ISLAMABAD - Sustainable development in South Asia strongly depends upon how well social cohesion across regions, faiths and ethnicities can be achieved, said Syed Naveed Qamar, federal minister for defence, while speaking at the opening session of 15th Annual Sustainable Development Conference (SDC), organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Tuesday.

The three-day conference titled “Sustainable Development in South Asia: Shaping The Future” is looking at future of sustainable development in South Asia. The conference seeks to analyse how things will look like 20, 30 or even 50 years from now; what issues will be looming large; making concrete suggestions on how to overcome future challenges; and, give practical policy recommendations about a sustainable South Asia for all.

Syed Naveed Qamar said that social cohesion and tolerance should be the priority agenda for government and non-governmental organisations in the region. “Going forward our priorities must include on how the rising economic gains and access to technology be configured in a manner that can reduce inequalities - particularly the inequality of opportunities for our people,” the minister added.

He said that developmental considerations should regard social justice and respect our environment and natural resources. Speaking on governance and role of institutions for people’s empowerment, the minister urged on ensuring participatory democracy at the local level whereby communities and households can feel themselves integrated and part of the overall vision for national and regional development.

He said Pakistan is undertaking a foreign policy focusing on ‘looking towards Asia’. “Pakistan has played an active role in SAARC for formulisation of the processes towards setting up food bank and supporting other regional arrangements including South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), he added.

He further added that cross-border trade and investment in this region has the potential to mitigate poverty and inequalities. “Today South Asia remains the least connected region in the world. If we continue to be as distant as we are today, our children may never be able to interact, talk, meet and play with the children in the neighborhoods. Such a lost opportunity will be synonymous to a youth stolen in the name of history’s baggage,” he said.

Speaking as key note speaker, the former information minister and vice president IUCN Pakistan, Javed Jabbar, said despite diversity in every aspect and rich in resources, the South Asia region still faces significant stresses and shortages in water, food and energy sector. He said the region needs to bank upon commonalities while thinking and acting collectively.

He identified seven elements essential in shaping the future of South Asia, including environmental security; economic equity; moderating consumption; democratic reforms for greater accountability and improved governance; respect for all religions and ethnicities; military restraints by India, Pakistan and other countries to strengthen cross border peace and civil supremacy in the region, and lastly the greater social stability. He also suggested of introduction of a ‘Green Budget’ by Finance Minister before the presentation of fiscal budget in parliament.

Panelists at session ‘Will media be a catalyst for change?’ discussed the role of media in stimulating change in society. They unanimous agreed that forms and formats of media are changing rapidly where social media are not only informing at fast pace but are also linking individuals, groups, societies.

The session on “Dynamics of Non Traditional Security Threats” analysed the nontraditional security threats in the context of conflict raised due to energy and climate change. Tahir Dhindsa of SDPI expressed that international beneficiary systems are directly integrated with the petroleum resources and sovereignty of the states. Khurram Javed from Diplomatic Academy, Azerbaijan, stressed on implementation of IP, TAPI and Trans-Caspian projects for initiating development in the region.

Naeem Akram from Economic Affairs Division, Pakistan identified inflation, change in temperature and precipitation as major impediment in growth and threat for human and food security. Human development index was also considered as an important factor in determining the Climate change vulnerability and conflict. Dr. Saba Gul Khattak, Member BoG, SDPI, concluded the session with view, “The heart of the conflict lies in the difference of logic in politics and science and it needs to be work out at earliest.”

Dr Saeed Shafqat, SDPI chairman Board of Governors, Dr Abid Suleri, executive director of SDPI also spoke on the event.