OUR STAFF REPORTER KARACHI - Speakers at a round-table meeting on SAARC: The Journey So Far and The Way Ahead underlined the need for increasing people-to-people contact among South Asian countries and trade within the region. They also expressed concerns over the hegemony of India-Pakistan-centric discourse that dominated all interactions at the SAARC level. The round-table was jointly organised by the Pakistan Peace Coalition (PPC), Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Pakistan Studies Centre, University of Karachi and Arts Council of Pakistan on Saturday. Peoples SAARC, a parallel process of the civil society to the official meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), is holding a series of country process meetings across different parts of the South Asian region (Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Trivandrum) on the occasion of the SAARC summit. The meeting demanded the government to end confusion regarding giving the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India and complete all requirements in this regard. Dr Jaffar Ahmed, Chairman Pakistan Studies Centre, Dr Riaz Shaikh of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), Senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, Dr Mutahir Shaikh of the Karachi Universitys International Relations Department, Ehsanullah Khan of the Workers-Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP), senior columnist and intellectual Muqtada Mansoor were the main speakers of the round-table meeting, which was attended by peace activists, student leaders and civil society members. Speaking on the occasion, senior journalist and columnist Ghazi Salahuddin said an India-centered mindset existed in Pakistan, which had hindered the development of positive relations with India. We have not learnt lessons from the history, he said, adding that on the issue of giving the MFN status to India there was still existed a confusion in Pakistan. Veteran poet Fahmida Riaz, who recited her poetry on peace, said the trade of war was going on in Pakistan and India, which had kept people of both the countries away from each other. There is only one section of Pakistan, which is getting benefit from this trade of war. Money is not being spent on welfare of the people. She said there was a diversity of religions in South Asia. Muqtada Mansoor, Ms Zeenia Shaukat and Dr Mutahir Shaikh also spoke on the occasion. The meeting expressed concern over the growing internal rifts within the region. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal continue to be mired by internal conflicts with rates much higher than expected for their stage of development. The handling of the ongoing conflict in Pakistan (Balochistan, FATA and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; in India (Maoist insurgency in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa); the post conflict phase in Sri Lanka and Nepal - all have raised serious questions regarding fundamental human rights of the population affected by conflicts. The Peoples SAARC also expressed alarm over the increasing defence budgets, nulcearlisation, food insecurity, climate change and environmental concerns, compromised human development, internal conflicts and growing corporatization in South Asian countries. In terms of military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, Pakistan spends the highest at 3.2 per cent of GDP; Sri Lanka, 2.9 per cent; India, 2.7 per cent; Nepal, 1.7 per cent; Afghanistan, 1.5 per cent; and Bangladesh, 1 per cent. In a region, where 260 million people lack access to rudimentary health facilities, 337 million lack safe drinking water, over 400 million people go hungry every day, and the average public health expenditure stands at 1.7 per cent of the regions GDP, an astronomical allocation to defence expenditure that stands around $40bn is highly atrocious and unjust.