Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has called upon the SAARC countries to join hands to strengthen democracy in the region.

Addressing the SAARC parliamentarians at a luncheon in Islamabad on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said the eighteenth‚ nineteenth and twentieth amendments in the constitution of Pakistan have not only restored the original structure but also addressed the issues of autonomy of provinces by granting them more administrative‚ legal and financial powers. He said that Parliament represents the will and aspirations of the people.

Raja Pervez Ashraf said Parliament’s role is critical for any democracy to take deep roots and formulate policies for people’s welfare. He said the SAARC countries should develop a comprehensive and holistic strategy to address the challenges faced by the region.

The Prime Minister said at a time when regional economic and political groupings are fast emerging on the map of the world SAARC can ill-afford to lag behind. He said Food security has become a fundamental component of national security paradigm.

The Prime Minister said the regional countries should share information and expertise in agricultural sector‚ technology transfer and efficient irrigation system to effectively preempt any food crises in future. The Prime Minister said Pakistan is firmly committed to the principles of SAARC and attaches great importance to its ideals.

“It is time for us to leverage our potential to overcome these challenges,” the Prime Minister said.  He said Pakistan was firmly committed to the principles of SAARC and attaches great importance to its ideals and processes.

He said Pakistan strongly believes that regional cooperation was an important engine of prosperity for the people of the region and called for focussing on increasing regional trade. “We are committed to go an extra mile to make SAARC an effective and productive organization that is beneficial to all South Asian citizens.”

The Prime Minister in this regard said the people need to be made partners in development and their welfare be the focus of public policy.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said Pakistan envisions SAARC as a thriving organization, promoting not only regional development but advancing the global agenda for peace and prosperity. He said one of the objectives of SAARC was to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life.

“Let’s join hands to extend support to strengthen democracy in our region.”  He said Parliament’s role was critical for any democracy to take deep roots and formulate policies for people’s welfare. “The broad-based and unhindered participation of people leads to greater ownership by the people and brightens the prospects of success,” Ashraf added. He said being elected not only brings special privilege and honour, but also entails huge responsibilities. “We should be cognizant of high hopes and expectations pinned on us by the people,” Prime Minister Ashraf said.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan’s Parliament was playing a leading role in strengthening democracy and was a true custodian of people’s rights. He said the 18th, 19th and 20th amendments in the constitution of Pakistan have restored the original structure. He said these have also addressed the issues of autonomy of provinces, besides empowering women and minorities and ensured measures to protect human rights.

The Prime Minister said that South Asia was facing disease, conflicts, joblessness, violence and squalor. Climate change, environmental hazards and natural calamities have further eroded the prospects for sustainable growth, critical for poverty alleviation.

He said the region despite being blessed with immense natural resources and talent, has not been able to realize its full economic potential and was still home to a large number of poor people. “Inertia and status quo will have to be abandoned in our pursuit of shared well-being of our people,” the Prime Minister said.

He said at a time when regional economic and political groupings were fast emerging on the map of the world, SAARC can ill-afford to lag behind. He said the people of South Asia deserve better and it must be an endeavour to help them attain a respectable status in life. The Prime Minister said there was a need to develop comprehensive and holistic regional strategy that includes sharing of best practices in agricultural sector, technology transfer and efficient irrigation system to effectively preempt any food crises in future.

He said the real challenge was in making the process of development inclusive and equitable.  “If fruits of development do not reach the real stakeholders, the teeming millions, we will not be able to realize the dream of a peaceful, prosperous and stable South Asia.”

He said South Asia was witnessing changing demographic pattern and there was a pronounced youth bulge. “This huge reservoir of human resource can become an engine of growth if we engage with the youth and invest in their future,” Ashraf said and added that it was in this context that the theme of Participatory democracy through affirmative action of Parliament needs to be debated.

He said South Asian region can rightly be termed as food basket, however regretted that the number of food insecure people has been on the increase. He said reducing poverty, hunger and food insecurity were essential components of the Millennium Development Goals and said  food security has become a fundamental component of national security paradigm. “It is a major challenge and we need to make concerted efforts to face it,” he said.

The Prime Minister apprised the participants that given the importance and criticality of the challenge, Pakistan has set up a Ministry of Food Security and Research to cater to all aspects. He said the democratic government has increased wheat-support prices and taken a number of initiatives to boost crop production, water sector development, agricultural infrastructure and grain storage facilities, launch of Benazir Tractor Scheme, Special Programme for Food Security and Productivity Enhancement, Seed Sector Improvement, Crop Loan Insurance Scheme and Benazir Income Support Programme to help the poorest segments of the society.

“We are developing a national Zero Hunger Programme as part of our quest for realization of ‘Food for All’ dream. We seek to further strengthen our partnership with our regional and global partners in this regard.” He said there was immense scope for cooperation among the SAARC member countries in this vital area.

Prime Minister Ashraf said the conference provided an opportunity to the Parliamentarians of the SAARC region to engage in productive discussions on a variety of subjects and learn from each other’s experiences. He noted that the core theme of the conference; “Meaningful Participatory Democracy in South Asia—Parliament’s Affirmative Actions” and “Targeting Food Security for the Region: Ensuring Parliament’s role in accomplishing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)” was timely and relevant. He said both the subjects were relevant to the common desire and special responsibility to promote prosperity and development in the region. He expressed confidence that deliberations would lead to further deepening of cooperation among member states in related fields.

The Prime Minster said since its establishment in 1992 the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians has matured and has made important progress in various fields. Prime Minister Ashraf also commended the efforts of Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza for hosting Conference of speakers from the SAARC countries.

He expressed confidence that deliberations would pave the way for more targeted efforts to strengthen SAARC and to make it an effective regional bloc truly representative of aspirations of the people of South Asia.

 Source: nation.com.pk