NEW DELHI - Countries in South Asia face common challenges of mass poverty, unemployment, lack of adequate health care, illiteracy and environmental degradation, said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. In the opening session of the Fifth Conference of South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Speakers and Parliamentarians held here Saturday, Primer urged all SAARC member states to cooperate to address these challenges.
The four-day conference is being attended by parliament speakers and parliamentarians from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan is participating in this conference for the first time. Earlier, the conferences were held in Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka and Colombo during the years 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2006, respectively.
The conference will deliberate upon two themes namely — "Consolidating Democracy: Strengthening Trust between Parliament and the People"; and "Sustainable Development in SAARC Countries - The Way Forward".
Speaking on the occasion, Indian PM said SAARC nations should learn from each others' experiences in a bid to enhance the region's development.
"Each of us has rich and varied experiences in tackling these challenges. We should learn from each other's experiences, and reinforce each other's efforts to deal with these challenges," he said.
He underlined the destinies of SAARC countries are bound by history and geography. "One of the lessons history has taught us is that no country can prosper in isolation. We live in an inter-connected world, and this is especially so in South Asia. We share common borders, whether on land or sea. What happens in one country necessarily affects the other. Our destinies are bound by history as well as by geography. If we act with wisdom and sagacity, we all stand to benefit." The Indian Premier laid emphasis on inter-dependence of SAARC nations for reaping economic benefits. "Economic growth has to be inclusive and balanced. We cannot allow pockets of poverty to persist either within our countries or within the broader region. India provides opportunities for all of South Asia to benefit from its economic growth and vast market. We have opened our market and we are committed to pursuing policies that benefit the entire regional economy as a whole.
South Asia must prosper as a whole," said the Indian PM.
According to Singh, intra-regional trade since the introduction of the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006 has grown to USD 1.2 billion.
"We have declared 2010-2020 as the 'Decade of Intra-regional Connectivity' in SAARC. The SAARC Development Fund is now well-established. The SAARC Regional Food Bank has been set up to meet food emergencies in the region. We are moving in the right direction, but we need to move much faster." (KUNA)