It is a matter of immense pleasure for me to be among my eminent colleagues from South Asia and other friendly states, at the 18th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, in this beautiful city of Kathmandu.
Nepal, needless to emphasize, is home to an old civilization, and has the world’s highest mountain, the mighty Everest, which has held an abiding fascination for lovers of nature. I congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, on the assumption of the Chair of the SAARC Summit. Pakistan stands with you in your endeavours to promote the cause of regional cooperation in South Asia.
If we look at a region which is home to nearly one quarter of humanity on the planet, it is mired in poverty, disease and illiteracy, with lowest human and social indicators. More than one fifth of the population is between 15-24 years of age, which is the largest number of youth to ever make transition into adulthood. The region, however, accounts for only 6 percent of world GDP in purchasing power parity, and only percent share in world trade, while attracting only 3 percent of global FDI. We are one of the least integrated regions in the world.
The theme selected for the 18th SAARC Summit is important. The focus on ‘Deeper Integration for Peace and Prosperity’ is most appropriate and reflects our common desire for promoting mutual understanding and reaching out to each other, to create a win-win scenario.
The cultural affinity among our peoples is a huge asset. Shared geography and history have culminated in a unique synthesis of cultures and traditions. We must therefore, place our people at the centre of the SAARC processes. SAARC must capture the imagination of our peoples and contribute to creating strong and mutually beneficial bonds.
SAARC can contribute immensely towards building a trust surplus among member states. Interfaith and inter-cultural harmony must find especial emphasis in its programmes. An interactive process in this domain will reveal the beauty and strength of a true South Asian identity.
We should build on our inherent strengths and effectively address common issues, such as socio-economic disparities, poverty alleviation, women empowerment, health, and education. This requires close coordination at national and regional levels.
I am happy to note that today’s South Asia has undergone a democratic transformation. All South Asian states are vibrant democracies. We earnestly hope that old and new democracies in South Asia will join hands to make our region peaceful and prosperous. We must strengthen regional cooperation through sharing of experiences, best practices and establishing institutional linkages.
The recent monsoon floods in South Asian countries raised the importance of regional cooperation on cross-border information sharing, and early flood forecasting systems, as human induced and natural disasters affect everybody, irrespective of national boundaries and socio-economic status.
The Government of Pakistan has recently launched Pakistan Vision 2025, which puts people first in our development equation through prioritising human and social capital, promoting sustainable and inclusive growth, and balanced development.
In pursuing the SAARC socio-economic agenda, we must pay special attention to rural development, expansion of the agricultural resource base, development of action plans to combat communicable diseases, promotion of greater collaboration in the health sector, elimination of illiteracy, scientific and technological capacity-building and development of information and communication technologies.
The economic development of South Asia is closely linked to the availability of energy at an affordable price. With abundant alternate energy resources available region-wide, we need to collectively focus on harnessing indigenous energy production potential. We should also consider arrangements for trans-regional oil and gas pipeline.
By virtue of its geographic location at the confluence of South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia, Pakistan is a natural economic corridor for the region. Promoting regional connectivity is one of the seven pillars in our 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.
I also wish to emphasize the importance of the role of the SAARC Observers. SAARC can benefit from its interaction with them
The gap between the promise of SAARC and reality of its accomplishments needs to be bridged. We should build on convergences, minimize divergences and most of all, seek to augment complementarities for the greater good of the people of this region.
My vision for our region is a dispute free South Asia, where instead of fighting each other, we jointly fight poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment, and unemployment. We invest in our youth to unleash their creativity, talent, and enterprise. We strengthen our bonds of trust so that we can solve our problems.
(Excerpts of Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Muhammad Nawaz Sharif at the Inaugural Session of the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu on 26th November)