1st SAARC Young Parliamentarians’ Conference (SYPC 2016)

By Akif Sattar.

South Asia is the only region which is struggling to be the developed region of the world. Though it is the center of rapidly growing economic activities yet there is a long way to go as far as the well-being of common man is concerned. The dream of a Nation-State in the South Asian region is still far away to be a reality. There can be many reasons for its under-development and socio-economic backwardness. However, obvious one is the vested political and strategic matters of two traditional opponents. It is a high time to identify our common challenges, having Kashmir in the equation for peace and development. The way forward on bilateral disputes should be taken out, however, not at the cost of regional harmony and development. Pakistan should not be compromising anything short of UN resolutions of self-determination on Kashmir while playing the card of regional cooperation.  19th SAARC Summit is scheduled on 9th and 10th November this year, in Islamabad. Pakistan has to use this opportunity to turn the tables to launch a meaningful dialogue and cooperation.

1st SAARC Young Parliamentarians’ Conference (SYPC 2016) on Peace & Harmony for Development was organized to prelude the agenda for upcoming SAARC Summit. The conference was conceptualized and organized by the Young Parliamentarians’ Forum (YPF), a cross party forum of all political parties in the National Assembly of Pakistan.  Around 40 delegates participated in the conference from all SAARC nations except any delegate from Bangladesh. Although Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament (Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban) nominated a five member delegation to attend the conference, unfortunately, Bengali foreign office barred them to participate, perhaps due to troubled foreign relations between two countries over death sentences to the Ex-East Pakistan Leaders. Most of the delegates were the Members of the respective National Parliaments from the SAARC few of them were Ex-member Parliaments and contributed as key experts in the conference.

Conference was focused to put SAARC Youth Charter in the forefront of upcoming 19th SAARC Summit. Signing of the Youth Charter is the unfinished agenda of the previous Summit that was held in Nepal two years ago. Consultations in this regard has already been done with all respective countries and agenda is ready to be laid in the Summit. SYPC 2016 came up with the resolution to institutionalize the forum called as SAARC Young Parliamentarians Forum under the auspices of SAARC as a regular forum for dialogue.  The purpose of the forum to bring all young leaders who might be the future leaders of the region at one place to share their ideas, experience and problems. There was a consensus among all SAARC delegates that Young leaders should keep themselves above from all Political and strategic interest of the region. They showed resolve to utilize their energies, resources and political will to cater the socio-economic hitches of the South Asian Nations.

Emphasize of the conference was the social problems particularly the problems associated with youth. Gender equality was one among these problems and MPs from all SAARC Countries raised their voices to bring gender equality in society through legislation. Legislation is key to resolve all issues of grass-root level, however a political will and an insight is required to tackle all these problems. Pakistan was praised by all delegates for providing them an opportunity to learn from each-others experience. Education was another area of common interest that has been discussed widely in the conference. It was agreed that quality of educated should be streamlined with the international standards at all the central points of the SAARC and quality of the primary and secondary education should be raised through integration in this field. One of the participant from Bhutan raised the point to develop a common curricula atleast one subject at school level to promote peace and harmony among the youth of this region instead of seeding hate and extremism.

Cultural Exchange especially Sports can be a game changer in the region as far as regional integration is concerned. Sports activities and Events like South Asian Games can bring nations closer. Countries having big infrastructure can offer training camps for fitness other sports activities. Field of music and other performing arts could be used for cooperation and to bridge gap among SAARC nations.  Unemployment is another highly volatile matter that bring frustration among massive youth. SAARC is the region having highest Youth Population (Below 40 years of Age), that is above 50% of the total population. Unemployment is to be handled by the Public and Private sectors. This cannot be tackled by the governmental sector alone. Skill development and vocational training programs are required to promote youth entrepreneurship. To bring youth in the mainstream economy, an enabling environment is required, which can be facilitated through legislation and friendly policies for entrepreneurs. Country with rapidly growing economy and larger market has to take initiatives to flourish this sector in order to mitigate the challenge of unemployment.

Delegates from all SAARC countries took away the message of peace and harmony from this conference. They were all very impressed by the hospitality and warmth of our people. Few of them mentioned in their concluding remarks that they had a different perspective of Pakistan in their country and in their minds. The moment they landed at airport, they have been through markets, hotels and conference and openly interacted with the people, they felt that Pakistan is a peace loving nation.  One of the delegate mentioned his son who asked him not to go Pakistan as it is the country of extremism and terrorism. He was convinced and said, next time I will be visiting Pakistan with my family to make them see that how lovely this country is.  Therefore, even if the declaration of this conference couldn’t be at the priority agenda of 19th SAARC Summit, the conference has already achieved its goal of seeding love, peace and harmony for development of the South Asian Region.

The Writer is associated with an International Developmental Organization and can be reached at akif_sattar@yahoo.com

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