Maldives secure semi-final place with win over Bhutan

Goals continued to flow for the Maldives yesterday, putting 8 past Bhutan in their second group match in this year’s South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) championship.

Captain and all-time tournament leading scorer Ali Ashfaq scored another four goals after a double hat-trick against Sri Lanka on Monday (September 2). The 10-0 victory was also a record high scoring match in the SAFF championship.

Bhutan were able to reply with two goals, even leading the game at one point before the Maldives resumed their impressive goal-scoring form. In a repeat of Monday’s game, the opposition were reduced to ten men when goalkeeper In addition to Ashfaq’s four, Ali Fasir scored two and Mohamed Umair and Ali Umar bagged one each.

The Maldives now leads Group B, ahead of top ranked side Afghanistan, who have also won both of their group matches. The two side face off tomorrow (September 6), although both are now assured of a place in the semi-finals, scheduled for the start of next week.


South Asia’s ability to shape its future never stronger: leaders address SAARC

The 17th SAARC Summit was opened this afternoon in Addu City by Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Thinley.

The leaders of Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India arrived at the purpose-built Equatorial Convention Centre in motorcades, escorted by police outriders in ceremonial uniform, dozens of bodyguards and an ambulance.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)’s Rehendi helicopter hovered overhead, while arriving heads of state emerged from their vehicles to be greeted by President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed and First Lady Laila Ali. They entered the convention hall to the sound of bodu beru drums and the sight of local girls waving paper garlands.

“South Asia is more powerful and prominent than any other time in its history. The future is ours to shape,” President Mohamed Nasheed said, in his inaugural address as the new Chairman of SAARC.

“Our economies are booming. Our political influence is growing. And our ability to shape the course of world affairs has never been stronger. Our populations are youthful and energetic. Our thinkers, researchers and scientists are globally renowned. Our culture is internationally acclaimed. Our private sector companies are some of the world’s largest and most profitable,” Nasheed said.

Citizens in SAARC countries had similar aspirations, he noted: “They want to live in societies based on the rule of law, in which basic freedoms are protected. They want the chance to succeed in our region’s economic miracle. They want what everyone wants: a decent life to live in dignity.”

Nasheed raised three key areas of focus: trade, transport and economic investment, security against piracy and climate change, and good governance.

However climate change, he said, was the greatest long-term threat affecting the region, “causing havoc, threatening our development and prosperity. But the solution to climate change is not cutting back. Rather, it is investing in the new, clean technologies that not only reduce pollution, but also improve energy security and provide long term economic growth.”

President Nasheed also noted the potential for a human rights mechanism in SAARC, “not to point fingers, or open historic and painful wounds, but because we have a duty to improve the lives of citizens.”

Nasheed welcomed the proposal to set up a SAARC Independent Commission on Gender, commenting that South Asian women “suffer from a wide range of disadvantages and discrimination. Women in our region have some of the world’s lowest rates of property ownership and political representation.”

He finished on an optimistic note: “The fundamentals of our region are strong. We have young, energetic populations. We live in a region of vibrant democracies, with strong civil societies.”

“As our economies race ahead, our political importance increases ever more. Let us not be held back by history or convention. Let us be the leaders our people want us to be. Let us change our region for the better. Let us change the world,” Nasheed said.

Leaders address SAARC

In his address to the SAARC delegates, Prime Minister of Nepal Baburam Bhattarai observed that SAARC nations were situated “in the cradle of human civilisation, with abundant natural and human resources. But despite this, our potential is unfulfilled. We face widespread poverty, unemployment and inequality.”

The largest number of world’s poor “live in our region”, Bhattarai said, but the “flow of growth, people and ideas has been hindered and our potential remains unfulfilled.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani congratulated Nasheed on hosting the first SAARC Summit in the southern hemisphere.

In bilateral talks on Thursday morning with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the historically tense relationship between the two nuclear-armed nations lightened after the two leaders took measures to ease trade limitations. Singh even described Gilani as a “man of peace” following the meeting.

In his speech to the assembled delegates, Gilani emphasised that Economic development was linked to the availability of energy at a reasonable price, an and urged investment “in harnessing indigenous energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydro power.”

President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, meanwhile prioritised education in his speech, stating that as leaders, “we have a sacred duty to develop our people.”

“In Sri Lanka we believe in social mobility. Education, communications and healthcare must be made available to all,” said Rajapaksa, adding that “ignorance, deceit, and poverty” were “common evils” facing SAARC nations.

“Social equality goes hand-in-hand with economic progress,” he stated, emphasising that this could only be achieved through peace and security.

President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, also highlighted the importance of education in his address.

“Despite the progress we have made, lack of education and unemployment is a vicious cycle that is creating fertile ground for extremism,” he said.

A stable Afghanistan would enable its use as a land bridge between many countries and greatly improve trade links in the region, he said.

While terrorism was the biggest cause of suffering for the Afghan people, he said, the violence was not only limited to Afghanistan, but also affected Pakistan and India.

“We need to overcome the trust deficit that exists and learn to cooperate,” Karzai said.

He noted that Afghanistan was pursuing a strategic long term partnership with the United States, but said he wished to “reassure our neighbours that such a partnership is no threat to the region.”

The theme of education was continued slightly differently by Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, who in her address emphasised the need for SAARC countries to promote cross-border educational cooperation by institutions such as universities. Bangladesh was interested in opening a university in the Maldives, she added.

Like the Maldives, Bangladesh was also very vulnerable to climate change, Sheikh Hasina said.

“Along with the global economic crisis, we are vulnerable to factors beyond our region,” she said. “Increases in fuel and food prices due to climate change jeopardise a sustainable way of life for our people.”

Another priority for Bangladesh was the expansion of the SAARC convention of the prevention and combat of trafficking in women and children.

“We want to ensure our migrant labour is well treated when working in other countries,” Sheikh Hasina said.

Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Thinley, expressed hope for “youth and dynamism” now the chairmanship of SAARC had been passed to President Mohamed Nasheed and the role of Secretary General to Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, both the first female and youngest person to assume the role in the organisation’s history.

Despite the distance between the Maldives and Bhutan, the two countries had a surprising number of similarities, Thinley said – and not just because they were the two smallest SAARC nations.

“Rising temperature is a threat to our ecology, and while our GDP is improving, we need to diversify our economy,” he said.

As former SAARC Chairman Thinley was among the most vocal about the effectiveness of SAARC, warning against empty rhetoric and noting “that there is a feeling that cooperation should yield more concrete results.”

“There has been a failure to resolve geopolitical realities, and we have allowed ourselves to be guided by the politics of the past. Good intentions have been foiled, or remain only in documents. Progress has stalled, depriving South Asia of the opportunity to flourish as a peaceful region with people free of poverty,” he said.

Intra-region trade was not more than five percent of the total volume, and cultural interaction between countries was limited, he said.

Furthermore, antagonists such as the “mischevious media” confined goodwill to symbolic gestures.

“We have half the world’s poor. We need be bigger and bolder than those who are holding us back,” he said.

“At the same time, mankind is hurtling toward self-annihilation, and the planet’s capacity to provide for a growing population is declining day by day. We extract, sell, consume, waste and pollute, while our financial system is unravelling.

“We need to act before global order is compromised and a frightened world falls into disarray. We cannot allow natural resources to fall to a level where there is a violent struggle for control.”

GDP was adopted as an indicator of social progress 70 years ago, Thinley said, and was an ineffective measure of human happiness. Bhutan had shifted its perspective towards sustainable development and was taking a more holistic approach, he said.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was among the most direct of the leaders, reeling off initiatives India was pursuing.

He announced India’s willingness to facilitate the development of a regional telecommunications infrastructure and promote broadcasting exchanges.

Singh offered India’s scientific and technological base to assist SAARC countries in their development, “and above all our young population who will drive consumption and investment in the years ahead.”

India also proposed establishing a travelling exhibition on the ancient history of South Asia, with pieces drawn from each SAARC member country, hosted in each country’s national museum for three months.

Singh announced the doubling of scholarships offered to post-graduate courses in South Asian University, from 50 to 100, and a further 10 scholarships for doctoral studies in forestry.

“We have to learn to trust each other and to learn from each other. The security of our countries are closely interlinked,” Singh said. “None of us can prosper in isolation. We cannot afford to allow the many problems we face to stand in the way of our ambitions and dreams.”

The Summit is being observed by Australia, China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritus, Myanmar and the United States, as well as many international institutions.

Eighty percent of Commonwealth in SAARC

Outside the convention centre following the meeting, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma observed to Minivan News that 80 percent of the population of the Commonwealth live in SAARC countries.

“Five of the eight SAARC countries are in the Commonwealth,” he noted.

While acknowledging that this meant there was “a lot of overlap” between the two organisations, the Commonwealth could offer its experience in developing areas such as the rule of law.

“For me it has been very useful to meet the leaders in person. This year is pioneering – this is the first time the head of the Commonwealth has been invited to SAARC,” Sharma said.

Many of the goals of SAARC countries, expressed by their leaders during their respective addresses, boiled down to “a better deal for their people”.

“One remark that particularly stuck me was that ‘no country is working in isolation’,” Sharma said, adding that in developing as a regional body SAARC could learn from the “bitter lessons learned in Europe.”

“As for speed, you can’t change the facts on the ground. There are competing ideologies, and pace is determined by politics,” he acknowledged.

There was space within SAARC for a human rights mechanism, he said, and while many of its concerns related to trade, once the vehicle existed it could be used to talk about human rights as well.

“If SAARC wanted help with this, we would provide it,” he said.

On Friday the Heads of State will attend a Summit Retreat at the Shangri La resort, while their spouses are entertained in Fuvahmulah, before the Summit resumes in the afternoon.

Statements will be made by SAARC observer nations, and agreements will be signed. President Nasheed will present his concluding address, and the delegates will depart in the evening.


Foreign dignitaries arrive as Addu prepares for largest event in atoll’s history

Foreign dignitaries and heads of state from around the region have begun arriving in the Maldives for the 17th Summit of the South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

The main Summit will run over November 10-11, however Minivan News understands that most of the talks between leaders will take place in the preceding days, together with the key decisions.

Leaders of all SAARC countries – including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan – have confirmed their attendance, according to the Maldives’ Foreign Ministry, while President Nasheed has already departed to oversee the remaining preparations.

In addition, ministers from Australia, Japan and China will join the Summit as observers. The Maldives’ former envoy for South Asia, Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed is serving as SAARC’s Secretary-General.

Media coverage of the event across the region has sharply increased with the departure of national leaders from their home countries.

One particularly anticipated event is the meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh, with Pakistan’s Business Recorder reporting that the meeting “on the sidelines” has been finalised for the 11th by the Foreign Office of Pakistan and India’s External Affairs Ministry.

According to the Recorder, the pair are due to discuss resuming dialogue between the two countries, as well as trade concessions. The two leaders also met earlier this year in Mohali on the eve of Pakistan-India cricket World Cup semi-final.

The Hindu reported India’s Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai as stating that topics of discussion between the two leaders would concern “the quick return of the military helicopter that had strayed into Pakistani territory, the in-principle decision by Pakistan to give most favoured nation (MFN) status to India and the visit of a Pakistani Judicial Commission to Mumbai.”

Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, is meanwhile due to depart Dhaka on the 9th, arriving at 3:30pm on the Wednesday, reports the Bangladeshi media.

Sheikh Hasina is due to have a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at Dr Ali’s Restaurant on the Shangri-La Villingili Resort, reports Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper, and will later attend a state banquet on Hulhumeedhoo.

Bangladeshi officials outlined key topics at the Summit as revolving around poverty alleviation, economic cooperation, the SAARC Development Fund, food security, connectivity, energy and climate change, with four regional agreements: Rapid Response to Natural Disasters, Seed Bank, Multilateral Recognition of Conformity Assessment and Implementation of Regional Standards as likely to be signed during the event.

Security at the event will be tight, with all traffic in the atoll restricted to military-run vessels. Joint Inter Agency Taskforce Commander Hassan Ziyad has observed that many of the leaders attending are “considered high risk even in their own countries,” and that respective domestic security threats are being taken into account by SAARC security forces.

All attending countries are providing security measures. Indian surveillance aircraft and navy vessels are patrolling the areas around Addu City and Fuvahmulah, while Sri Lanka has deployed six teams of sniffer dogs.

In India, the Hindu has meanwhile reported that a parallel “People’s SAARC” would be held in Thiruvananthapuram, in which political leaders would share the podium with “historians, writers, human rights activists and representatives of people’s movements”, during a two-day meeting of social action groups beginning on November 8.

“It will also focus on trade and livelihood issues, women’s role in people’s movements, de-militarisation and de-nuclearisation, natural resources and people’s movements and rebuilding the labour movement in the region. Other major concerns and topics to be discussed include exclusion, discrimination, oppression and tolerance, syncretism and secularism,” the Hindu reported.

Organisers of the parallel summit were reported as stating that “SAARC has comprehensively failed to take up issues confronted by the people of this region, which is home to the largest number of the world’s working poor.”

The Maldivian government has touted the SAARC as revitalising the southern atoll, highlighting its potential for development and putting it forward as a flagship for its ambitions to decentralise the country and take the pressure off Male’ – the most densely populated 2.2 square kilometres in the world.

Addu was granted the status of city in the lead up to the local council elections earlier this year, a move which met with heated disagreement from political opposition groups. The new city voted overwhelmingly for the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), with the party winning all council seats in both Male’ and Addu.

The MDP claimed victory after winning the major population centres, while opposition claimed victory in overall numbers of councillors elected, with strong support across many of the country’s less populated islands.

Addu’s new council meanwhile plans to use the Rf 115 million (US$7.4 million) convention centre, a two-storey building of glass, wood and marble with a capacity of 3000 today unveiled as the ‘Equatorial Convention Centre’ with the main convention hall dudded ‘Bodu Kiba’, to transform the atoll from a quiet place to a hub of business and tourism.

“We have some representatives talking to businesses in Singapore and Malaysia about hosting events here,” Sodiq told Minivan News.

“We will be soliciting bids to find the right event manager to look after the convention center as well. I think there are people interested in what Addu has to offer, and I’m sure we can get a market for it.”

This evening almost 1000 students are expected to turn out to march on the streets of Addu to mark the Eid al-Adha holidays, while bashi’, futsal and beach volley tournaments are due to take place, reports Haveeru.

Entertainment, music and cultural activities will take place through the week.

Minivan News reporters will be stationed in Addu reporting on the SAARC Summit November 7-12. 150 foreign reporters from around the region are expected to attend the event.


Bhutanese PM meets with President Nasheed

Visiting Prime Minister of Bhutan Leonchen Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, also the Chairman of SAARC, and President Mohamed Nasheed met last week to discuss the upcoming SAARC summit, as well as further cooperation in tourism and economic development.

Maldives hosting of the SAARC Summit will be the first to be held in the Southern hemisphere. The 16th SAARC Summit was held last year in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Thinley noted that both countries shared many similarities and the hopes and aspirations of both peoples were the same, and that both Bhutan and the Maldives could learn from each others’ experiences.


Bhutanese Prime Minister to visit the Maldives

Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigme Thinley will meet with President Mohamed Nasheed later today, during a visit to the Maldives.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair told Haveeru that the talks would focus on a proposed ferry network to be established between SAARC member countries, and that Nasheed was seeking Thinley’s support.

Thinley will visit the tsunami monument and “other significant places in Male'”, said the President’s office. National Fflags have been put up at the ‘Lonuziyaaraiykolhu’ area near the monument.


Afghani President talks terrorism with Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed met with Afghani President Hamid Karzai yesterday at the Afghanistan House in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Village in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu.

At the meeting, President Nasheed said SAARC’s position on climate change should benefit all the countries in the region.

He noted the importance of a common SAARC position on climate change in the international arena, and highlighted the importance of promoting trade in the region through the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

President Karzai said Afghanistan was rich in water before, but due to climate change, the country was experiencing yearly droughts.

The presidents also discussed ways of handling terrorism and religious extremism in the region.

President Nasheed then met with Japanese Parliamentary Vice President and Minister for Foregin Affairs, Chinami Nishimura at the Maldives House in SAARC Village.

Nishimura spoke of the existing bilateral relations between the countries and ways to strengthen these ties. She congratulated President Nasheed on the democratic reform in the country, noting the process had accelerated under his leadership.

President Nasheed said Japanese assistance has been instrumental in helping the Maldives with its upcoming graduation from the list of the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC). He added the Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, was one of the few leaders who supported the Maldives during Copenhagen climate change summit.

President Nasheed sought Japanese assistance in developing the fisheries industry in the Maldives and to undertake a study for the reasons of decline in fishing.


President Nasheed meets Pakistani Prime Minister

President Mohamed Nasheed met with Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday.

The heads of state discussed bilateral relations and regional issues, and Prime Minister Gilani said he would like to maintain the close relations between Pakistan and the Maldives.

He said Pakistan would continue to contribute to the human resource development of the Maldives and would also continue offering scholarships to Maldivian students.

President Nasheed said he would like to see a more active South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), that focused on greater regional cooperation in trade and economic issues.

He added climate change is a major issue for the Maldives and the country is now facing problems like water shortages.

Prime Minister Gilani said Pakistan would cooperate with the Maldives on the issue of climate change.

They also discussed developing greater cooperation between the two countries in the areas of counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics.

President Nasheed is in Bhutan for the sixteenth SAARC summit.


President Nasheed addresses the SAARC summit

During his first speech to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders at the sixteenth SAARC Summit in Bhutan, President Mohamed Nasheed called on his fellow leaders to review the effectiveness of SAARC.

He said South Asia is one of the most dynamic and important regions in the world, and all countries must be prepared for both challenges and opportunities in the future. For the benefit of all members, he said, SAARC member countries must increase cooperation.

One of the regions the president noted to be of great importance was green investment and development.

The president said South Asia could become a testing ground for innovative green technologies, research in renewable energy and new forms of sustainable development.

He called for member states to establish a Low-Carbon Research and Development Centre in the proposed South Asian University.

Speaking on democracy and human rights, President Nasheed expressed content that South Asia “is now a region of democracies,” but added there were many challenges ahead in consolidating democracy and strengthening human rights.

The president proposed a regional human rights mechanism, to help South Asian countries promote and protect the rights of their citizens.

President Nasheed noted South Asia was badly affected by the global food and energy crisis, and supported the proposal to jointly import crude oil to the region, saying it would increase energy security and would improve a bargaining position in the world market.

He added fostering inter-cultural exchange, especially amongst the youth of the region, was of high importance.

President Nasheed then called for a meeting between India and Pakistan.

The summit marks the 25th anniversary since the formation of SAARC in Bangladesh in 1985.


President Nasheed meets Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal and Prime Minister of Bhutan

On his way to the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit to be held in Bhutan, President Mohamed Nasheed met with Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal, Bijaya Kumar Gachadar.

The meeting was held at Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport, where they discussed bilateral relations between the Maldives and Nepal. They also spoke of strengthening tourism between the two countries.

The president and First Lady Laila Ali arrived in Bhutan yesterday morning, where Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyoncheon Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, received them at Paro Airport.

Anthems of the Maldives and Bhutan were played at the opening ceremony.

President Nasheed then had a meeting with Prime Minister Thinley at the Maldives House in SAARC Village, where the president will stay during the summit.

President Nasheed congratulated Prime Minister Thinley on Bhutan’s hydro-power project, and said the project would not only benefit Bhutan but the entire SAARC region. He added his interest in helping Bhutan find more investors for the project.

Prime Minister Thinley assured support to President Nasheed on his global efforts to combat climate change. He said Bhutan would work with the Maldives to promote climate change internationally.

He added despite geographic differences, Bhutan and the Maldives are equally vulnerable to climate change, and said the people of Bhutan were already experiencing the effects of climate change.