Published Date: Sep 13, 2012
REGIONAL COOPERATION MUST HIT NORTH IN SOUTH ASIA
South Asia has remained a geographical flashpoint of uncertainty and instability for a long time, having serious global connotations. Yet it is the need to resolve the common socioeconomic issues – and not the polarizing geostrategic perspectives – that many believe will eventually bring the worlds least integrated region closer by easing the barriers to investment and exchange of goods, services, and people. It is imperative for the South Asia region to collaborate and cooperate more. Its a region which inhabits every sixth human being on the planet, but also hosts every second poor person of the developing world. World Bank estimates that South Asia, which already has the worlds largest working age population and a quarter of the global middle class, would have more than 300 million people entering the working-age population in 10 years. It is unfortunate that progress at the official, Track-I level has remained reversible or prone to adverse geopolitical events. Yet it is the Track-II level interactions among the regional Civil Society organisations in various fields that have emerged as the best hope for the region. The Fifth South Asia Economic Summit, hosted by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, is a recent event in that direction. The main idea behind the three-day long summit in Islamabad – organised around the theme of Making Growth Inclusive and Sustainable in South Asia – is to prepare the eight-member Saarc block for the upcoming Saarc Prime Ministerial Conference in Nepal later this year. Over 150 foreign representatives from the member countries are in attendance, including negotiators from each of the countries. Dr Vaqar Ahmad, Head of Economic Growth Unit at SDPI and the Summits organiser, told BR Research that “On the sidelines of the plenary discussions, negotiations are underway among the participants. The representatives from each country would submit the final outputs and recommendations to their respective foreign ministers, who will then prepare the Prime Ministers with their agenda for the upcoming regional conference”. Each member countrys chambers of commerce will also be brought on board on these deliberations, he said, which will widen the discourse and hopefully shape the future agenda for the region. Serious discussions are underway in areas including energy, regional trade, climate change, logistics corridors, migration, water resources, agriculture, etc. “More importantly, the issue of non-tariff barriers in the Safta regime is on the radar in the summit. To protect private investments in the regional countries from geopolitical perils, deliberations are also taking place on the institutional framework for sovereign guarantees”, he highlighted. There must be regional policies for regional goals and there is a dire need to share knowledge and institutional memories, to bridge the skills deficit in the region. All the countries in the region depend on each other. India may not have the burning need of increasing regional trade like other Saarc countries do, but it does seem keen on logistic corridor that runs through the region and links to the CIS countries. The two major countries in the region, India and Pakistan, recently capped off the year-long progress in bilateral trade and travel regimes with an auspicious display of optimistic futurism and noble intentions. Pakistans foreign minister will be closing the Summit today, hopefully making a stronger case for regional integration and cooperation. The region needs more collaboration, not less of it!