ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Defence Syed Naveed Qamar Tuesday underlined the need to develop people-to-people contact among the countries of South Asian region and said that there should be a process of learning by sharing from each other.
"We need to look into deeper integration in the region whereby not just the merchandise but our people particularly youth and communities can interact with each.
This is the way it used to be some three centuries back and it is time now that we should learn from our histories where mutual respect and honor allowed us to co-exist and prosper," he said while speaking at a conference 'Sustainable Development in South Asia: Shaping the Future'.
The conference was organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institution here at a local hotel.
The minister said that today South Asia was the least connected region in the world and it connectivity indicators were even poorer than Sub-saharan Africa.
"If we continue to be as distant as we are today, our children may never be able to interact, talk, meet and play with their children in the neighborhoods. Such a lost opportunity will be synonymous to a youth stolen in the name of history's baggage," he added.
He said Pakistan was undertaking a foreign policy in the new emerging realities in the best interest of the people of Pakistan and the development and prosperity in the region. He said realistic review of Pakistan's foreign policy focusing on "looking towards Asia" as envisioned by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was underway.
"We value our relationship with the powers in Asia. Pakistan has played an active role in SAARC for formulization of the processes towards setting up food bank and supporting other regional arrangements including South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA)." Naveed Qamar said Pakistan government believed in taking people, media and civil society along and it had the honour of taking civil society along on key issues of national and regional interests. "We have passed several laws on women protection and against discriminatory practices in collaboration and technical support from civil society and especially in close collaboration with SDPI," he said.
Today under the PPP government, he said people of Pakistan were witnessing exemplary freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary and sovereignty of parliament.
"Never before in Pakistan's history, has the media been so free. We also believe that without women's participation, sustainable development cannot be ensured," he added.
He expressed the hope that the conference would provide a chance to participants to know of research work done on various issues confronting as challenges the South Asian countries.
The minister said he himself had been associated with SDPI for many years as a member of its Board of Governors.
"I admire SDPI as a prime thinktank in the country that conducts policy dialogue and provides space to experts on South Asia to come up with their research on issues of regional concern," he said.
He said the theme of SDPI's conference "Sustainable Development in South Asia: Shaping the Future" was very relevant to the post-global financial crisis discourse currently taking place in the region and world over.
"We have now understood that in order to grow together as a global community developmental considerations need to go beyond mere concerns for economic growth. We need to think in terms of the very pillars of sustainable development which implies that we also regard social justice and respect our environment and natural resources," he maintained.
He said the middle class in South Asia was getting more empowered and there was a youth bulge that provided substantial productive opportunities for the region. He said however there were also challenges being faced by the South Asian region.
It (South Asian) continues to be the fastest urbanizing region in the world.
This has put pressures on governments in terms of dealing with service delivery in infrastructure and social sectors.
"We still remain a region with highest incidence of malnourished children and children out of school. While the diffusion of technologies such as in IT and telecom have greatly reduced the barriers to connectivity between people and places ? they have however increased the incidence of conflict in our region", he added.
So going forward, he said our first message should be how the rising economic gains and access to technology be configured in a manner that can reduce inequalities particularly the inequality of opportunities for people.
He said governance structures would continue to play an important role at the national and regional level.