Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley met with the Heads of State or Government from five SAARC countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan – who arrived in the Kingdom today to attend the 16th SAARC summit which commences tomorrow.
After receiving the five leaders at Paro airport, Lyonchhen met with each leader separately in their respective houses at SAARC village where they discussed, among others, the summit, climate change, harnessing hydropower as an alternative to energy sourced from fossil fuels, bilateral relations and a host of other issues.
Lyonchhen said that the fact that the leaders came to attend the summit in person despite pressing works at home reflected the great importance attached to ensuring the success of the summit. He hoped that the informal setting created by Bhutan would bring the leaders together and closer beyond the official level so that it leads to true friendship, and builds trust and confidence in each other.
On the bilateral front, the scope of expanding and deepening Bhutan’s relations with each these countries at various levels was discussed. With the Bangladeshi Prime Minster, H.E. Sheikh Hasina, the meeting dwelt mainly on improving trading relations, including exploring avenues to create greater access to the Bangladeshi market via India. The two leaders also talked about higher education opportunities for Bhutanese students in Bangladesh, especially in medicine.
Nepalese Prime Minister, H. E. Rt. Hon. Madhav Kumar Nepal, and Lyonchhen Jigmi Y.
Thinley felt that the two countries had much in common that could be used to benefit each other and strengthen the relationship further. Both the countries, they agreed, could play a tremendous role in mitigating climate change effects by harnessing and exporting their huge hydropower potential and providing clean and green energy to the region.
While agreeing that the bilateral discussions regarding the issue on the people in the camps in Nepal must be kept going, the two leaders also decided to quickly take up the need to renew the air services agreement and the bilateral trade agreement between the two countries.
The Pakistani Prime Minster H.E. Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley felt that the two countries must promote people-to-people contact, especially by further exploring the possibilities of using the birthplace of Guru Padmasambhava in Swat province, Pakistan, to draw Buddhist pilgrims from Bhutan. Pakistan could also learn from Bhutan in hydro-power development.
President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said there was much in common between Bhutan and Afghanistan and that he was very much looking forward to visiting the Kingdom. He said Afghanistan was witnessing symptoms of climate change in myriad ways and that it being the theme for the SAARC summit was most appropriate and timely.
The discussions between Lyonchhen and the President of Maldives, H. E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, hinged primarily on climate change. They said that Bhutan was as vulnerable to climate change as Maldives and the two will support initiatives intended to combat it. The President of Maldives urged Bhutan to keep up with its hydropower development policy as a means of clean and green energy that can remove the use of fossil fuels in the region. Bhutan plans to host a Climate Change summit in 2011 in Thimphu between the four countries of Bhutan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh and informed the leaders accordingly.
Apart from the SAARC leaders, Lyonchhen met with the leaders of delegation of five observer countries to the SAARC summit. These were delegations from Japan, China, Australia, South Korea and the US.