India said that terrorism is the biggest challenge the South Asian region faces and called for collective response to it. India also reiterated its “sincere and abiding commitment” towards regional peace, prosperity and development in South Asia.
India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in her opening statement at the SAARC Council of Ministers Meeting here also said that the Narendra Modi government is committed to the vision of “Sabka saath, Sabka vikas” – or together with all, development for all – which is also its vision for SAARC.
Sushma Swaraj stressed the government’s three Cs of Culture, Commerce and Connectivity for deeper regional integration to push development.
She denounced a suicide bombing in Afghanistan’s Paktika province Sunday in which a bomber detonated his explosive vest in a crowd of spectators at a volleyball match, killing 45 people and injuring 50.
“This cowardly act, of killing and maiming people watching a volleyball match, has shown once again that terrorism is the biggest challenge our region faces today, and requires a collective response,” she said.
Swaraj said the government’s policy of Neighbourhood First was the reason underlying Modi’s invite to the South Asian leaders for his swearing-in May 26 and also for her travel to five of the SAARC countries in the past six months.
The two-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit kicks off here Wednesday. It is being attended by all the heads of government, including Modi.
Elaborating on the three Cs, Swaraj said that the common cultural heritage of SAARC nations needs to be “cultivated into a global brand”.
“Culinary excellence, fashion and films, music and dance, art and crafts, literature and philosophies, need to be brought in bolder relief onto the global stage. If we were to provide a facilitating environment, there will be no stopping our young creators and innovators from conquering the world,” she said.
On the second ‘C’ of commerce, Swaraj said increased intra-SAARC trade would lead to accelerating regional economic growth.
Swaraj said the Agreement on the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) “has given some momentum to intra-SAARC trade but it still remains far below potential. India has already taken several measures to boost intra-regional trade, including providing duty-free access to goods from SAARC least developed countries”.
On connectivity, she said the maritime and waterways, land and air connectivity “is still tenuous and under-developed. We must focus on building infrastructure which transcends our boundaries”.
“Enhancing connectivity would not only increase productivity, bring down costs, raise our economic growth and accelerate our common development but also help us remove the endemic poverty in the region,” she said.
The minister said South Asia is home to enormous wealth of human and natural resources but it was still lying largely untapped.
“We need no other agency but the collective will in SAARC to tap this creative energy and channel it to improve the lives of all our peoples.”
“It is time for us now, in the 30th year of SAARC, to find the necessary political will to exploit these instrumentalities, to implement projects and programmes, to develop policies and plans, to share information and knowledge, and to build pan-SAARC projects which can realise what our predecessors aspired for,” she said.
She said India “would like to contribute, whatever we can, for expediting the process of intra-regional cooperation and share our technical, scientific and human resources capacity with our SAARC neighbours in order to make our region safer, stronger and better”.