‘South Asia can be biggest economic powerhouse by 2035’


SAFMA held a special conference with reference to the SAARC charter day, where eminent speakers, including Dr Rasool Bakhsh Raees, Dr Akmal Hussain and Pakistan Today Editor Arif Nizami spoke on the South Asian situation. Dr Raees said that the South Asian region was extremely important even in respect to the rest of the world. But the deterrence to peace and stability in the region was the result of the endless conflict of attitudes on different sides of the borders, he said. “Boundaries never change but it is the political will of the people on either side that must change to bring a difference in the situation,” he said. “If we get rid of the sword, we will have a much more peaceful South Asia,” Raees said.
He said that India and Pakistan especially must rid their rigid thinking. “Peace is in our collective interest, and we should continue to increase popular pressure so that this is achieved. I am looking forward to the day where there will be common economic zones, and unrestrained, open economic transactions,” he said. “South Asia has endless opportunities and these must be utilised,” Raees said. Without an aspiration to make a change, and the effort to do so, he said, we cannot ever achieve that situation. Dr Akmal Hussain spoke in detail about the economic situation, as well as the environmental and resource situation and how these affect democracy and peace in the region. He said that South Asia was facing many challenges that should be overcome to reach a point. He said that if this is done, by 2035, instead of China, it could be South Asia which would be the economic power in the world.
“A shift is taking place where the global economy is moving from the Western World to South Asia,” he said. “South Asia could be the biggest economic powerhouse in history. However, challenges are plenty,” Akmal said. He said that half the world’s population was living in South Asia, while a majority of this was living under the poverty line. “About 70 percent of the people in Pakistan and 77 percent in India are living under the poverty line,” he said.
In order to beat this kind of poverty scales, he said, inclusive growth must be introduced rather than growth in spurts. This means that the middle and lower classes must be the ones to generate the income and to enjoy its fruits, rather than the elite class, Akmal said. The other challenge was that the life support systems of the planet were under threat because of the way human beings have been consuming and producing these resources, he said.
Akmal said that climatic changes thanks to global warming had increased to such an extent that the frequency and intensity of climatic disasters had become more apparent especially in South Asia. “With 64 percent of people dependant upon agriculture directly or indirectly, this is a huge change because of global warming,” he said.
Arif Nizami pointed out that India and Pakistan being two of the most hardened rivals in the SAARC countries, were the ones which must change their attitudes towards each other. He said that unlike ASEAN, the SAARC was often plagued by conflicts between these two countries. “It will make things extremely difficult if these conflicts are not sorted out,” he said. Nizami said that even though things look bleak from one point of view, from another, it seems as if there are developments being made, albeit slow.
“While India used to have a very narrow minded approach towards Pakistan, and it has recently opened their vision, Pakistan must also look within itself and see what it is doing wrong,” he said. “Why is it that so many political parties agree to improving relations but when it comes to the practical side, not much is being done?” he questioned. “The question is can we walk the talk?”
Nizami said that there were several vested interests in the reason for improving relations including business and trade but there was a more important reason in the security paradigm. “We have the lowest growth rate excluding Afghanistan,” he said. “But the most important issue we must look at is the nexus between the non-state actors and the state. We are occasionally not on the same page with policy makers and implementers, and we have conflicting ideas about relations with India,” the Pakistan Today editor said.
He said that non-state actors especially those that are armed, can easily spill across borders and create conflict which inevitably results in one country being pitted against the other.