The 13th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit began in the capital Saturday voicing strong optimism about achieving the long-cherished regional goals of poverty reduction, increased trade and investment cooperation and containment of terrorism.
Sitting on a white flower bedecked podium, all the leaders of the seven South Asian nations agreed to build greater consensus as well as effective mechanism to achieve the long-standing goals at the inaugural session at the Bangladesh-China Friendship Conference Centre.
They paid rich tribute to late president Ziaur Rahman, who was awarded the first SAARC award, and described the next decade as the decade of implementation of the programmes and objectives on economic, social and other fronts on the basis of regional cooperation.
SAARC leaders laid emphasis on greater interaction on trade and economic cooperation, implementation of decisions taken during last two decades and resolution of political disagreements.
"This is a summit that enables us to look to the future and forge a blue print for the next phase of SAARC activities," said Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia at her welcome address.
"This is also our opportunity to turn commitment into action," added Khaleda who became new chairperson of the SAARC.
She, however, said the South Asian countries are facing challenge to releasing the true potential of the region, backed by 400 million middle class-consumers and with combined gross domestic product of over US $ 600 billion.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed the need to overcome the historical divisions in the region for a mutually beneficial economic partnership, saying the cooperation under the SAARC in the past two decades has fallen far short of expectation.
While evaluating the activities of the SAARC during the past 20 years, Singh said: "The honest answer is that regional economic cooperation in South Asia has fallen far short of our expectations."
"It remains far behind the more successful examples in both Asia and other regions of the world," he added.
Calling for assessing regional cooperation in South Asia in the larger Asian context, Singh asked for removing barriers to the free flow of goods, people and ideas within the region.
He said South Asian nations should take the first decision to reconnect the countries of the subcontinent on the one hand and then reconnect the subcontinent to the larger Asian neighbourhood on the other to see a different SAARC in next 20 years.
Pakistan President Shaukat Aziz demonstrated the political will to sustain the momentum of the Summits.
He called for building on areas of convergence, minimise divergence and most of all seek to augment complementarities for the greater good of people of this region.
Nearly 1000 local and foreign diplomats, officials and dignitaries attended the inaugural session of the Summit amidst tight security. Among other, former presidents Abdur Rahman Biswas and HM Ershad were present at the inauguration ceremony.
Some 30,000 security personnel and law enforcers have been deployed in the capital in an unprecedented security measure for the successful holding of the SAARC Summit that was postponed twice in the past.
The meeting was re-scheduled for November 12-13 following the refusal by the Indian prime minister to attend the Summit on security ground after it had deferred to February after the Tsunami that devastated coastal areas of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives in December, 2004.
One minute's silence was observed for the salvation of the souls who lost their lives in Tsunami as well as earthquakes in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka before the start of the Summit proceeding.