Vajpayee tells SAARC nations to replace mistrust with trust
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Sunday asked the SAARC countries to be sensitive to each other's security concerns.india Updated: Jan 04, 2004 17:12 IST
"Mutual suspicions and petty rivalries have continued to haunt us. As a result, the peace dividend has bypassed our region," Vajpayee said addressing the 12th SAARC summit at Jinnah Convention Centre here.
Asserting that any joint endeavour needed mutual trust and confidence, he said "for many decades, South Asian countries, which have a complex and troubled colonial legacies, have been unable to forge an integrated economic understanding circumventing political differences."
He observed that history "should not shackle us" and said "We have to look forward now with a collective approach in mind."
"We have to change South Asia's image and standing in the world. We must make the bold transition from mistrust to trust, from discord to concord and from tension to peace," he said.
Vajpayee said because of mutual rivalries and inadequate coordination, smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering and gunrunning flourished across "our borders" and said there was a need to jointly tackle these problems.
He made a special mention the "courageous action" of Bhutan to launch a military operation to flush out Indian insurgents from its soil.
"I would like to draw attention to courageous action taken by His Majesty the King of Bhutan and his government against insurgent groups, which were trying to use Bhutanese territory to launch terrorist activities in India.
"It is an outstanding example of sensitivity to the security concerns of a neighbour which is at the same time in the direct long-term security interest of Bhutan itself," he said.
Vajpayee said development of greater economic stakes in each other would naturally result in greater sensitivity to the concerns of each other.
"This would pave the way for more ambitious, but entirely achievable, goals such as free trade area and economic union, open borders and common currency for the region," he said.
Vajpayee referred to deepening regional cooperations in Africa, Latin America and Carribean besides Europe uniting to emerge as the world's most powerful economic grouping. "We have to learn appropriate lessons" from these.
He said closer home, the ASEAN countries have found it possible not to allow their political problems to come in the way of economic cooperation.
"All these examples remind us that national economics should triumph over political prejudice in South Asia."
Reminding that "our forefathers (had) fought side by side transcending religious, regional and linguistic differences against colonial oppressor in the first war of Independence in 1857", the Prime Minister said "perhaps India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can together celebrate" the 150th anniversary of that uprising "in remembrance of our joint struggle against a common adversary."
Expressing satisfaction on agreements reached on terrorism, SAFTA and Social Charter, he, however, said "We should be candid in accepting that the expectations with which SAARC was created have not been fulfilled in the measure of potential."
The Prime Minister suggested the creation of a Poverty Alleviation Fund in which he said India would be willing to make initial contribution of $100 million on the understanding that this money would be used entirely on projects within SAARC but outside India.
He said with rich natural resources, technical manpower base and economic resurgence among the member countries, South Asia can reduce poverty by half and provide safe drinking water and sanitation by 2010 as against the UN Millennium Development Goals targeted at 2015.
Noting that world-class connectivity was key to faster development, Vajpayee favoured establishment of a modern multi-modal transport infrastructure of road, rail, air, waterways and sea-links on priority basis.
He said a SAARC Task Force could be formed with representatives from all the countries to commission or prepare techno-economic feasibility studies of major transportation links.
Vajpayee said the SAARC countries needed to transform their societies into "knowledge economies" and offered to share India's recent experiences with other member nations in this regard.
While talking about encouraging free movement of people across the SAARC region, he said at the same time "we need sufficiently strong controls so that illegal migration is prevented."