NEW DELHI: The special envoy of the President of the Maldives on Tuesday invited the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit the picturesque Indian Ocean island will host November 11-12 and sought his support to make it a success.
This will be the first SAARC summit the Maldives will host since a democratic government headed by Mr Mohamed Nasheed, better known as ‘Anni,’ was elected as President three years ago, ending over three decades of dictatorial rule of Mohammed Abdul Gayoom.
Mr Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, special envoy of Mr Nasheed, met Dr Singh and handed over a formal letter inviting him to participate in the summit.
Besides SAARC-related issues, they also discussed a host of bilateral issues, including trade, terrorism and development projects. Unveiling the priorities of the Maldives chairmanship of the eight-nation SAARC, Mr Zaki, a former deputy foreign minister, said he sought India’s support for the success of the summit.
“We would like a dramatic forward movement on the free movement of goods and trade in the SAARC region. India and Pakistan can play a critical role in pushing forward SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area),” Mr Zaki told IANS in a free-wheeling conversation here.
All countries must come on board over liberalised trade in the SAARC region, he said, adding that he will be talking specially to India and Pakistan over this issue of intra-SAARC trade.
Increasing connectivity in the region will be another SAARC priority. “All the countries of the region must be connected via sea, air and land. It’s a focus area,” he said.
Connecting the youth of the region and reorganising the SAARC secretariat will be other key priorities, said Mr Zaki, a former minister of planning and minister of tourism.
Mr Zaki has played a pivotal role in spurring the process of regional integration in SAARC region and was foreign secretary and chief coordinator when the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,192 islands with a population of 370,000 people, hosted its first SAARC summit in 1990. He also served as SAARC secretary-general.
The theme of the summit is building bridges, reflecting the pluralism and diversity in the region. “The SAARC region has over 100 languages, 10 major religions of the world and is home to 1/5th of the world’s population. It has the world’s most low-lying islands and the highest mountains,” said Mr Zaki.
Underlining revolutionary changes in his country under the democratic dispensation, Mr Zaki said Maldives will be showcasing a new country at the summit that is rapidly modernising and navigating its path towards national reconstruction.
“Maldives has changed dramatically from a dictatorship to a democracy. Our economic policy has taken a 180 degree turn. It’s an open market economy friendly to investors. We have liberalised the tax regime to spur investment,” he said.
“The government is determined to fulfill all its electoral pledges and had made huge strides in connecting hundreds of islands of the nation through ferries and brought affordable housing to people. It’s a new Maldives leaders will be seeing when they come for the SAARC summit,” he said.