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Millennium Post

SAARC Summit: PM Modi seeks concerted efforts to combat terrorism

"Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives. Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes," Modi told the SAARC leaders who included Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

During his nearly 30-minute speech at the Summit, Modi outlined India's various initiatives in key sectors of health, science, visa regimes and connectivity for the SAARC region as he pitched to turn South Asia of "flowering hope into a rich field of peace and prosperity" by collective efforts. He said joint efforts were "more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest."

Besides India, the eight-member SAARC bock include Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Afghanistan.

Noting that a good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration, Modi said, "If we are sensitive to each other's security, and the lives of our people, we will deepen friendships, spur cooperation and advance stability in our region."

Seeking to improve the trade and business atmosphere in the region, the Prime Minister said India will give business visa for 3-5 years for SAARC and proposed to make it even easier through a SAARC Business Traveller Card.

He said the South Asia is a region of thriving democracy; of rich inheritance; the unmatched strength of youth; and, a strong thirst for change and progress.

"I dream for India is the future I wish for our entire region," he said.

The Prime Minister praised the SAARC leaders for attending his inauguration ceremony in May, saying "I stepped into the office with the greetings of the entire world. But, what moved me, dear colleagues, was your personal presence."

Sharing his experience of foreign visits, Modi said that "from the middle of the Pacific, to the southern coast of Atlantic Ocean, I see a rising tide of integration."

Stating that the barriers of boundaries inhibit progress, Modi said international partnerships add speed to growth.

"Big and small, we face the same challenges- a long climb to the summit of development. But, I have great belief in our boundless potential; and, confidence - that comes from the many inspiring stories of innovation and initiative in each of our countries," he said.

"Though the SAARC formed 30 years ago, when we speak of SAARC, we usually hear two reactions - cynicism and scepticism," Modi said, adding that "Let us work to change cynicism into optimism."

Modi lamented that less than 5 per cent of the region's global trade takes place between SAARC nations.

"Even at this modest level, less than 10 per cent of the region's internal trade takes place under SAARC Free Trade Area," he said, noting that Indian firms are investing billions abroad, but less than 1 per cent flow into the region.

"It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore; and, more expensive to speak to each other," he said.

"How much have we done in SAARC to turn our natural wealth into shared prosperity; or, our borders into bridgeheads to a shared future?" he asked.

Modi said India given five South Asian partners duty free access to 99.7 per cent of their goods and his government is prepared to do more with others.

"For India, it has been a privilege to provide assistance of nearly USD 8 billion in South Asia over a decade," he said.

"Infrastructure is our region's greatest weakness and it's most pressing need. When I thought of coming to Kathmandu by road, it made many officials in India nervous. Because of the condition of roads at the border," he said, adding that Infrastructure is "my greatest priority" in India.

"I also want to set up a Special Purpose Facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade," he added.

Noting that India has a huge trade surplus with SAARC countries, he said that this "neither right nor sustainable."

"We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth," he added.

"We should use the strength of shared heritage and our diversity to encourage tourism within our region, and present South Asia to the world. We could begin with the Buddhist circuit, but we don't have to stop there," he said.

In the area of health, Modi said, India will meet the shortfall in funds to establish the SAARC Regional Supra Reference Laboratory for TB and HIV.

"We offer the five-in-one vaccine for the children of South Asia. We will support monitoring and surveillance of polio-free countries, and provide vaccines where it might reappear," he said.

"And, for those coming to India for medical treatment, India will provide immediate medical visa for the patient and an attendant," he added.

He also talked about launching a satellite for the SAARC region, saying "it will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication."

Read Also: Pakistan stalls inking of SAARC connectivity agreements
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