Political will and firm commitment of governments are a must for bringing about an integrated South Asia, a prerequisite for economic prosperity of the region.
This view was unanimous among the speakers at a two-day regional economic conference that ended in Dhaka yesterday.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a civil society think-tank, organised the conference titled “Fourth South Asia Economic Summit” at Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in the capital.
Representatives from the governments, private sectors and civil societies from eight South Asian nations attended the discussion with a vision to build a new region to help each other grow together.
The participants said effective cooperation did not build up in the region for lack of political will and bureaucratic complexities.
Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, former Saarc secretary general, said the dream of an integrated South Asia could only be realised through regional economic integration.
“This [integration] would require the political will and firm commitment of governments in a way it would not cause political tension, but enhance and insulate regional economic cooperation,” said Zaki, also a special envoy to the president of the Maldives.
Syed Babar Ali, pro-chancellor of Lahore University of Management Science, said South Asian leaders have to make a set of bold decisions in the upcoming Saarc summit to show their ability to realise the dreams of their peoples.
Dr Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, former foreign and finance minister of Nepal, said political system in a country fails when the government starts lying to its people.
“Absence of accountability and government monopoly result in bad governance,” said Thapa.
Prof Muchkund Dubey, former foreign secretary of India and president of Council for Social Development in India, said democracy is essential to face all the challenges in South Asia.
“Make it [democracy] work and participatory,” observed Dubey.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's adviser Gowher Rizvi said India and Bangladesh are coming out from the copybook of South Asian thinkers. The two prime ministers have made a number of encouraging decisions, which is a major step forward.
Besides 50 general recommendations, the summit adopted 73 recommendations for the Saarc summit to be held in the Maldives next month.
The speakers recommended, among others, energising and invigorating Saarc and engaging the civil society of the member countries with its activities.
Dealing with the global financial crisis, food shortage and the impact of climate change in an integrated way is among the recommendations.
For energy cooperation, the conference advised setting up a regional framework and institutional mechanism.
India as the lone representative in the G20 forum from the region has to voice concern on behalf of all the South Asian countries.
“Things become much easier when right persons are in place,” said Gowher Rizvi referring to the relations between India and Bangladesh.
He said the last two meetings between the two prime ministers created a ground for better future relations.
Rizvi added that both the prime ministers took a major step to move forward, which will benefit the people of the region.
He said after all these achievements, now is the time to boost connectivity, cooperation in power sector and joint management of river basin.
“We've to enhance connectivity and regional cooperation in sectors like power and water,” noted Rizvi.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of CPD who read out the recommendations, said, “The most passionately discussed topic was transport connectivity and how to create an infrastructure, which will support trade and investment growth.”
On water resources management, most of the speakers said Saarc has little to do in this regard. It is rather a bilateral issue.