COLOMBO: Pakistan and Sri Lanka have called for breaking a stalemate in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and emphasised the use of corporate and industrial ties in the region to keep the forum intact despite ongoing differences.
Experts at a panel discussion, organised by the Institute of National Security Studies in Sri Lanka (INSSSL) and the Pakistan High Commission here on Wednesday, urged a dialogue to sort out differences in the region, mainly between Pakistan and India, due to which the 19th SAARC summit has not been held, Dawn news reported.
The meeting was due to be held last year in Islamabad.
The speakers at the discussion on “SAARC: Its impediments and way forward” called for workable solutions to longstanding issues such as the conflict between Pakistan and India on Kashmir.
“We are struggling with our historical issues while much larger concerns are looming on the horizon, such as drug proliferation, water and food security and climate change,” Pakistani High Commissioner retired Maj Gen Syed Shakeel Hussain said, calling for “courage and conviction” in approaching contentious issues.
He termed it imperative that both countries, being two of the biggest economies in the region, resolve their bilateral problems, emphasising that “the road to peace and prosperity in SAARC lies through Srinagar”.
Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said SAARC was a long way from reaching the target of poverty alleviation and called for the collective prioritising of the Sustainable Development Goals while also taking steps to combat terrorism in the region.
The forum called for the corporate and industrial sector to salvage the ties within South Asia, noting that despite the conflicts between nations in the region, trade continued to flourish, Dawn news reported.
Ikram Sehgal, a defence analyst and retired army officer, said the region had a “complementary economy”.
“The production of one particular item would need multiple resources from different South Asian countries,” he said, adding that the corporate as well as other sectors, such as the academia and cultural connections, could help bring the SAARC countries closer together and reactivate the forum.
Syed Rifaat Hussain, Head of the Department of Government Policy and Public Administration of the National University of Sciences and Technology, emphasised that Pakistan and India could not go to war over water.
“Like all critical resources, water is a zero-sum issue. If war is not the option then dialogue and negotiation is the only alternative left,” Hussain said.
The need for engagement without enmity, for the mutual benefit of both countries, was stressed.
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