My Day 1 SAARC Summit experience

Yesterday I joined my colleagues at the designated spot to be shuttled to the Grand Assembly Hall, to which most locals would refer to as the SAARC building. There is a story behind it to which I will come back later.  Disembarking into the parking lot I would not notice any significant difference than the security people and their very clear new uniforms and gears. Making our way into the Hall we pass through the routine security checks and what I found unusual on entering the hall way was the large number of beautifully dressed young men and women present there; ready to usher visitors to their seating and we found our seats without many detours as can be the case of such a huge congregation. Sitting on our seats, eyes fixated on the screen showing arrivals of guests, it was a while before any signs of arrivals appeared with a quick announcement on the PA system by the MC. Accustomed to being in Bhutan most of my life it was fascinating to note that the delegates took a while before starting to show any signs of wanting to settle in before the arrival of the Heads of State. And so after much anticipation and waiting, the Leaders of the member States arrived and the proceedings began with opening remarks by the Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapakse, the Chairman. Being in the congregation and seeing leaders and personalities I have seen on the telly and on the front pages of newspapers and magazines definitely would be one of the few things I will always remember the 16th SAARC Summit for.

Now going back to the bit about how the Grand Assembly Hall got to be called as the SAARC building; I was still a student possibly a high school at that. We would read about SAARC in our school and on several occasions heard the coming of a SAARC summit to Bhutan. It may seem now that some of our faculty members may have been a little too eager with their speculative instincts, harmless nonetheless. I remember since calling it the SAARC building and to finally host one, to me it seems befitting that the building has fulfilled it’s destiny of being called just that for very many years although only informally.

So sitting in the “long called SAARC building” and seeing this huge event unfold with Leaders who could make differences in all our lives simply was overwhelming. My own entry into the arena of active politics is only as old as the Constitution of Bhutan itself and lacking in experience I may say I make up for it in terms of curiosity and the 16th SAARC summit seemed the perfect opportunity. And so as the Leaders gave their inaugural statements, among the many issues that were equally important, it was the open, honest and critical statement by  Mohamad Nahseed, the Maldivian President that kept replaying in the back of my head again and again.

“…The SAARC Charter requires us to compartmentalize the differences and move forward on common ground. We must therefore, today, decide to implement that vision of the Charter.”

His candid reference to the need for resolving differences between India and Pakistan for SAARC to move forward. Sitting there I watched Leaders of the two nations sitting not too far across each other, listening to what the President of Maldives had to say. I have heard on the telly since then that the two Leaders would be meeting here in Thimphu. As a citizen of a state who views both States as friends, knowing a strong and moving speech may not necessarily resolve issues but certainly indicative of concern friends share,  differences will be resolved I hope and  SAARC and her SDGs come through for the citizens of the member states.

Not having  attended the earlier summits, I felt some of the discussions were probably in continuation. Representing Gasa dzongkhag (district) in the northern region where a GLOF risk mitigation work continues in it’s second phase (work would start sometime later in the following month) I found in particular the US and Japan’s mention of their contributions towards climate change. Funded by the GEF, the current project should be complete by next year with 4 meters of water level reduced. Some people may say it’s making a hill out of a mole (interestingly enough it came from a senior government official), but ofcourse they don’t have to live next to the lake; they don’t need to travel days with herds carrying their food supplies on trails which get washed away making their already difficult lives more challenging. And what’s most interesting it that people who made these comments had never really traveled to there and they say they know all about it. But that’s a different story.

The opening day ended with the inaugural if the SDF; an idea propounded by our fourth King. The setting up of the Fund is a very significant development in the SAARC and indicative of the collective will of the SAARC leaders to move forward.  The Bhutanese Parliament in their session had commended the SAARC leaders and showed strong support in the establishment of the Fund; SAARC Food Bank and the SA University, of which I remember.

A historic day for the Bhutanese to hold the 16th SAARC summit in Bhutan and a home-coming of a noble vision of the fourth King of Bhutan.


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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