Concern at public level at a ‘sluggish’ SAARC

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KATHMANDU — Concern has been expressed at the public level over the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) not becoming a dynamic organization.

Speakers at the discussion programme on the future of regional cooperation in South Asia organized on the second day of the ongoing three-day ‘South Asia Economic Conference X’ expressed such concern. The conference kicked off on Tuesday around the theme – ‘Deeper Economic Integration for an Inclusive and Sustainable Development in South Asia’.

The citizens of the SAARC member countries formally expressed the concern that this regional body established 30 years back with the goal of achieving a common economic prosperity for South Asia has not even been able to hold its regular summits due to the bilateral disputes, despite being expanded to an eight-member organization from the original seven.

Delegates and speakers in the programme expressed worry saying SAARC has not been proactive and action oriented for the economic prosperity of South Asia, the least economically integrated region in the world though it has cultural and linguistic similarities.
They underlined the need for expanding sea, land and air connectivity within the region and setting up bilateral, sub-regional and trans-regional mechanism for this purpose.

The speakers expressed their views on a host of issues including the SAARC’s tardiness, the initiatives that need to be undertaken among the member countries and at the regional level for its revival, the slow pace of progress in trade integration and materializing the dream of South Asian Economic Union.

Prime Minister’s foreign affairs advisor Dinesh Bhattarai said that SAARC is a means of voicing the South Asian thought and it is inevitable forum for promoting peace and stability in the region. He said there was no alternative to SAARC for the countries of South Asia and the only need is to make it stronger and dynamic for a common hope and future.

Prof Deepak Nayar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, lawmaker from India Meenakshi Lekhi, secretary of the Economic Committee of Pakistan’s National Assembly, Rana Mohhammad Afzal Khan, economic advisor at the Finance Ministry of Afghanistan Nazeer Kabiri and SAARC Chamber of Commerce president Suraj Vaidya said that economic integration in South Asia was not possible until there is unhindered movement of goods, services and people within the SAARC.

Some speakers raised the issue of amending the SAARC Charter while others pointed out thataspirations of the SAARC’s founders including the regional economic development were hampered due to the lack of direct connectivity between capitals of some member countries.

Nepal’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, Prof Bishwambhar Pyakurel had chaired the discussion session. RSS