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Statement by the Foreign Minister-Informal Meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on the sidelines of 73rd Session of UNGA

(2018-09-28) Mr. Chairman,

Honourable Ministers,

Secretary General of SAARC,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me express my profound gratitude to the Chairperson of the SAARC Council of Ministers, His Excellency Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Foreign Minister of Nepal, for hosting this Informal Session on the sideline of the 73rd Session of the UNGA.

I also thank His Excellency Mr. Amjad Hussain B. Sial, Secretary General of SAARC, for updating us on the implementation of the important decisions and progress made so far in the key areas of cooperation under the umbrella of SAARC.

Mr. Chairman,

Pakistan attaches great importance to SAARC and remains committed to the principles and objectives of the SAARC Charter. Pakistan has always played a proactive role to make SAARC a useful vehicle for regional cooperation, based on the principle of sovereign equality.

Pakistan believes that SAARC can provide a conducive and congenial atmosphere to build economic synergies and transform the quality of life of the peoples of South Asia and the SAARC mechanism gives us an opportunity to find solutions to the common issues faced by our region.Over the years, Pakistan has taken substantial measures to advance SAARC ideals and objectives.

Pakistan's vibrant existence and its resilience at the trans-regional junction are crucial for trans-regional economic and energy linkages. Pakistan enjoys best geographical disposition which works as a bridge because Pakistan is the only country which helps in connecting South Asia to West Asia. It is, therefore, very much central to SAARC interests to strengthen Pakistan's economy as it is a vanguard to South Asia's sustainable progress.

Mr. Chairman,

Home to 1.78 billion consumers, having immense human capital, unexploited natural resources and a predominantly young generation, South Asia is one of the most dynamic yet one of the least integrated regions. Intra-regional trade accounts for roughly 6 percent of South Asia's total trade, compared to 22 percent in ASEAN. Intra-regional investment is smaller than 01 percent of overall investment.

Mr. Chairman,

We believe SAARC can provide a conducive atmosphere to build economic synergies throughout the region. The region of SAARC is a huge market that can act as an engine of accelerated economic growth. In this context, the aspirations of the people of SAARC region should be at the center of the Organization's processes. SAARC member states need to overcome the trust deficit and treat economic betterment of their people as the top most priority.

There is a need to strengthen regional cooperation in priority areas identified by the Member States and the programmes should be results-based and implemented in a time bound manner. A focused approach with emphasis on concrete results is the need of the hour. SAARC Development Fund can be instrumental in implementing the plans for the common good of our peoples.

Mr. Chairman,

Pakistan shares the view that connectivity is critical to the progress, prosperity and re-activation of SAARC. Pakistan therefore supports, in principle, road, air, rail and water connectivity within the region along with regional energy integration.

Pakistan supports all initiatives taken at the SAARC platform for seamless connectivity. The development of infrastructure in the region and enhanced intra-state and inter-state connectivity, coupled with freer trade, terror free atmosphere in the region and ease in movement across borders, are the pre-requisite of progress. All such efforts would supplement to ultimate goal of South Asian Economic Union (SAEU).

Mr. Chairman,

Pakistan successfully hosted the 4thand 12th SAARC Summits in 1988 and 2004 respectively. The 19th SAARC Summit was to be held at Islamabad in November 2016. The Prime Minister of Pakistan was looking forward to welcome the SAARC leaders for their participation in the Summit. All preparations had been made for successful holding of the Summit in a befitting manner with a substantive outcome. Pakistan had prepared a climate change declaration for the 19th Summit in addition to other agreements on rail and road connectivity. However, unfortunately the SAARC process was impeded and the spirit of the SAARC Charter was violated when bilateral issues were allowed to cast shadow on this multilateral forum for regional cooperation which resulted in the postponement of the 19th SAARC Summit.

Nevertheless, Pakistan continues to pursue a positive approach in the spirit of engagement as we attach great importance to regional cooperation under the umbrella of SAARC. We remain committed to the SAARC objectives for promoting welfare of the people of South Asia, improving their quality of life, acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development. Therefore, Pakistan looks forward to hosting the 19thSAARC Summit at Islamabad at the earliest so that the objectives of regional cooperation under the SAARC umbrella can be pursued more vigorously.

In this spirit, during the informal Meeting of SAARC Council of Ministers (21 September 2017) held in New York on the sidelines of the 72nd Session of UN General Assembly, Pakistan reiterated its offer for hosting the 19th Summit at an early date. Pakistan has proposed to the Current Chair (Nepal) to host an Inter-Summit Session of SAARC Council of Ministers Meeting, preceded by Senior Officials Meeting to agree on the dates for the Summit as per the convenience of the Member States. Reply to our request is still awaited.

Mr. Chairman,

There is certainly much more that we as a region can do against threats such as terrorism and regional security issues that affect us all.In view of the enormity of the challenges we face, an effective collaborative regional response is imperative.

Mr. Chairman,

Pakistan has been the biggest victim of terrorism. Our schools, universities, parks and hospitals have been attacked from across the borders. We have faced huge losses. Some 07 thousand of our security personnel and about sixty thousand civilians have lost their lives in our fight against terrorism. We have suffered economic losses to the tune of billions of dollars. But our resolve to combat the scourge of terrorism remains undeterred.

Pakistan has taken a number of successful initiatives to fight the scourge of terrorism and it supports all regional and international initiatives in taking concrete and practical steps against terrorism. Pakistan's Zarb-e-Azab Operation is the largest, most robust and most successful anti-terrorism campaign anywhere in the world, deploying 200,000 of our security forces. Operation Radd-ul-Fasad which has been launched as a continuation of the National Action Plan (NAP), aims at indiscriminately eliminating the residual and latent threat of terrorism and consolidating the gains made in other military operations. Pakistan is sharing its expertise in fighting with terrorism with other countries by training their personnel.

Mr. Chairman,

It is unfortunate that due to unresolved bilateral disputes amongst the member countries, SAARC could not achieve the desired socio-economic cooperation and prosperity in the region. There is a requirement for enhanced cooperation among the member states, as well as a need to collaborate with other major international organizations to exploit our unutilized potential for the benefit of the people of South Asia.

Pakistan remains ready to play its role in the peace and development of the South Asian region along with regional actors. However, further advance in the process will be contingent upon contribution of all the member states and to activate the SAARC framework in this regard.

It was the vision of our political leadership to develop SAARC into the economic driving force that it was envisaged to be. This can only be possible in an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of each other's problems and challenges.

Mr. Chairman,

The efficacy of SAARC as a forum and as a process remains in the evolutionary mode. It has yet to go a long way to learn from the lessons of ASEAN and EU to serve as the engine of South Asian advancement into the Asian dawn. To make SAARC vibrant, SAARC member states should build on convergences to minimize divergences for the greater good of the people of this region. By synergizing capabilities and creating partnerships, we can effectively address the common challenges that we all face today.

SAARC currently has nine observer states. SAARC should increase its engagement with observer states to enhance their cooperation with SAARC programmes, activities, and projects. In this context, Pakistan has always been supportive of the idea of upgrading the Observer status to Dialogue Partners of those Observer Countries that are actively engaged in SAARC process and to grant observer status to more countries that can play an important role in the development of the region. This will enhance the resource availability of SAARC. Currently, there is a moratorium in place on admission of new observers in the SAARC. However, Pakistan believes we can make SAARC a vibrant forum by rationalizing the areas of cooperation and opening it up by engaging with more nations and international and regional organizations.

Mr. Chairman,

Before I conclude, let me say that we also need to reflect on SAARC's performance during the last more than three decades. As we see, despite horizontal growth of the organization and its bodies, its overall impact on the lives of people is not up to our collective expectations. There is a need to consolidate the existing level of cooperation, so that the focus of our policies shifts from "form" to "substance."

As a representative of the Government of Pakistan, I can confidently say that Pakistan attaches great importance to regional cooperation under the umbrella of SAARC and believes that working of this organizations as per its very principles and goals will help in the development of member states and improve regional stability. Pakistan remains committed to the SAARC objectives for promoting welfare of the people of South Asia, improving their quality of life, acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development.

Mr. Chairman,

In the end I would reiterate Pakistan's resolve to play a constructive role to strengthen SAARC and make it a useful vehicle for regional cooperation in diverse fields.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman.