Foreign Relations | Speeches

Developments in the SAARC Process: Gains and Lapses

11th SAARC Summit

Kathmandu, Nepal

January 5, 2002

It is with a great sense of happiness and joy that I am present here today in this historic city of the Himalayan Kingdom, Kathmandu. I take this opportunity to thank His Majesty’s Government of Nepal – in particular, the Right Honourable Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, as well as the people of Nepal, for the warm welcome and the generous hospitality that I and my delegation have been privileged to receive from the time of arrival here, as well as for the excellent arrangements made for this Summit. I wish to thank His Majesty’s Government and especially the Prime Minister for their expressed determination to make of SAARC a living and dynamic organisation. The Eleventh Summit is now convening in Kathmandu, two and a half years after it was originally planned. One remarkable thing that I have noticed here is that the Government and the people of Nepal have not lost their energy and their enthusiasm to host this Summit. As we witness today, they have worked with even more zeal and ardour to make the Summit a reality.

We, the Leaders of SAARC, will, no doubt, make every effort to ensure the success of this Summit. We must do justice to the enthusiasm and expectations of not only the people of Nepal but also the entire South Asian community, who continue to remain confident that SAARC will become more meaningful and relevant to their lives.

On behalf of Sri Lanka and on my own behalf, I wish to assure this august forum that the Government and people of Sri Lanka will continue to support the SAARC process, and will extend our cooperation and every assistance to the Government of Nepal in its role as the new Chairperson of SAARC.

This Summit also provides an occasion for Sri Lanka to thank the Government and the people of Nepal for another significant gesture of magnanimity for giving up its turn to hold the Summit in 1998 in Nepal and acceding to my request to permit Sri Lanka to host it to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of Independence. This act of largesse will appear as a significant milestone in the annals of the excellent bilateral relations between our two countries.

The last time I visited Nepal – July 1999 – I had the privilege of living at Sri Narayanhiti Palace with His Majesty King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev and the Queen and also of having several meetings with them. Little did I realize then that His Majesty would not live to witness the leaders of SAARC, meeting in his own capital, Kathmandu, today. The untimely and tragic demise of His Majesty and other members of the Royal Family was a profound shock to the people of Sri Lanka and no doubt, to all the people of South Asia. His Majesty was a pioneer of regional cooperation in South Asia and a founding father of SAARC. While conveying our heartfelt condolences to the people of Nepal on this tragic loss of life, we wish to commend this nation for the resilience it has shown and the confidence it has reposed, on its democratic constitutional framework and institutions of governance.

I extend to His Majesty Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev on behalf of the Government and people of Sri Lanka and on my own behalf, our warm felicitations and good wishes on his accession to the Throne of Nepal. We hope and pray that His Majesty will have a long and successful reign that will bring great benefits to the people of Nepal.

I wish to make special mention of the role played by the outgoing Secretary General, Mr. Nihal Rodrigo, and express my gratitude to him for his commitment to execute this task with efficiency. During the last two difficult years for SAARC, the Secretary General and many others who tirelessly worked behind the scene to move the SAARC process forward, has enabled the resumption of the high level political consultations we witness today.

The contribution of Secretary General, Mr. Nihal Rodrigo, in this effort has been commended by all Member States. Secretary General Rodrigo has contributed immensely to revitalize the SAARC process, while maintaining his own personal links and winning the trust, friendship and affection of all Member States.

Sri Lanka joins other Member States to welcome the appointment of Mr. Q. A. M. A. Rahim of Bangladesh as the next Secretary General of SAARC with effect from 11th January 2002. We wish him well in the important tasks that lie ahead to steer the Secretariat forward and further our goals of regional cooperation.

As the outgoing Chairperson of SAARC, it is my duty to brief this Summit on the developments in the SAARC process and candidly assess both the gains made, as well as the lapses observed during the past years. A major strength of SAARC is that it continues to be looked up to both within the region and beyond, as the only regional organization within South Asia to promote for its peoples, the goals of peace, welfare and socio-economic advancement. The South Asian identity, strengthened over two decades of SAARC’s existence, remains the single most important factor in bringing the peoples of South Asia together. On the other hand, this positive aspect has not developed strongly enough to make a qualitative change in the lives of our peoples, the majority of whom remain mired in poverty. A conspicuous lack of political will, to drive forward and strengthen what would be a natural process of harmony and coherence within the region, continues to hold back progress in vital areas of regional cooperation. It is pertinent to mention here that even though the Colombo Summit was held at a time of severe tension in our region, we succeeded in arriving at a large number of decisions for collective action in varied fields.

I as Chairperson and my Government were very keen to do all that were required to implement these decisions. Yet the continuing tensions between member States and the lack of will amongst some members to participate even at the level of high officials, has hindered seriously our ability to implement the decisions.

Due to the constraint of time today, I shall not endeavour to enumerate the progress of the implementation of the decisions taken at the Colombo Summit in 1998. The details of this are given in the published document, which has been distributed to you today. They deal with subjects such as:

Regional Free Trade Agreements

Economic Cooperation

The Social Charter

Cultural Cooperation

People to people contact between identified groups of professors, business community and artists of the region

The strengthening of the SAARC Secretariat

Collective action at multi-national organisation.

I shall deal here with only one of these items, which I believe is crucial to us at this moment i.e. Action Against Crime and Terrorism

The Tenth Summit had noted that the Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution would be signed during the Eleventh Summit in Kathmandu. It also directed that the Convention on the Promotion of Child Welfare be finalized for signature at the same Summit.

It is satisfying to note that the two Conventions will be adopted today. We require regional resources and the support of UN Agencies as well as civil society for the implementation of the two Conventions.

A specific area where collective action, backed by strong political will, needs to be taken with a sense of urgency is the elimination of terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering and the illegal movement of both weapons and terrorist elements. The Regional Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism adopted in 1987 should be strengthened to bring within its regime all terrorist offences. The development of agreed strategies at the regional level to widen the scope of the Convention and provide it with stronger authority would help to combat the problem of terrorism more effectively.

Let us not forget that Afghanistan is geographically a part of South Asia. What has happened in Afghanistan since September 11, will continue to seriously affect our region, politically and economically for a long time.

The most terrifying political development of the last three decades of the twentieth century in South Asia has been the rise of terrorist movements in almost every one of our nations, except perhaps, very happily, in Maldives and Bhutan. Every one of our nations has experienced the horror and pain of terrorist violence either emanating from within or from a neighbouring State.

We have to join hands, at least now, more honestly and with more dedication, to fight the wave of terrorist politics that is sweeping across our region. To do this, it may not be sufficient to say, that we will hunt down the perpetrators of terror and their allies.

We must attempt to understand the deep-rooted causes of this most unnatural, de-humanising phenomenon very specific to the 20th century – that is terrorism.

Someone once said, “hope betrayed transforms itself into bombs”. I would add “perceived injustice, if allowed to continue unresolved, would also transform itself, first into despair and then into violence”. In today’s context the demand for the rectification of injustice is with acts of violence, which by itself raises issues of ethics in terrorist violence.

I think it was Leon Trotsky who once described the two emotions central to terrorism as being despair and vengeance. We need today to desperately study and understand the true causes of terrorism and terroristic movements, or for that matter any social upheavals within Nations.

At this point it would be useful to remind ourselves that it is not terrorism nor terrorists that divided Ireland nor caused the Israel Palestinian problem 50 odd years ago. They did not impose white rule in South Africa, nor did the terrorists overthrow the duly elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. The terrorists did not separate India and Pakistan and create the tragedy of Kashmir as a buffer zone. To come closer home, neither did the LTTE nor the armed Tamil militants create the circumstances for the marginalisation of the minority communities of Sri Lanka.

Violence - social, political or physical, perpetrated by the State or the agents of the State against other States or its own peoples is the womb of terrorism, humiliation its cradle and continued revenge by the State, becomes the mother’s milk and nourishment for terrorism.

We need to look at the causes of modern day terrorism because it has become, in the past decades, the one single most terrifying factor in national and international politics. At long last, on the 11th of September 2001, when terrorism struck at the heart of the developed world, the community of the rich and powerful countries woke up to the base, senseless, inhumanity of terrorism.

We hope that at least this would make the whole world, the powerful and the not so powerful, and the least powerful, join hands together in the common realisation that the modern expression of frustration, of destroyed hopes will not be contained within the boundaries of one nation, but will spill over in the most horrendous and terrifying fashion, across the boundaries of all nations to englobe the entire world.

The sense of newly-found freedom, born with independence gave rise to many hopes and aspirations in all groups of the independent nation. An effective vision was required to weld together the separate sets of aspirations into one collective, national dream, composed of the multi-faceted aspirations of each community, living freely and proudly with its own separate identity, which could co-exist symbiotically with the other entities, to compose a harmonious and united entirety, - the Nation - State, a strong and stable one. The lack of such a vision has given rise in many countries to groups attempting to enforce, often by violent means, their own specific identities, expressed in various forms such as the demand for separate states, etc.

I believe most honestly and strongly that the most effective response to terrorism is to stop generating it. How should we do this? By finding solutions to the problems that cause terrorism.

In Sri Lanka we have had to face the challenges of a military conflict against an armed terrorist group for the past two decades. My first Government, elected in 1994, started the process of political negotiation to end the conflict, rather than solely employ military methods. We attempted to deal with the root causes of the problem, arising from the marginalisation of the Tamil and other minority communities of Sri Lanka. While we have not succeeded in ending the conflict, we have made much progress towards Peace.

I am happy to state that the new Government elected a few weeks ago, is also taking action to continue the process. My Presidency remains committed to the process of Peace that I initiated seven years ago and shall continue to give leadership and guidance to the Government in this regard.

The recent election has provided a historic opportunity for the two major political parties of Sri Lanka, now both in Government, through the Presidency and the Cabinet, to evolve new systems of constructive co-habitation and collective action for the resolution of the separatist conflict.

The most startling realisation of the potency of modern technology in the hands of the terrorist came to the entire world on the 11th of September through the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and closer home in New Delhi and numerous times in Colombo.

I believe that it is time now for the world to stop and take stock – honestly and strongly. We cannot encourage and finance friendly terrorist organisations in one place and attempt to defeat the others.

Double standards cannot work anymore, and will not resolve the long-standing problem of terrorism. The use of force directly by a State or through encouraging other terrorist movements to use violence against an enemy State or group, may temporarily curb a terrorist movement or the enemy. But these methods have proved to spread and intensify violence.

Today I believe that the challenge before us nationally and regionally, is to recognise terror and political violence as the main enemy of modern society. The main enemy of all that is just and decent, of all that humanity has built up through the centuries, to be respected and looked upon as civilisation.

But saying this will not be sufficient. It should lead urgently to identifying the causes for terrorism in each different State. Then begin within nations and together regionally and internationally, to find solutions to these causes, to alleviate the sufferings and the frustrations that have given rise to each terrorist movement.

We also need to mobilise those young people in every nation who have taken up arms and taken to terrorism against civil society and the State. We need to employ constructively the great energies of these young people and their immense commitment towards change in their societies.

For this we need visionary leaders. We need programmes of action with an agenda focussed to change radically the present distribution of wealth and power within nations and between Nations.

The 20th century was our century, the century of our generation and that of our parents. It has bred and reaped the fruits of this great tragedy, which was on the one hand, the accelerated economic development, employing science and modern technology, whilst ignoring its fallout on large sections of populations within nations, as well as on large areas of the world.

As the longest standing Chairperson of SAARC, the Chair which Sri Lanka has held now for three and a half years, may I have your permission, Excellencies, to express some thoughts and suggestions regarding the future of our region and that of SAARC. As a person who has been for long, deeply convinced of the necessity of regional cooperation for States, in the context of the modern post Cold War world, I believe that SAARC has a great potential for resolving the problems of the governments as well as the peoples of South Asia. I have stood by and watched while South Asia, continues to live the paradox of being one out of two of the world’s most poverty stricken regions, while South Asia has been the cradle of one of the world’s noblest and greatest civilizations. It has given to the world two out of the four great world religious philosophies, Buddhism and Hinduism and has embraced the other two great religious philosophies, Islam and Christianity, whilst giving some of the world’s greatest philosophic thinkers and men and women of action. Yet, we have let ourselves be bedeviled by bilateral, cross border conflicts between our member states. I have heard various excuses and reasons being attributed to these problems, namely, that these problems were caused by colonial rulers and such like. But most of us have enjoyed independence for more than half a century.

Why have we not been able to employ the culture, the education, the enlightenment that history has bestowed upon us, to sit round the table and discuss problems and find practical solutions?

The peoples of our nations expect that from us as the Leaders that have been elected to government. I have a feeling that we have failed them. We have for too long allowed our perceptions of injustices that we believe have been perpetrated against us and various conceptions of past national pride and honour to prevent us from sitting down honestly to begin the search for solutions. For what matters in the final count for the starving, dispossessed millions of our peoples are practical achievements, in order to resolve their problems.

As we enter the new millennium, may I, in all humility propose, that we put behind us all past perceptions of hurt, perceived injustice and rancour, that we look to the future with a fresh and new attitude and that we begin at least now to put our peoples first before our desires to square accounts for past problems. I wish to assure this august assembly and all my respected colleagues, Heads of States and Governments of South Asia, that I, my government, and the peoples of Sri Lanka stand committed to assist this process in every way that is within our capacity and I am sure that every one of you here would agree with me and be equally committed to guarantee the economic and social development that the people of our region deserve and have the capacity to achieve.

If I may say a word about SAARC, the important lesson that we have learnt from the relative inactivity of our Organization during the last three and a half years is that the work of SAARC should not be held back under any circumstances. If SAARC were to become, and remain, a viable, coherent and meaningful mechanism designed to advance regional cooperation in South Asia, it is necessary that the higher bodies of SAARC, particularly the Summit and the Ministerial meetings should meet unhindered by bilateral problems between members. I am confident that all Member States would continue to keep in focus the larger interests of the region and its peoples and ensure that SAARC functions smoothly at all levels. It is here that the recommendations of the Group of Eminent Persons for the effective functioning of SAARC have become pertinent. We need to give greater urgency to making the Association a living reality.

In conclusion, let me congratulate my colleague the Right Honourable Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on taking over the reins of SAARC. The Chairmanship devolves on him at a critical phase of regional cooperation in South Asia. I am confident that, with his vision and experience, he will be able to infuse a new sense of dynamism to the Association and make it live up to the aspirations of the people of South Asia. I wish him and the Government and people of Nepal every success in discharging the onerous tasks that lie ahead of them.

I thank you.