They opined that the countries outside the region are showing their interests in South Asia, as it is a big regional market and more countries now want to become observers of SAARC.
Thus, the SAARC member countries need to use the platform as a combined bargaining power to deal with other countries.
They said these at the second plenary session of the 10th South Asia Economic Summit (SAES X) in Kathmandu on Wednesday morning. The theme of the session was ‘Whither SAARC? The future of regional cooperation in South Asia.’
Prof Bishwambher Pyakuryal, Ambassador of Nepal to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, presided over the session, where Prof Deepak Nayyar of Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University delivered the keynote speech.
He said though the progress of SAARC is very modest, the countries need to move ahead and use the platform as a means of collective development, not as the end.
Professor Nayyar was of the view that there is a political benefit of greater regional cooperation, which is the peace dividend, and so political connectivity is important.
He also said China has been trying to influence different countries of the region for its own interest. Some others are also showing interests for various reasons.
Rana Muhammad Afzal Khan, parliamentary secretary of finance in National Assembly of Pakistan, said bitterness is there, and both India and Pakistan have to overcome it for better functioning of SAARC.
Dr Dinesh Bhattarai, advisor to the Prime Minister of Nepal, pointed out that South Asia has been a victim of terrorism, which sidelined the progress of SAARC.
Nazir Kabiri, advisor to the finance ministry of Afghanistan, blamed Pakistan’s military institutions for spreading terror and fear across the region and thus undermining the regional cooperation process.
Suraj Vaidya, president of SAARC chamber, alleged that SAARC promises too much but delivered too little due to the over commitments.
He said movement of the people in the region is still very limited.
SAARC does not consist only of India and Pakistan. If they cannot resolve their problems, other six member countries of the organisation have to move forward with SAARC.
The SAARC chamber president stressed on making more investment by the member countries in other countries of the region for creating more jobs across the region.
On the sideline of the session, Professor Dr Prabir De of Delhi-based Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) told the FE that SAARC needs political direction to move ahead.
In another session on intra-regional trade, Dr Selim Raihan, executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), said the SAARC countries have to develop their own way of regional integration without following the traditional steps of the integration process.
Dr Nisha Taneja of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations said real intra-regional trade in South Asia is not as low as it is stated.
“While the formal intra-regional trade is now 5.5 per cent, by taking the informal trade into consideration, the actual trade volume will be higher.”
She, however, mentioned that it is very difficult to estimate the actual volume of informal trade in South Asia.
Taking part in the discussion, Professor Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of Dhaka-based Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said Bangladesh needs to identify products targeting the Indian market to tap the benefits of market access.
The theme of SAES X summit is: Deepening Economic Integration for Inclusive and Sustainable Development in South Asia.
Kathmandu-based South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), in association with the National Planning Commission and the Ministry of Commerce of Nepal organised the three-day summit. It started on Tuesday and will conclude today (Thursday).