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Address by His Excellency Jigmi Y. Thinley, Honourable Prime Minister of Bhutan, At the Inaugural Session of The Seventeenth SAARC Summit, Addu, Maldives, 10 November 2011

Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

From the people of the mountain kingdom of Bhutan, I bring to our brothers and sisters of the Maldives islands, greetings and good wishes. Despite the expansive space between us, the similarities we share are bringing our countries closer. Apart from the distinction of being the two smallest members of the SAARC, we are bound together by an amazing range of circumstances and aspirations. We are equally challenged in the nurturing of our infant democracies just as our fragile ecologies are threatened in equal measure by the continuing rise in global temperature. Likewise, we are both compelled to diversify our growing but vulnerable economies even as our GDP numbers are on the rise. In recognizing our own future as being conditioned by the prospects of the region, we find ourselves deeply committed to the process of unlocking the vast potentials of SAARC .

Therefore, it is with a deep sense of happiness that I welcome the mantle of SAARC leadership being passed into the capable hands of His Excellency President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldives. Supported by the youngest and first lady Secretary General of the SAARC who too is from the Maldives, I have no doubt that President Nasheed will take advantage of their combined youth and daring to bring fresh perspectives and dynamism to our association. On our part, Bhutan would like to offer the assurances of full support and cooperation.

My delegation welcomes ‘Building Bridges’ as the theme of the Seventeenth SAARC Summit. Constrained by restrictive laws and extremely poor connectivity, we are today the least integrated region in the world. Intra-regional trade is not more than 5% of our total trade volume while cultural and other forms of interaction among our peoples are equally limited by this deficiency among others. Focus on bridging the gaps should, therefore, serve our region well.

Each of us, in varying degrees, has demands at home that make it difficult to spend time elsewhere. But to be able to come together as we have been doing for the 17th time, is a remarkable testimony to our shared recognition of the promises of SAARC. It also speaks eloquently of our respect for each other as neighbours. These offer the makings of great outcomes. Yet, we do share the feeling that our regional cooperation ought to yield much more. Why is this so?

Not the least of the reasons appears to be our failure to reconcile with geopolitical and historical realities. We have allowed ourselves to be guided by counsel and politics of the kind that dwell in the past while being fearful of the future. Good intentions arethus foiled or remain simply in documents. In effect, it is the lack of political will which holds us back. Coming in the way of substantive collaboration, this is stalling our progress as nations and as a region. It makes us guilty of depriving South Asia from the opportunity to flourish as a peaceful region and for its people to be free from the misery of poverty and fear of insecurity that millions continue to endure.

Yet, I do fully subscribe to the wisdom of being mindful of the historical process in the making of our individual nations in South Asia. But what I see in our history, geography and all such realities, more convincing reasons and opportunities for us to combine than the few that would have usact otherwise. In this regard, it is with deep modesty that I wish to share with you my own country’s experience. Some time early in our journey of development and modernization, we chose to accept and appreciate our geo-political realities and, adopting with sincerity, a positive stance, we explored instead, the pluses. This optimism led to a perception of the limitless opportunities that had been obscured by the veil of doubts and suspicion. If today, my country is beginning to succeed in vastly improving the wellbeing of our people, without compromising any national interest, it is because of the conscious choice we made. It is because of the trust and the mutually beneficial cooperation we have succeeded in establishing with our closest neighbour in South Asia.

I have seen and have been heartened by the courageous efforts made by some of our leaders of the larger countries. Sadly, these have been thwarted by certain individuals and organizations including the, sometimes, mischievous media. Claiming superior sense of patriotism and prudence, these antagonists of trust, have thrived for too long on furthering and perpetuating a discordant region and by confining goodwill to symbolic gestures. It is their zealous notions and our submission to their manipulations that have caused misplacement of our precious resources. To a measurable extent, it is they to whom we may give the credit for our region’s ignominy as the home to half the world’s poorest.

As leaders who must embody the higher values of our nations and serve as means for their aspirations, we need to be bigger andbolder than those that have held us back by their dogged pursuit of what is not helping and not working. And the bigger among us have every reason to be bigger in thought and bolder in action.

Here, I do not despair. I have been inspired by the wisdom and the conviction of each of the leaders in our region. My encounters with all my esteemed colleagues, especially during my visit to their capitals, have raised my hopes and enriched my own understanding of the immense possibilities. Supported by a growing citizenry, the SAARC of today has leaders who want to break free from the bondage of doubt and doubters, build trust and forge ahead to access what we have always known are vast potentials. I am convinced that, together, we can overcome what have stood in our way to make South Asia harmonious and prosperous. Together, we can lead the world as indeed, some among us are demonstrating on their own. To this rightful end, I invite all SAARC citizens, the media, civil society and other opinion leaders to further inspire and support the leaders in their endeavours. Let us create an environment for our collective and harmonious progress. Let us build bridges.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
My call for the nations of South Asia to strive together is not just to serve our own region. It is equally for the larger good of humanity. The need of the hour is for all nations to come together to face the far greater challenge of human survival and that of all other life forms for which we have the responsibility of stewardship.

Mankind is hurtling itself toward self-annihilation on a planet whose capacity to support life is declining by the day. Our natural, economic, social and governance systems are collapsing. As if there is no tomorrow, we employ our genius and technology to extract more and faster; sell and consume more; waste and pollute more. In our singular aim for material gain and mistaken symbols of success, we cast aside family, neighbours, co-workers and our moral values to plague our society with addiction, violence, loneliness and mental affliction. Our fundamentally flawed financial architecture for endless growth within a finite world is unravelling and the sin of our inequalities are giving rise to a whole range of uncontainable social, security and governance crises with global consequences.

If we are to avoid deeper human suffering and ensure true societal progress, we need to act now before international order is compromised and a frightened world spirals down into insecurity, conflict, and disarray. We cannot wait for the once secure and reliable global food and energy supply lines to be halted suddenly as fearful leaders worldwide throw up protective barriers and citizens hoard diminishing supplies. We cannot wait for natural resources to fall to such levels as to trigger an open and violent struggle for their control. We must not allow our populations to be hurt, maimed and killed, as indeed are happening in our extremely vulnerable region, by the growing frequency and magnitude of natural disasters that are caused by destabilization of the ecosystem.It is wrong to allow any deeper disintegration ofour society to further marginalise, disenfranchise and dispossess the vulnerable, the old, the mentally ill, the unemployed and the wayward.

In the meanwhile, the world is faced with a leadership crisis. This is not because there is an inherent shortage of good leaders but because global problems appear just too many, the dark tunnel too long, and disillusionment too high to be calmed by a torch of clear vision with the soundness of practicable strategies.

But a shared vision with an action plan is not impossible. All that is necessary is for humanity to acknowledge such a need. If GDP, upon having been wrongly adopted by the Breton Woods institutions as an indicator for societal progress, was able to mislead the entire human society for 70 years, surely, a sounder vision can bring the world together in these dismal times. It was with this in mind that Bhutan dared to propose happiness as the purpose and reason for sustainable development; that it be accepted as the timeless goal that unites all of humanity. Conceived by the 4th King of Bhutan, its pursuit through a set of well defined indicators, has guided Bhutan’s development for more than three decades.

That the world is indeed wary of the threats to its survival and that it is ready for a more meaningful and rationalway of life became evident at the UN in July 2011. Introduced by the Kingdom of Bhutan with a co-sponsorship of 68 Member States, the 193-member United Nations unanimously adopted the resolution, “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”. The resolution acknowledges that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption threatens sustainable development, and urges a more inclusive, equitable and sustainability based approach to true human progress.

In pursuit of such an end and as called for by the UN resolution, a high level event is being planned to be held in NY at the UN HQs on April 2nd, 2012. Participants will be invited from all member states at the HOS/G or ministerial levels along with thinkers, spiritual leaders, academics, civil society and other representatives to deliberate on the subject in several panels or sessions. The intended outcome is a set of recommendations for holistic, sustainable and inclusive development for member states to voluntarily incorporate in their policies in creating an enabling environment for the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing by their citizens. It is also the aim of this meeting to make substantive contributions to the deliberations at the Rio+20 Summit in June of the same year in which our region must play an active part.

It is the hope of my government and the Bhutanese people that the leaders of our region will participate in this seminal meeting which, I believe, will pave the path for the adoption of a new development paradigm that is sane, responsible and timely.

My delegation and I wish a successful and satisfying outcome for the Summit.


Summit Declaration as adopted 11-11-11

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