Ahead of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives in November, India Thursday announced the setting up of a South Asia Forum and admitted that regional economic integration would have been faster if relations with Pakistan were better.
New Delhi will host the maiden meeting of the two-day South Asia Forum starting 8 September that seeks to generate ‘out of box ideas’ for facilitating greater regional economic integration and people-to-people contact in the region.
The forum is intended to be a clearing house for out-of-box ideas for facilitating regional economic integration, said Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.
When asked about the troubled India-Pakistan relations holding up the SARRC process of regional integration, Mathai admitted that there has been ‘a fairly slow movement’ due to these differences and underlined the need for ‘a high degree of convergence and trust’ among countries of the region.
Mathai said India was trying to build trust and confidence with countries of the region, including Pakistan, but stressed that whatever ‘residual doubts’ were there, New Delhi was ready to address them.
‘SAARC has achieved considerable progress. Things have speeded up (at the SAARC) but the progress would have been faster,’ Mathai replied when asked whether the reduction of trust deficit among countries of the region would have led to better economic integration.
Leaders of South Asia decided at the 16th SAARC summit in Thimphu last year to set up a South Asia Forum, with an aim to promote the concept of a South Asian community and the idea of a South Asian economic unity.
The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) will provide the organisational support for the 8-9 September meeting of the forum. The overarching theme for the first South Asia Forum would be ‘Integration in South Asia: Moving Towards a South Asian Economic Union.’
The Maldives will host the two-day SAARC summit at its capital Malé beginning 10 November.