Underlining the importance of connectivity in South Asia, India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday night said it is key to not only India's development but the entire region and the Asian continent.
Swaraj was speaking at the inaugural panel of the maiden Raisina Dialogoue, organised by Observer Research Foundation in association with the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi.
The three-day Dialogue, organised on the lines of the famous Shangrila Dialogue held in Singapore, will see participation of more than 100 speakers from over 35 countries. It is focusing on Asia's physical, economic, human and digital connectivity, attempting to discover opportunities and challenges for the region to manage its common spaces, as well as the global partnerships needed to develop common pathways in this century.
Elaborating the development work done by India in various neighbouring countries and efforts to improve connectivity, Foreign Minister Swaraj said SAARC is still trying to live up to the its vast potential in the region.
"India preaches what it practises," the Minister said reminding the leaders from various countries present at the function that "connectivity is very important for progress" and India would work for the development of the region and win over "vested interests".
Pointing out that the present government, which came to power in May 2014, has given a "new sense of purse to its foreign policy", the Minister the Raisina Dialogue would become an important event in the calendar of foreign policy and it would provide an international platform in India to leaders and experts of the region and the world to discuss issues and come up with solutions.
Earlier, speaking first, Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, former President of Sri Lanka, said there is a need for "pragmatic action plan" by the leaderships of the countries of the region to economically integrate and develop the region.
"There is no need for a grand vision, but only a pragmatic action plan," Ms Kumaratunga said.
She also stressed the need for building trust and confidence between the countries to increase cooperation and pointed out that South Asia has immense potential to increase trade and bring in development though it is the least integrated region in the world now.
Pointing out that the conflict between India and Pakistan had hindered development of the region badly, Ms Kumaratunga called for "a new paradigm shift" in the policies of the governments, saying the new generations, having born after the Partition, have left behind conflict and are looking forward to development of the region.
She called for the "enterprise of building cooperation and economic integration" between the nations in South Asia first and then with other countries in Asia.
She said that Sri Lanka, having good relations with all countries, can act as a bridge between nations.
Describing China as a big economic power in the region, along with India, the former Sri Lankan President suggested that the countries should look at China as an opportunity rather than as a threat.
Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said even his opinions are not much different from Ms Kumaratunga, the only difference being he is looking at it from an Afghan perspective.
He also suggested that the nations should move beyond suspicions and mistrust and cooperate to solve the problems of the region. He criticised Pakistan for not cooperating with his government despite his best efforts to convince his immediate neighbour for the need for cooperation. He also accused Pakistan of the missing link while Afghanistan, Iran and India are cooperating to improve the much needed connectivity.
"The peoples in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are quite close and are cooperating, but the relations between the two governments are not conducive for integration," Mr Karzai said, adding the lack of access between Afghanistan and India have to fixed to help develop the region.
Seeking regional solutions for security concerns, Mr Karzai said the nations should move beyond the "narrow national interests" and if we do that, the region can achieve peace, stability and development.
Karzai also suggested cooperation between India and China, two biggest economies in Asia, as it could lead to win-win situation for both the countries and the region.
Both Ms Kumaratunga and Mr Karzai warned of the increasing extremism and violence in the region, which is having a devastating impact on the lives of the people. Both talked about the need to check militancy through closer cooperation between the nations. Mr Karzai also talked about the increasing threat of the ISIS or 'Daesh'.
Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abdul Hassan Mahmood Ali pointed out that South Asia being the least connected region, the future lies in regional and sub-regional cooperation .
Stressing the need to end confrontation between neighbours, Mr Ali said Bangladesh's relation with India is at "the best level now".
Former Seychelles President James Mancham made a strong case for working for peace as the wars would never solve problems. He said it was unfortunate that the spending on defence by nations are three-four times the amount spent on human resources. "The fear is where the world is moving?" he said, adding the need for Asia to get together and work together for the development of the people.
During his opening remarks, ORF Director Sunjoy Joshi thanked the Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and his team for the support extended to ORF for organising this Dialogue, India's first global conclave on geo-economics and geopolitics.
He told Swaraj that she is not just inaugurating a conference but is crafting a new mode of how the Indian leadership brings together thought leaders, experts, practitioners and people to successfully engage with the region and the world.
"The next three days will see debates and discussions, throw up ideas and pathways that will hopefully shape the progress of not just India and Asia but of all who are invested in and engaged with Asia.with India," Joshi said.
He said "the Asian century in effect is really about once again integrating Asia with itself, integrating Asia within itself, and integrating Asia with the world". The theme of this inaugural edition of the Dialogue is "Connecting Asia" which tries to capture the various facets of these ambitions..
"The Raisina Dialogue aspires to be one of the arenas, where the old and the new can work together, not always necessarily in agreement, but always in harmony, many times contesting, but contesting as partners and not as adversaries. This dialogue aspires to be such an amphitheatre of ideas located in India but owned by the world," the ORF director said.