Thursday, April 29, 2010

16th SAARC Summit: 25th Anniversary of Founding

The 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit concluded on 29 April in Bhutan's capital Thimphu। SAARC, an economic and political organization, includes Bhutan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Summit also marked the 25th anniversary of its founding। Anniversaries generally are times of introspection and resolve. When it is the 25th there is all the more reason to do so.

SAARC has come a long way since its inception। Though it may not be able to match the record of the EU in terms of economic and fiscal integration the results achieved are remarkable. This is especially so in view of the strained relations between its two giant members - India and Pakistan. Actually the unresolved problem between them has been the single most deterrent to its rapid progress. However, that the South Asian nations have been able to achieve significant economic integration despite that divide is a sign of the maturity of its leaders including those of India and Pakistan.

By now SAARC has the institutional mechanisms to further strengthen its diverse unifying mechanisms. The South Asian agreement of cooperation in fighting terrorism is a case in point.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, Maldives' President Mohamed Nasheed, and Bhutan Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley attended the two-day summit.

Major Issues Discussed
At the end of the Summit, the leaders agreed on the following major issues:

1। The leaders noted Bangladesh's proposal to convene an inter-governmental meet in Dhaka on the SAARC charter of democracy.

2। SAARC countries might consider Bhutan's experience with the concept of Gross National Happiness and welcomed Bhutan's offer to host a SAARC workshop on GNH in 2010.

3। They noted that while climate change impacted every country, the SAARC member states as developing countries were shouldering a major burden, in spite of having contributed least to the problem. They emphasized that global negotiations should be guided by the principles of equity, and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities as enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate change. They underscored the need to initiate the process to formulate a common SAARC position for COP16.

4। Leaders called for focus on water management and conservation and development of cooperative projects at regional level.

5। The leaders strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and expressed deep concern over the threat which terrorism continues to pose to peace and security and economic stability of the region. They emphasized the need to strengthen regional cooperation to fight terrorism and crime.

6। Action plan on energy conservation would be prepared by the SAARC energy center, Islamabad with inputs from the member states and submit to the inter-governmental mechanism for consideration.

7। Leaders noted the proposal from India for preparing a roadmap for developing a SAARC market for electricity (SAME) on a regional basis.

8। The leaders took note of the reports of the steering committee of the South Asian university, and appreciated the progress being made towards establishing the university.

India's Announcement
India has announced setting up of a fund that would help South Asia effectively meet urgent adaptation and capacity building needs posed by climate change and also proposed establishment of innovation centers in the region to develop sustainable energy technologies. India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the announcement at the 16th SAARC Summit that began here with an apt theme - 'Toward a Green and Happy South Asia'.

He also proposed setting up of climate innovation centers in South Asia to develop sustainable energy technologies based on indigenous resource endowments and welcomed the conclusion of the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment.

Noting that India has already launched a national mission in sustaining the Himalayan ecosystem, the Indian Prime Minister said the initiative could serve as a nucleus for regional cooperation in this vital area.

Singh said there was perhaps no region more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than South Asia and lauded Bhutan's efforts in combining development with conservation of the environment.

The SAARC Council of Ministers on 27 April agreed to seek observer status at the climate talks scheduled to be held in Cancun, Mexico in December to better articulate the concerns of the region.