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SAARC summit address: PM envisions ‘dispute-free South Asia’

The Express Tribune, 27 November 2014 - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday said his vision for the South Asian region was of a ‘dispute-free South Asia’ where, instead of fighting against one another, member states jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, diseases, malnourishment and unemployment.

“We should build on convergences, minimise divergences and most of all, seek to augment complementarities for the greater good of the people of this region,” the prime minister said in his address to the 18th summit of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc).

The summit kicked off on Wednesday where leaders of the eight member Saarc states got together in Nepal’s capital to find ways to make the regional grouping more viable and effective.

The prime minister stressed that the gap between the promise of Saarc and reality of its accomplishments needed to be bridged.

He urged to invest for the youth to unleash their creativity, talent, and enterprise and stressed to strengthen mutual bonds of trust to solve problems.

He said the economic development of South Asia was closely linked to the availability of energy at an affordable price. An interactive process would reveal the beauty and strength of a true South Asian identity, he said. “We should build on our inherent strengths and effectively address common issues, such as socio-economic disparities, poverty alleviation, women empowerment, health, and education.” He, however, pointed out that it needed close coordination at national and regional levels.

The prime minister said that while pursuing the Saarc socio-economic agenda, there was a need to pay special attention to rural development, expansion of agricultural resource base, development of action plans to combat communicable diseases, greater collaboration in health sector, elimination of illiteracy, scientific and technological capacity-building and development of information and communication technologies.

He said with abundant alternative energy resources available region-wide, there was a need to collectively focus on harnessing indigenous energy production potential. He proposed arrangements for trans-regional oil and gas pipelines. He said Pakistan by virtue of its geographic location at the confluence of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia, was a natural economic corridor for the region.

He said promoting regional connectivity was one of the seven pillars of Pakistan’s development strategy. “My government is actively pursuing this initiative which has the potential to integrate South Asia, China, and Central Asia, the three engines of growth in Asia. A soft visa regime would greatly facilitate the realisation of these objectives,” he added.

The prime minister said Pakistan attaches great importance to Saarc as the organisation had come to epitomise the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of this region, for peace, progress and prosperity. He said having hosted 4th and the 12th Saarc summits, Pakistan will be pleased to offer itself to host the 19th Saarc summit in Islamabad.

He said Saarc could contribute immensely towards building a trust surplus among member states and focusing on interfaith and inter-cultural harmony. He noted with satisfaction that South Asia had undergone a democratic transformation and all South Asian states were vibrant democracies.

He hoped that old and new democracies in South Asia would join hands to make the region peaceful and prosperous and would strengthen regional cooperation through sharing of experiences, best practices and establishing institutional linkages.

He also emphasised the importance of the role of the Saarc observers, saying the bloc could benefit from its interaction with them. China, an observer in the grouping, has been pushing for permanent membership of Saarc. However, India says that Saarc should enhance cooperation among the existing members before considering its expansion.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address said his country would give business visa for 3-5 years for Saarc countries. He proposed the establishment of a South Asian university and immediate medical visas for patients from Saarc countries. He said the Saarc countries should use strength of shared heritage and diversity to encourage tourism within the region and present South Asia to the world.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid said agricultural growth had helped eradicate abject hunger and poverty. She said her country had a target to become middle-income country by 2021.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa pointed to the human rights concerns in South Asia and said that human rights was a moral issue, but has been used as a political tool. He stressed that passing an agreement on energy cooperation, focusing on health and sanitation, and mitigating the difference between the affluent and the poor.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued his warning to the South Asian leaders meeting in the Nepalese capital to try to reinvigorate regional cooperation held back by decades of rivalry between India and Pakistan. “We will not allow our territory to be used against any of our neighbours. But we will not permit anybody to conduct proxy wars on our soil either,” he said in his address at the summit.


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