How can physical, economic and emotional linkages amongst the South Asian nations be strengthened?
That is the question think tanks from the region, which have gathered in Thimphu, will tackle over the next few days, and make recommendations to be submitted at the next SAARC summit.
That such a question should be raised reinforces the fact that this extremely diverse region still remains largely divided by political and geographical borders and other considerations that might be of paramount importance to its leaders.
Home to a fifth of humanity and birthplace of several of the world’s faiths, South Asia, with its diverse and age old culture and traditions, and today one of the fastest growing regions economically, is as fascinating as it can get.
But this region has been plagued by trouble and strife within countries, and amongst countries, and by poverty levels, which, according to some studies, are even below sub Saharan levels.
The SAARC grouping that was formed more than 25 years ago has seen little progress for the amount of time it has been around, because its growth has been pegged to the relationship between India and Pakistan that blows hot and cold every now and then.
Then again, for the other smaller countries, the dominance of other nations in the grouping, and therefore the decision-making has not been something to laud or appreciate. In such circumstances, the threat perception for small nations with extremely small populations is magnified.
Yet this getting together of think tanks from the region that include researchers, educationists, business representatives, civil society and media to build bridges offers possibilities for the region to look beyond vested interests, and make this a tension-free zone of peace and prosperity.
There are exciting proposals of improving connectivity by road and rail through the region that will connect to central Asia and Tibet. There are proposals of creating an energy corridor for electricity and gas, and breaking down barriers on the visa regime, so that movement is less restricted. There are proposals for educational linkages and greater people to people contact.
Representatives from the ASEAN grouping will also be sharing their experiences at the conference, so that participants can learn from on how to take the south Asian grouping further, and form linkages with Southeast Asia and central Asia.
Getting over the differences that divide this region is not going to be easy. But getting together to sit and think about a joint south Asian vision is a step in that direction.
Kuensel Daily, 12 September