We must rejuvenate SAARC, says former Bhutan PM Tsering Tobgay

Speaking at the fifth “India and the World” lecture, former Prime Minister of Bhutan Tsering Tobgay expressed concerns about the current status of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and, citing the recent political and economic crises in Sri Lanka, called for greater efforts to rejuvenate the regional intergovernmental organization.

Tobgay’s lecture was moderated by former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Saran, and part of a monthly series organized by the Center for Policy Research, to mark Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

Earlier, Saran had called Bhutan and India an odd couple, pointing at the major differences in the two countries’ economies and demographics. He asked Tobgay how India’s approach to its relations with its neighbors like Bhutan or Pakistan should change to allay any anxieties that they might have from the “lumbering giant down south”.

In response, Tobgay assured that Bhutan had experienced immense generosity from India and expressed confidence that the South Asian giant maintains similar relations with all its neighbors. However, he emphasized, that “this generosity needs to be reciprocated by the neighbors too.”

He said, “The individual countries should work on equal terms with India, as Bhutan has done and found beneficial to its own economic growth and stability. The neighborhood will grow and prosper with India’s growth and prosperity.”

Tobgay also emphasized India’s role as a leader in promoting renewable energy sources and stated that climate change is a global problem that needs to be tackled globally. Responding to whether climate change should be part of the agenda in BBIN — a sub-regional cooperation body with Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal as its members — Tobgay welcomed the suggestion but emphasized that SAARC is the “mother organization” and should take the lead in confronting global leaders in carbon emissions such as the United States and China.

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