We need to look into future as we have moved ahead on the path of confidence and trust building leading towards deeper regional integration, Pakistan is proud to walk-the-talk with its immediate neighbors with a more optimist, open and positive mindset coupled with a strong political will and political consensus, said Hina Rabbani Khar, Foreign Minister of Pakistan.
Speaking at the concluding ceremony of ‘5th South Asia Economic Summit’ organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and its track-II partners across South Asia, the Minister said, “We are moving ahead on regional trade, regional connectivity, deeper integration and infrastructure development including energy.”
“It is, in fact, economic diplomacy which is creating space for political diplomacy despite challenges such as food security, climate challenge, water, energy and many others” she added. The region has a huge potential which can be positively utilized to deal with ever multiplying numerous challenges that the region simultaneously faces. There is an absolute political consensus among all the political forces in the country that we should have peace, normalization and trust with our neighbors.
The foreign minister lauded the role SDPI has been playing over the last two decades in undertaking tremendous policy research, contributions for regional integration and sustainable development. “It seems that for a different and changed South Asia in future, the track-II diplomacy might be going ahead of the track-I. With the normalization efforts, we are buying the ownership of our collective future which is extremely vital for the people of this region, she added.
Dr Abid Suleri, Executive Director of SDPI, appreciating the recent positive developments between India and Pakistan, said it is a matter of great pleasure that the South Asian (SA) states are realizing the logic of cooperation and regional integration.
He said much distance still needs to be covered but the direction is right, as is the intent. He presented the summit recommendations while particularly underlined setting-up of SA Commission on environment, a Social Accountability framework for SAARC as a regional organization and agreements under SAARC Summits, convergence of regional trade agreements towards norms agreed in SAFTA, increasing the capacity of institutions that can operationalise SAFTA, conventions on migration to protect the rights of migrants across SA, setting up of national commissions to expediently address in-country constraints to connectivity which includes infrastructure, management and supervision in order to moving towards inclusive and sustainable in South Asia.
Muchkund Dubey former foreign secretary of India said, SAFTA needs new life by removing flaws including a huge negative trade list. Annis-ul-Haq highlighted that despite tremendous natural and human resources, South Asia lags behind in development primarily because the regional governments have not allowed the private sector to do business in and across the countries. Ahmed Naseer from Maldives, labor mobility from South Asia and tourist movement across the region needs serious political thinking.
Rehman Subhan from Bangladesh, said South Asia needs to focus on inclusive growth and sustainability, linked with wider cooperation in the region. He further said, domestic political advantages should not be sought at the cost of regional cooperation.
The concluding session was addressed by eminent scholars, former diplomats and ministers from various South Asian countries. They are: Sham L Bathija from Afghanistan, Nihal Rodrigo, former SAARC Secretary General and Vikramjit Singh Sahney.
Earlier, speakers of a plenary on Development Agenda observed that achieving high growth rates was not sufficient for development needs of the region. It was important to connect growth process with sustainability and make it equitably inclusive for all citizens, noted Rehman Sobhan from Bangladesh.
He said, benefits of growth should be shared with marginalized and they should not just be confined to availability of micro-credit. Khadija Haq noted that it is necessary to invest in sectors that generate livelihoods for most of the population, notably agriculture, which is now being ignored owing to the focus on services sector. Saman Kalegama from Sri Lanka observed that huge inflow of remittances in the region can be diverted for development purposes.
Jagadish Pokharel, Nepal, expressed the need for having an unhindered flow of ideas and people within the region through integrated universities. He also proposed a regional fund to prevent dependence on donor assistance from the West.
Chairing the session on Costs of Economic non-cooperation to consumers in South Asia, Senator Haji Adeel of ANP said, ‘I wish a common parliament and a common currency for South Asia region’, Citing a study by CUTS India, he said, SAARCC members could save resources by importing from within region and direct this these savings on better services in health and education.
Bipul Chatterjee from CUTS India stressed on including consumer constituency in political economy discourse in the region. Roubina Athar from Pakistan highlighted the role of civil society organization and said, SDPI in Pakistan and CUTS in India can help inform their governments about the consumer perspective in policy-making.
Panelists of session on Social Accountability deliberated that concept of social accountability needs to be scaled up to the South Asia level for inclusive development. Renowned journalist Shafqat Munir of Oxfam GB said, SAARC has moved from slogan of ‘we the governments’ to ‘we the people’, and this necessitate amendments in its structure to provide room for public aspirations.
Atta Mohammad Maneka, MPA from Punjab said, successive governments in past 65 years never considered ‘the people’ as real stakeholders of the system, and it was high time that they start doing it now. Nuzhat Jabeen from Affiliated Network for Social Accountability said Good Governance cannot be achieved unless masses become aware of their constitutional rights and proactively start demanding for their right of quality public service delivery.