me say that we deeply appreciate the very substantive contributions made by the Chair, Bhutan, in the conceptualization of the main theme of our current Summit: i.e. towards a green and happy South Asia. Bhutan has led the way among all of us in enshrining respect and sensitivity for environmental concerns and the preservation of our precious environmental space. The inspiration and the initiative of Bhutan in this area, and indeed, in all the preparations undertaken to make this Summit possible, are genuinely appreciated. Let us derive impetus from this to work towards a Summit Declaration that is focused, incisive, visionary, and future-oriented as a lasting outcome of our Summit.

In concluding my opening remarks I wish to acknowledge the contribution of the Secretary General and the Secretariat in steering SAARC through the extensive range of its programmes and activities with the professional skill and expertise we have come to expect. To have achieved this with a "zero growth budget”, that has rendered our regional enterprise cost effective and productive, is indeed creditable.

Thank You.

April 25, 2010


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