Unlocking South Asia’s potential: India drums connectivity mantra

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Sushma Swaraj SAARC meet

POKHARA (Nepal): With South Asia being pegged as the fastest growing region in the world, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stressed on the importance of accelerated connectivity in spurring the development of the SAARC region. At the 37th SAARC Council of Ministers’ meeting in Pokhara, Nepal on March 17, Mrs Swaraj said: “Connectivity is central to our development and will determine how we meet our goals of growth, employment, and prosperity. As we seek to overcome basic problems of physical connectivity, it is important for us to move forward quickly on pending agreements on rail and motor vehicles. Economic activities, cultural connections and people to people contacts will flow naturally from such connectivity.”

SAARC is the most populated region in the world comprising nearly one-fifth of the total world population. However, SAARC is the least integrated region among the major regional groups of the world. “Our region accounts for merely 2% of world trade and 1.7% of world FDI. Our intra-regional trade is less than 6% of our global trade and intra-regional FDI accounts for only 3% of total FDI inflows,” Mrs Swaraj said while underlining the gap between the potential and reality vis-à-vis SAARC.    

Neighbourhood first

Underscoring the neighbourhood first mantra, India highlighted its initiatives to pursue its vision of South Asian integration. India has taken some steps to improve regional integration through initiatives such as the sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, better known as the BBIN group. During the 18th SAARC summit in November 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that regional integration in South Asia would go ahead “through SAARC or outside it, among all of us or some of us.”

Speaking about India’s commitment for the uplift of SAARC, Mrs Swaraj said: “My Government has shown its commitment to a “Neighbourhood First” policy from its very first day in office. Our vision of “Sabka saath, Sabka Vikas” is for the whole SAARC region. Together, we can create a viable ecosystem of regional integration, cooperation and socio-economic development. Together, we can unlock the latent talent of South Asia.”

India expressed its commitment to work with the SAARC community to realise the development goals of the group. Mrs Swaraj emphasised on India remaining committed to support campus and infrastructure development of the South Asian University which was set up in New Delhi exclusively for the students of SAARC countries.

Mrs Swaraj said that the region has not been able to unleash its collective strength effectively due to  host of problems. Highlighting the challenges plaguing the region, Mrs Swaraj said: “Despite strong growth and huge advances in education, healthcare and rural development, our region still has the world’s largest number of people living below the poverty line. We continue to face significant challenges in delivering food security, health, nutrition and education to our peoples.”
(Sridhar Ramawamy contributed inputs for this article)

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