Sri Lanka could be a bridge for all South Asian nations as it has good relations with all of them, former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said on Tuesday (01) in New Delhi.
Speaking at the inauguration of the three-day Raisina Dialogue, envisioned as India’s flagship conference of geopolitics and geo-economics, the former President of Sri Lanka said the economic integration in South Asia proceeded very slowly while the while cooperation and economic integration proceeded very fast in the rest of the world.
She said the conflict between India and Pakistan has prevented South Asian integration for a long time but things were likely to change now with the rise of the post-Partition generation which has left behind the “baggage of conflict.”
The Former President called for a pragmatic action plan for regional integration in South Asia as the region with the largest number of poor people in the world, will gain from such an integration.
Ms. Kumaratunga, who has ruled the island nation for two-terms, called for a paradigm shift from the old attitude of the South Asian countries towards each other as “mutual understanding and cooperation will strengthen democracy in the region.”
Sharing her ideas on South Asia Free Trade and greater regional cooperation, the former President of Sri Lanka called for developing of soft power through tourism and people-to-people contact.
“In the emerging regional environment, national security concerns should compel us to cooperate with each other,” Ms. Kumaratunga pointed out.
She suggested reducing regional trading costs, promoting more travel by people between the South Asian countries and large investments in infrastructure as measures for regional integration.
The Raisina Dialogue held from 1-3 March in New Delhi under the theme “Connecting Asia”, is designed to explore prospects and opportunities for Asian integration as well as Asia’s integration with the larger world.
The dialogue is organized by the External Affairs Ministry of India and the Observer Research Foundation. Over 450 participants from around 40 countries are participating in this year’s conference.
Other keynote speakers included India’s Eternal Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Former President of Seychelles James Manchan, and Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai.