| Manmohan Singh before delivering his inaugural address in memory of P.N. Haksar in Chandigarh on Wednesday. (Right) A Bangladeshi soldier on guard in front of the venue of the Saarc summit, scheduled on November 12-13. (PTI, AFP)
Chandigarh, Nov. 9: Three days before the Saarc summit begins in Dhaka, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh identified poverty and terrorism as the big challenges for the region.
“The fight against poverty and terrorism in South Asia is an indivisible fight. These are threats to the life, peace and security of all our peoples and we must deal with them as such.
“No country can any longer pretend that someone’s terrorists could be someone else’s freedom fighters. No government can any longer pretend that what happens across the border is not going to hurt it internally,” he said today, virtually unveiling the agenda for the summit.
The Prime Minister was delivering the opening speech at the P.N. Haksar Memorial conference in the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development here.
“Be it poverty, be it disease, be it natural disasters or terrorism, the destiny of South Asia is interlinked,” he said.
Expressing the hope that the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation will be approached with this “perspective in mind”, Singh said India will take the “lead in many areas” and work with neighbours to “ensure that all nations benefit from the growth process in the region”.
“Our neighbours must see us as a land of opportunity. Be it in education, in health care, in tourism, in trade and investment opportunities, India has the capacity and the tradition to be welcoming of its neighbours,” he said. But those who visit India would have to come as “friends and well-wishers”.
In keeping with his belief that economic diplomacy is as important as political diplomacy, the evolution of the South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) is at the centre of Singh’s vision of greater South Asian solidarity.
Citing the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the European Union and the proposed Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA) as examples, Singh described Safta as a “regional trade bloc and an economic union”.
“Regional economic integration, however, is more about finding an engine of growth rather than just for promoting trade,” he said.
The new-found interest in such regional arrangements, the Prime Minister said, was based on “exploiting the potential of efficiency-seeking restructuring of industry on a pan-regional basis”, which would become a valuable growth-motivator.
Singh listed two spin-offs of Safta:
An estimated trebling of intra-regional trade by removing policy barriers. “This would make South Asian internal trade more respectable compared to a marginal four-five per cent share as of now,” he said.
A “horizontal specialisation” across the region to help the “most optimal utilisation of the synergies between member countries to their mutual advantage”.
Singh proposed a forum for annual meetings of economic/industry ministers of Saarc nations, a transport policy to facilitate movement of goods across the region and a south Asian energy dialogue.
“The time has come for a new vision, a new commitment and a new sense of purpose in South Asia and I hope we have the political will and wisdom to seize the moment.”