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Address of Tarun Das at the Inaugural Session
16 November 2005: New Delhi

I am a new member of the EWC family, the EWC Board and very honoured to be part of you. Clearly, the EWC Alumni is a very distinguished group and I see leaders here from different sectors of South Asian Society.

Recently, I attended the EWC Board meeting in Washington DC and spent time with Charles, Muthiah and their colleagues. I was deeply impressed with EWC’s work and contribution. It makes me feel very good to be part of EWC.

I have spent 20 years working with the US. When it was not fashionable to do so. In the process, we built friendships and partnerships with the people of the US and US institutions – whether we agreed or not – and these have been very satisfying. In this, Bob Blake, my constant and continuing partner in crime - working with the US Embassy and with you, personally, has been very exciting.

As a new Member of the EWC Family – let me add my own welcome to all of you.

16 November is a very special day for me. To be given this opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas on South Asia at a East-West Center Conference is truly a special privilege.

For me, the EWC is an outstanding institution. Its contribution to research, policy and linking the US with Asia is enormous and full of potential.

Thank you, Charles Morrison, President, EWC and Mala Shankardas, President EWCAA for this honour.

The title of this Conference is so appropriate coming as it does within a few days of the SAARC Summit in Dhaka. Whoever knew the timing would be so right.

And, we have a new addition to the South Asian family – Afghanistan – as a member. 8 countries now.

A great focus for EWC Alumni today because South Asia is on the radar screen of people all over the world.

You have listed in the agenda diverse issues – health, population, politics, security, governance, economics, environment, culture, education, gender and tourism. A comprehensive range of subjects.

And, each of these is crucial to building South Asia and its community.

Let me make a few points about South Asia.

One, it is lagging behind most parts of the world in building its community of relationship and partnership. South Asia has been a victim of its history of mutual mistrust.

Two, South Asia can and will emerge as a union of South Asia without borders and controls. This is inevitable.

Three, India, as the largest country in South Asia, has to be a role model as a “giver” without expecting equivalent returns. India’s example is essential and inevitable to build a South Asian Community and for building trust.

Four, Building mutual trust is a long process. And, it can be derailed easily. But, the movement to build trust has to be built step by step, action by action.

Five, Without this mutual trust being established, it will be impossible to build a South Asian Community.

Six, the most important issue is connectivity both physical in terms of infrastructure and, in addition, telecom and IT connectivity. These will bring people together for business cooperation or, indeed, any cooperation to flow.

Seven, the women of South Asia are amazing, resourceful and capable and their empowerment will see a dramatic change in the plans and prospects for a South Asian Community. Women are more evolved and can play a major role.

Eight, South Asia is a region of youth. India’s 400 mn under 25, 700 mn under 40 is an example of a young nation full of energy. These young people are not influenced by the past. They are focused on a new future. We must involve them in building the South Asian Community.

Nine, South Asia has to become a fee trade area, without barriers, taxes and duties. India has to take the first step to allow exports to India by South Asian Countries, free of duty, free of barriers.

Ten, Governance –and the sharing of best practices – the learning from all – to address development and terrorism has become a major issue. Within that law and order, corruption, judicial systems, etc have to be addressed together.

Eleven, the building of human resources capacity through education, training, and retraining would change the face of South Asia and its future. This is a huge challenge. Today, through skills training school dropouts are getting world-class training in skills and employability.

Twelve, with 700 mn people in the villages of South Asia their lives have to be enriched and we are now seeing a cluster and hub approach to rural development as well as self-help groups making a difference.

Thirteen, Energy development – not just big projects – but local energy – using local resources will help enormously.

This is not a comprehensive listing of an agenda. This is only illustrative. Only examples.

Also, for too long we have left it to Government/Leadership needs to be grasped by civil society. Cutting across protocol. Red tape. Bureaucracy. To build friendship, partnership and a new community of peace and prosperity.

Because I see three factors now on the radar screen.

A strong commitment to change.

This is the sentiment of people. To go beyond the status quo. To take on vested interests. To strive. To struggle. To move ahead. To change the future.

Next, a culture of new confidence coming out of pain an setback. A will to make it happen. A sense of Strength.

And finally, the capacity for courage to go for a better future for South Asia. To be unafraid to go forward. Make mistakes. Learn. Move ahead.

We need, we seek, a body of people to dream a new dream for South Asia. And, to translate that dream to reality. To build a United States of South Asia free of barriers and full of trust. I see that happening. All of us together can make this come true.

Thank you.