Bindu Shajan Perappadan

Kandy (Sri Lanka): Though Kandy lost out to Colombo in the race to host the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SARRC) summit, the hill city played host to a unique citizen’s initiative to “unite” countries of the South Asia region.

Asking for convergence on key issues and more regional cooperation, participants in the three-day “Imagine a New South Asia” (INSA) conference, which concluded here on Thursday, agreed to work for a common Parliament, currency and all-inclusive regional development blueprint. The meeting was organised jointly by the Universities of Peradeniya and Colombo in association with various non-government organisations from South Asian countries.

Governor of Central Province Tikiri Kobbekaduwa said: “Though we lost out to hosting the SAARC summit we are pleased that Kandy is playing host to another important conference which is allowing people to people interaction that we feel will go much further than political leaders meeting and trying to work for better regional co-operation.”

He added that terrorism and eliminating poverty were important goals that the region had to work together to achieve.

Members from various non-government organisations from South Asia working for women rights, environmental issues and MPs from countries including Sri Lanka , Afghanistan and Pakistan attended the meeting.

“Poverty, illiteracy and terrorism are the core issues that plague the South Asia region today which needs a collective effort to eradicate,” said Pakistan National Assembly member Fauzia Wahab.

INSA regional steering committee chairperson Q. K. Ahmad asked the participants to work for the right to freedom and dignity of human beings and a borderless South Asia.

Meanwhile, looking forward to their country participating in the SAARC summit, Afghanistan parliamentarian and head of finance and budget committee Fauiza Wahab said: “While we are happy to be part of SAARC summit, this is an important social dialogue that has been initiated to develop a new shared vision and convergence of government and civil society at various levels in the matter of mutual importance. We are looking forward to a peaceful, democratic and economically strong South Asia.”

Women’s rights activist Kamla Bhasin demanded that women be given their rightful share in the South Asia region. “Privatisation, globalisation and liberalisation are behind all the disasters that we are witnessing and women unfortunately are the worst hit during natural or man made disasters. I strongly believe that a new South Asia will emerge only if power is given to the people and development happens taking the people along.”