ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA
HER EXCELLENCY CHANDRIKA BANDARANAIKE KUMARATUNGA
AT THE 12TH SAARC SUMMIT - ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - 4TH JANUARY
Hon. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali
Heads of State and Government,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be present here, in this beautiful
city of Islamabad, to attend the 12th SAARC Summit. I avail myself
of this opportunity to thank His Excellency President Pervez Musharraf,
Prime Minister Jamali and the Government of Pakistan for the warm
welcome and the generous hospitality that my delegation and I
have been privileged to receive. The excellent arrangements made
for this Summit would, I am assured, contribute to the success
of this meeting.
On behalf of my Government and my own behalf, I wish to extend
to you, Prime Minister Jamali, our congratulations and good wishes
on your assumption of the Chairmanship of our Association. We
are confident Excellency, that under your wise and committed guidance,
SAARC will make positive progress on its long journey towards
the achievement of our common objectives.
Mr. Chairman, I feel encouraged by the deep commitment you have
expressed towards the SAARC process. I am personally aware of
Your Excellency's abiding interest in the progress of SAARC.
The thought provoking and constructive ideas expressed by you
today, would prove to be immensely useful in our deliberations
in the next few days.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to His Excellency the
Prime Minister of Nepal, Rt. Hon. Surya Bahadur Thapa, for his
wise leadership of SAARC under difficult circumstances. Your Excellency,
the SAARC process has indeed been enriched under your guidance.
I wish to express our deep appreciation to Secretary General
Mr. Raheem, for the significant role he has played in the implementation
of the decisions taken at the last SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.
I wish him further success in his stewardship of our Association.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies,
SAARC has during its relatively short existence traversed a difficult
path, seeking its way through the thickets of intra-regional and
bilateral tensions. Yet, I have always believed that the aspirations
of our peoples of South Asia, coupled with the necessity for an
integrated regional co-operation amongst our member States will
triumph over all obstacles. Our presence here, today, for the
convening of this Summit here in Islamabad, is proof enough of
the commitment of all member States to make SAARC a living and
dynamic force, despite the challenges that we are called upon
to face from time to time.
The vision and courage demonstrated recently by the leaders
of India and Pakistan in their efforts to resolve bilateral issues,
have infused this Summit, as well as the process of SAARC, with
a renewed sense of purpose and vigour. Our prayers and good wishes
will be with you during this historic moment in Indo-Pakistan
Our Summit takes place at a moment in the history of international
relations when regional co-operation seems to demand center stage,
as an effective means of attaining the benefits of economic co-operation
and for the protection of the rights and interests of States particularly
of developing States. Several regional organizations of North
America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific are surging ahead,
achieving great successes for their member States.
We, in South Asia, face the danger of marginalization in the
global economy and thus, even the risk of regression in the spheres
of economic and social development. But recent developments in
our region have given us great cause for hope for the future of
SAARC. The reduction of tensions between the two largest member
States of our Association gives rise to much confidence. The singularly
significant statements made by His Excellency Prime Minister Vajpayee
recently in New Delhi, at a symposium titled the "Peace Dividends-Progress
for India and South Asia", is an expression of the clarity
of his vision and his courage with regard to the promotion of
co-operation in our region.
Prime Minister Vajpayee explained there, how we could put aside
mistrust and dispel suspicions in each other, through the development
of greater economic co-operation and how we could jointly resolve
the problems of arms smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering
and other crimes.
Excellency, you went on to make a historic statement that "once
we reach that stage we would not be far from mutual security co-operation,
open borders, and even a single currency". Let us then,
resolve to move forward without further delay along the path of
our chosen collective objective of faster economic integration
in the region.
Mr. Chairman, the spirit of co-operation that recently prevailed
in the region has brought us tangible benefits.
(1) South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA)
The efforts made by all our countries to conclude SAFTA have
finally secured the finalizing of the agreement. Sri Lanka is
particularly pleased that this Summit will see the signing of
the Framework Treaty on SAFTA. This is indeed a historic step
for regional economic co-operation. We must now ensure that we
finalize the annexure in order to operationalise the treaty by
Accommodation and compromise will be required wherever economic
asymmetries exist. It is necessary that we keep in mind that short-term
losses would be compensated by the opportunities gained from trade
expansion under SAFTA.
As the pioneer South Asian State to undertake economic liberalization,
Sri Lanka welcomes the conclusion of SAFTA, even though ours is
a small and vulnerable economy. We are pleased to have made a
significant contribution to the process of trade liberalization
in our region, through the processes of SAPTA and SAFTA.
I would like to caution fellow member States that as the Secretary
General states in his report, SAFTA may not automatically lead
to enhancement of intra-regional trade. We need a number of trade
facilitation measures in order that we achieve the benefits of
SAFTA. Let us never forget that despite our geographic proximity
and certain similarities of economic infrastructure, intra-SAARC
trade still remains at an extremely unsatisfactory 5%, compared
for instance, with 38% within ASEAN.
Today, we conclude the SAFTA arrangement at a moment when the
world has arrived at the realization of some of the disadvantages
of the present multilateral trade processes, such as the WTO.
This situation has given a new relevance to regional co-operation.
We believe that SAARC could provide valuable options for South
I wish to place before this Summit that at this historic moment
when SAARC has reached the point when, with the signing of SAFTA,
we have the possibility of accelerating our progress towards social
and economic development. We would need to formulate a clear vision
and a plan of action to situate the economies of South Asia within
the global economy. We must strengthen the present arrangements
between SAARC members for consultation on WTO issues. Regular
consultations on strategies to be adopted by member States, regarding
all WTO policies and issues has become essential.
Needless to say, that we have to take into account our own specific
civilizational ethos, our cultural traditions and value systems,
when aligning our economies with the rest of the world. It is
important to note that globalization does not mean the continued
hegemony of the richer nations imposed upon the poorer ones. Globalization
should afford the space and freedom to developing nations, in
order that they become active partners of the globalised economy,
while recognizing the specific conditions and thereby the needs
of developing countries and their right to make their own economic
In this context, may I venture to propose that :
- We may have to consider the re-negotiation of the World Trade
- The principles that underlie decisions in trade must attempt
to create a level playing field for developing and developed nations.
For instance, policies regarding subsidies and competitive markets
must be the same for all States. We cannot be called upon to abandon
vulnerable sectors of our economy such as the farmers and small
industrialists to the whims of the global markets, while developed
nations operate extensive protectionist policies for these sectors
in their countries.
- We may also need to consider a collective approach to the
concept of debt forgiveness to be adopted as an international
policy, if we are to win the war against poverty in our region.
(2) Poverty Alleviation
This brings us to the all important issue of poverty alleviation.
This subject has long remained on the SAARC agenda without much
progress. Although our region boasts of rich human resources and
vast technological advances, a rich diversity of bio-resources
and unexploited energy resources coupled with a comparatively
young population, South Asia continues to have the highest number
of people in the world living below the poverty line.
A few laudable initiatives relating to poverty alleviation have
been undertaken by SAARC since the last Summit. The South Asian
Commission on Poverty Alleviation has been re-constituted with
the objective of formulating and implementing measures for alleviation
of poverty in the region. "The Regional Poverty Profile"
has also been completed and will serve as an important database
on poverty. An Action Plan has been formulated by our ministers
of Finance and Planning. We now need to streamline these positive
initiatives and to undertake early implementation of the Plan
of Action. The ISACPA report underlines the advantages of exchanging
the experiences of successful programmes within the region. The
report makes special mention of some of Sri Lanka's successes
in this field. We could discuss these issues in further detail
in Colombo when Sri Lanka hosts the third round of Ministerial
(3) The Social Charter
We are also particularly pleased with the conclusion of the SAARC
Social Charter, which will be signed at this Summit. The concept
of a Social Charter was proposed at the Colombo Summit in 1998
and I am pleased that Sri Lanka had the privilege of guiding the
initial steps towards the conclusion of the Charter. We must congratulate
Nepal for the efforts that went into the conclusion of the Charter.
This Charter is an important landmark in the SAARC process. It
encapsulates a vision that was formulated through an open, inclusive
process, which obtained the participation of a broad spectrum
of civil society. This Charter adopts broad goals and objectives
for national action in a variety of spheres ranging from poverty
alleviation to health, education, women, youth and children.
(4) SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism
At the last Kathmandu Summit we recognized that terrorism with
its ever-increasing linkages to drugs, arms trafficking, and money
laundering, constitutes one of the most serious threats to international
peace and security in the 21st century. The events of September
11, 2001, marked a watershed in the global security environment
and the commitment of the international community to combat the
phenomenon of terrorism.
We have seen the strengthening of the UN legal network relating
to the suppression of terrorism in particular financing of terrorism,
through the adoption of several conventions and resolutions in
the last three years. Sri Lanka's proposal to the Kathmandu Summit
to draft an Additional Protocol to the SAARC Convention on Suppression
of Terrorism, with the purpose of incorporating these new obligations
will be realized with the adoption of the Additional Protocol
at this Summit. We greatly welcome this development, which will
strengthen the SAARC Convention concluded 16 years ago and bring
our organization in line with international efforts at combating
I had occasion to state at our Kathmandu Summit that in the past
decades, terrorism has become the one, single most, terrifying
factor in national and international politics.
I also observed that an important corollary to combating terrorism
is the identification and resolution of root causes through courageous
and bold approaches.
In Sri Lanka, we are beginning to witness the benefits of such
an endeavour. The initiative undertaken by my government in 1994
to resolve the ethnic question and the subsequent armed conflict,
through a process of dialogue and negotiations, was revived two
years ago by the present government. The process is a complex
and an intricate one. We are attempting to deal with the core
issues of the ethnic question within the framework of sovereignty,
territorial integrity and national security of the State. The
situation is further compounded by the delicate balance required
for cohabitation within the government between the two major political
parties. I believe that we are all firmly resolved to move the
process of peaceful resolution of the conflict forward despite
differences of opinion and style. The Ceasefire Agreement between
the Government and the LTTE has continued for two years now. The
Government, the Prime Minister and I are resolved to see the Peace
Process move forward overcoming the various obstacles we confront
(5) Autonomous Advocacy Group of Women Personalities (AAGWP)
The constitution of the Autonomous Advocacy Group of Women Personalities
(AAGWP) is another SAARC initiative, which I have followed with
interest. This will be an effective measure in formulating gender
responsive policies in the region.
(6) Child Welfare & Trafficking in Women and Children
Two important Regional Conventions relating to Child Welfare
and Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution were concluded
at the 11th Summit. Sri Lanka has ratified the former Convention
and the latter will be ratified this year.
(7) People to People Contact in the Region
The true measure of the success of regional co-operation does
not lie in the frequency of official meetings or even in Summit
level interaction, but in the frequency and depth of people to
people contact in the region. I am of the opinion that we need
to further strengthen interaction between the official SAARC activities
and the non-official linkages. In order to remain relevant, SAARC
should expand beyond its official ceremonial activities to involve
its intended beneficiaries - the people.
This requires primarily the removal of barriers to intra-regional
interaction. Some of these barriers are physical, such as inadequate
channels of access and information, while others are intangible
results of political insecurity vis-à-vis our neighbours.
We need to make further efforts to improve air travel as well
as other modes of transport between our countries. Ironically,
many SAARC countries remain better connected to extra regional
destinations than to others in the SAARC region.
Sri Lanka has also taken the initiative in exempting SAARC nationals
from visa requirements for purposes of tourism and business. The
common historical and cultural heritage of the region also needs
to be recognized as a linkage that fosters greater regional interaction
I must also refer to the growing importance of the role played
by intellectuals, professionals and eminent persons is an important
complimentary process, which brings together the peoples of our
region. Sri Lankans are taking lead roles in the Sri Lanka chapters
of the APEX bodies of SAARC such as SAARC Chambers of Commerce
and Industry (SCCI), SAARCLAW and South Asian Federation of Accountants
(8) SAARC Cultural Centre
In this context, I have taken personal interest in the establishment
of a SAARC Cultural Centre in Sri Lanka. Our vision for South
Asia runs contrary to the contemporary interpretation prevalent
in some quarters, where culture is seen as a dividing influence.
Our ancient and rich South Asian cultures have been enriched by
many civilizations, and the SAARC Cultural Centre will symbolize
the potential for unity in such diversity.
Mr. Chairman and Excellencies,
I truly believe that today SAARC has arrived at the threshold
of effective action for the realization of the dreams and aspirations
of our peoples for collective action towards achieving freedom
from poverty, from ignorance, underdevelopment and perhaps from
constant conflict. The new sense of revival, together with the
continued commitment of us all to SAARC, I am certain, will ensure
positive progress under the able guidance and the committed leadership
of Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali.
I wish you, Mr. Chairman, the Government and people of Pakistan
all success in discharging the challenging tasks that lie ahead
May the Triple Gem Bless You
God Bless You.