Asking SAARC nations to leverage their strength and overcome common challenges, Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday proposed a five-point roadmap including promoting genuine peace and security in the South Asian region.
It was essential to promote an environment for genuine peace and security in South Asia as there was a direct link between security and development, he said in his address to the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi.
Touching upon the proposed roadmap to overcome the challenges facing the nations of the region, he said the differences could be resolved among the member nations through dialogue, discussions and diplomacy.
Aziz said it was essential to build mutual trust and confidence to reduce the "trust deficit" that, he said, hampered the process of attaining the full growth potential of the region.
The Pakistan Prime Minister said the principles of peaceful coexistence and building inter-dependency between nations should be adhered to strictly "to help each other in order to help ourselves".
He said a level-playing field should be promoted among the SAARC nations for labour and production. For this, an open environment for regional trade and removal of all trade barriers should be carried out.
"We must have the necessary political will. We must rise above our differences for the greater good of our people", Aziz said.
Calling for a "reality check" to assess the progress of SAARC in its three decades of existence, Aziz said the member countries were committed to the process and it was their collective responsibility to demonstrate their commitment to make the region vibrant, progressive and prosperous.
"Time has come to seize the commitment and overcome our challenges .... There should be a paradigm change in our thinking and attitude," he said, adding that progress remained "short of our aspirations".
Observing that "we are today at a crucial crossroad", Aziz said SAARC has to be made "goal-oriented" by translating its potential into reality and tangible action.
Maintaining that there were "islands of affluence and excellence" in the South Asian region, he said these underscored the potential of the region.
"We have to harness this potential to convert the region to prosperity".
Welcoming Afghanistan into the SAARC fraternity as also the international observers, the Pakistan Prime Minister said Islamabad had always been advocating such interaction as this would open up the region for mutually beneficial cooperation with other nations.
He also welcomed the interest of Iran as an observer in the SAARC and said "we look forward to their participation".
Aziz said "we must ask ourselves as to how relevant SAARC is to our people. How it has impacted the people? These are some of the challenging questions before us".
The reason why the grouping's progress has been slow was the disputes and trust deficit that existed between some of the nations, he said.
The Pakistani leader suggested that the development goals and social agenda of the SAARC must be adhered to and recommended increased emphasis on trade and economic activity, market access, intra-connectivity and communication links.
Referring to the issue of energy security, he suggested the concept of creating an energy ring among the eight nation grouping.
Aziz also stressed the need for programmes on poverty alleviation, food security and promotion of healthcare and education.
"The eyes of over a billion people of South Asia are upon us. We as the leaders of South Asia bear on our shoulders the hopes and aspirations of our people", he said.