On a day when the sixth anniversary of Mumbai attack was being observed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday told SAARC leaders that India feels the endless pain of lost lives and urged the eight- nation grouping to combat terorism unitedly.
Modi made a reference to the Mumbai carnage that claimed 166 lives in his address during the 18th SAARC summit when he reached out to the South Asian countries, announcing business visas to India for three to five years and immediate medical visa for the patient and an attendant coming to the country for medical treatment.
Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of lost lives.
"Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes", Modi told the SAARC leaders who included Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Besides India and Pakistan, the other SAARC countries were Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan. Noting that a good neighbourhood is a universal aspiration, Modi said, "If we are sensitive to each other's security, and the lives of our people, we will deepen friendships, spur cooperation and advance stability in our region".
He said the South Asia is a region of thriving democracy; of rich inheritance; the unmatched strength of youth; and, a strong thirst for change and progress.
"I dream for India is the future I wish for our entire region", he said.
The Prime Minister praised the SAARC leaders for attending his inauguration ceremony in May, saying- "I stepped into the office with the greetings of the entire world. But, what moved me, dear colleagues, was your personal presence".
Sharing his experience of foreign visits, Modi said that from the middle of the Pacific, to the southern coast of Atlantic Ocean, I see a rising tide of integration.
Stating that the barriers of boundaries inhibit progress, Modi said international partnerships add speed to growth. Nowhere in the world are collective efforts more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest.
"Big and small, we face the same challenges- a long climb to the summit of development. But, I have great belief in our boundless potential; and, confidence - that comes from the many inspiring stories of innovation and initiative in each of our countries", he said, adding that there is much to learn from each other.
Though the SAARC formed 30 years ago, when we speak of SAARC, we usually hear two reactions cynicism and scepticism, he said.
Let us work to change cynicism into optimism. Let us turn South Asia of flowering hope into a rich field of peace and prosperity, he told the SAARC leaders.
Modi lamented that less than 5 per cent of the region's global trade takes place between SAARC nations.
Even at this modest level, less than 10 per cent of the region's internal trade takes place under SAARC Free Trade Area, he said, noting that Indian firms are investing billions abroad, but less than 1 per cent flow into the region.
It is still harder to travel within our region than to Bangkok or Singapore; and, more expensive to speak to each other, he said. "How much have we done in SAARC to turn our natural wealth into shared prosperity; or, our borders into bridgeheads to a shared future", he asked.
Modi said India given five South Asian partners duty free access to 99.7 per cent of their goods and his government is prepared to do more with others.
For India, it has been a privilege to provide assistance of nearly $8 billion in South Asia over a decade, he said.
Infrastructure is our region's greatest weakness and it's most pressing need. When I thought of coming to Kathmandu by road, it made many officials in India nervous. Because of the condition of roads at the border, he said, adding that Infrastructure is my greatest priority in India.
"I also want to set up a Special Purpose Facility in India to finance infrastructure projects in our region that enhances our connectivity and trade", he added.
"We speak of ease of doing business in India. Let's extend this to our region. I promise to ensure that our facilities at the border will speed up trade", he said.
Modi said India will now give business visa for 3-5 years for SAARC and proposed to make it even easier for through a SAARC Business Traveller Card.
Noting that India has a huge trade surplus with SAARC countries, he said that this neither right nor sustainable.
We will address your concerns and give you a level playing field in India. But, I encourage you to attract Indian investments to produce for the Indian market and create jobs for your youth, he added.
We should use the strength of shared heritage and our diversity to encourage tourism within our region, and present South Asia to the world.
We could begin with the Buddhist circuit, but we don't have to stop there, he said.
In the area of health, Modi said, India will meet the shortfall in funds to establish the SAARC Regional Supra Reference Laboratory for TB and HIV.
We offer the five-in-one vaccine for the children of South Asia.
We will support monitoring and surveillance of polio-free countries, and provide vaccines where it might reappear, he said, referring to Pakistan. "For those coming to India for medical treatment, India will provide immediate medical visa for the patient and an attendant", he added.
He also talked about launching a satellite for the SAARC region, saying it will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication.