KATHMANDU- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today said that his vision for the region was of a dispute-free South Asia, where instead of fighting one another, the countries jointly fought poverty, illiteracy, disease, malnourishment and unemployment.

Addressing the 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, Nawaz Sharif appreciated  the theme of the 18th summit, “Deeper Regional Integration for Peace and Prosperity”, and said, "The focus on deeper integration for peace and prosperity is most appropriate and reflects our common desire for promoting mutual understanding and reaching out to each other to create a win-win scenario."

PM said "SAARC must capture the imagination of our people and contribute to create strong and mutual beneficial bonds. SAARC can contribute immensely towards building a trust surplus among member states."

"Interfaith and intercultural harmony must find special emphasis in its programs." Sharif said that the region, which is home to nearly one quarter of the global population, is mired in poverty, disease and illiteracy with lowest human and social indicators. “More than one-fifth of the population is between 15-24 years of age which is the largest number of youth to ever make transition into adulthood," he said.

"We should invest in our youth to unleash their creativity, talent and enterprise. We need our bonds of trust so we can solve our problems," he said.

The Prime Minister added, "The region however accounts for only six per cent of the world’s GDP in purchasing power parity, and only four per cent share in the world trade while attracting only three percent of the global FDI we are one of the least integrated regions in the world.”

Sharif noted that all South Asian countries were vibrant democracies and added that, "We earnestly hope that old and new democracies in South Asia will join hands to make the region happy and prosperous."

He further said "The recent monsoon floods in South Asian countries raised the importance of regional coordination on cross-border information sharing and early flood forecasting as human-induced and natural disaster affects everybody, irrespective of national boundaries and economic status."

“In pursuing the SAARC socio-economic agenda we must pay special attention to rural development, expansion of agricultural resource base, development of action plans to combat communicable diseases, promotion of greater collaboration in the health sector, elimination of illiteracy, scientific and technological capacity building and development of information and communication technology.”

The PM said the economic development of South Asia is closely linked to the availability of energy at an affordable price and added that "With abundant alternate energy resources available region-wide, we need to collectively focus on harnessing indigenous energy production potential."

He further said that arrangements for trans-regional oil and gas pipelines should also be considered and added that due to its geographical location, Pakistan is a natural economic corridor for the region.

"Promoting regional connectivity is one of the seven pillars of our development strategy. My government is actively pursuing this initiative which has the potential to integrate South Asia, China and Central Asia – the three engines of growth in Asia," the PM said. "A soft visa-regime would greatly facilitate the realization of these objectives."

Concluding his speech, the prime minister said "Having hosted the fourth and 12th SAARC summits, Pakistan would be pleased to offer itself to host the 19th summit in Islamabad." He congratulated Nepal for successfully holding the SAARC summit.