Identifying terrorism as the biggest challenge facing the region, India on Tuesday called for a “collective response” by SAARC to deal with the menace while pitching for 3Cs – Culture, Commerce and Connectivity – for deeper integration for peace and prosperity in South Asia.
Addressing the SAARC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj strongly emphasised on improving road, rail, sea and air connectivity among the member countries to spur economic growth and asserted India’s “neighbourhood first policy” to ensure overall development of the region.
Referring to a recent suicide bombing in Afghanistan that left more than 50 people dead, she said, “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 also conveyed condolences to the government and people of Afghanistan for the “terrible tragedy”.
Talking about making SAARC more effective, Swaraj said the new BJP-led government has been following the vision of “together with all; development for all” and it is also India’s vision for the regional grouping.
“My government and I are firm believers in the policy of Neighbourhood First. It was this vision that animated the invitation that Prime Minister Modi extended to the Heads of Government of all SAARC countries for his swearing in. It is the same vision that has made me travel to five of the seven SAARC countries in the six months that I have been in office.
“Another vision that my government is committed to is Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. Together with all; Development for all. This is also our vision for SAARC.
“How together all eight member states can make faster progress and improve the quality of life for all our peoples. But, for this to happen, SAARC will also have to adapt itself to operate more effectively and efficiently as a purposeful vehicle for regional economic cooperation,” she said.
Swaraj expressed India’s “sincere and abiding commitment” towards the shared vision of regional peace, prosperity and development and said New Delhi would like to contribute, whatever it 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 the region “safer, stronger and better”.
“SAARC has completed 29 years. In 2015, we will celebrate the thirty years of our organisation. As in the life of individuals, so in the life of an organisation, the thirtieth year is supposed to mark a turning point. It is the time when the edifice that has been built is energised and the organization given the needed momentum,” Swaraj said.
On economic growth, Swaraj said intra-SAARC trade would lead to accelerating regional economic growth.
“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 LDCs.
“Other Member states may like to give special attention to increasing regional trade by developing production chains, removing logistics bottlenecks, improving both the soft and hard infrastructure for movement of goods, investments, capital flows and services across the region”, she said.
“The integration of economic activity can help us in reaping the economies of scale for both trade within the region and the region’s trade with the outer world. We need to move faster in this era of globalisation or risk being left behind . . . . Finally, connectivity. Our maritime and waterways, land and air connectivity is still tenuous and under-developed. We must focus on building infrastructure which transcends our boundaries. The ASEAN and EU have developed seamless connectivity and reaped enormous benefits. These benefits could accrue to our peoples as well if we look beyond our national frontiers,” she added.