ISLAMABAD: Even though it has been five years since the last summit was held and the organization appears to have run aground, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) remains the best way to promote regional integration and thereby economic cooperation, peace and prosperity.
This was stated by the Maldives Ambassador Ahmed Saleem on Wednesday while addressing a seminar about the organization. The seminar had been organised by the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARCCCI).
”SAARC has definitely played a major role in the lives of the people in this region and that is why I have always felt that SAARC is the best thing to have happened to this region,” said Saleem, who has previously served as the secretary-general of the regional body.
“I sincerely believe that SAARC is the only vehicle that can promote not only economic cooperation but also maintain peace and harmony in the region”.
Having worked in the organization, Saleem highlighted that the SAARC charter calls for the welfare of people living in the region. This, he said, can only be achieved by enhancing intra-regional trade.
And to do that, the regional countries will have to come together to improve intra-regional connectivity through stronger road, air, rail and sea links.
This connectivity, he said, will also promote the people-to-people contact between regional countries giving a boost to economic ties apart from increasing tourism between these countries.
However, he said that at the moment, the cumulative volume of trade between member countries stood at just about five per cent.
He urged relevant SAARC countries to expand the volume of intra-regional trade.
The ambassador also shed light on the genesis of the regional organisation, how it was launched on December 8, 1985.
“It was primarily the manifestation of a combined aim of member states to promote regional cooperation and integration,” Saleem suggested, adding that SAARC was supposed became a platform to promote the welfare of people from the South Asian region and to improve their quality of life.
He appeared delighted to see the three wings of the organization, including the SAARC Development Fund, the SAARC Specialised Bodies, and the SAARC Regional Centre working. He added that they were actively pursuing their mandates by holding regular, substantive activities and programmes.
Saleem said that the importance of the organisation had grown over the years despite facing numerous challenges during the past 34 years.
Highlighting the importance of the event, the ambassador said that similar events provide an opportunity to evaluate SAARC’s accomplishments as a regional organization as well as the challenges faced in the past three decades.
“As we mark another year since its establishment, we need to remind ourselves of the noble principles of the association and redouble our efforts to strengthen our resolve and focus on how, as a region, we can improve the lives of our people through sustainable development,” the ambassador added.
Saleem said that SAARC Summits renewed momentum of its creation. However, he lamented that currently, the region was experiencing the longest period between summits with the last one coming in Nepal in November 2014.
He noted that the 19th Summit, which was due to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, was postponed.
However, Saleem was optimistic that member states will soon develop a consensus to hold a summit at the earliest.
“All of us in SAARC are eagerly waiting to find out when the 19th Summit will take place in Islamabad,” Saleem commented.
The ambassador said sincerity and commitment on the part of all member states were a ‘sine qua non’ to overcome the complications faced by all, adding that the two attributes were also required to fulfil the dream of making South Asian region a peaceful and prosperous one.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2019.
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