ISLAMABAD -  India and Pakistan face similar challenges and there is need to jointly address them. This was stated by Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan while speaking at Sustainable Development Policy Institute’s annual Sustainable Development Conference.

The conference began Tuesday and will continue till Thursday in Islamabad. He also emphasized that the trade for peace agenda in South Asia requires immediate attention and should be taken forward by establishing a connected infrastructure between member states.  Khurram Dastagir Khan, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry stated that governments realize the importance of regional connectivity. In this regard, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken steps to promote a healthy bilateral relationship, expecting the same from India. Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International and representatives from the business community in Pakistan, including Amin Hashwani of the Hashwani Group and Shaban Khalid, President ICCI, also reiterated measures needed for enhancing trade between India and Pakistan.

In the session on Energy and Water Security in South Asia, Shams Ul Mulk, former chairman WAPDA, highlighted that as a region, South Asia faces the triangular nexus of food, water and energy insecurity. He stressed that it was imperative to focus on both, availability as well as affordability of energy. In a subsequent session on the same theme, Musadik Malik, Advisor the Prime Minister of Pakistan, said that “The national power policy was the only policy approved by all four provinces.” Experts in the panel stressed the need for member states to jointly address energy and water based disputes and challenges in South Asia.

In a panel on the Government’s Vision 2025 Plan, experts stressed that civil services reforms were needed to ensure due implementation of policies. There is need for census in Pakistan for informed policy making. As it is, a new national census has been long due in the country. There should also be consensus amongst political parties to ensure persistency in policies.

On the future of food security in Pakistan, experts expressed that in order to ensure food security in Pakistan urgent steps are required to improve agricultural productivity and efficiency. The socio-economic status of small farmers needs to be enhanced along with structural reforms in the agricultural sector. In the panel on access to quality education in Pakistan, Mosharraf Zaidi, renowned analyst and Team Lead of the Alif Ailaan education campaign, observed that education in Pakistan has been painfully affected due to political issues in the country. Experts also emphasized the need for policy-relevant research in the education sector, as well as increase in budgetary allocations to the sector.

A number of interesting case studies from across South Asia were presented in the session on Sustainable Development in South Asia through Innovations and Partnerships. These involved a project in Sri Lanka to utilize solid waste for producing bio-energy and the Nadi water filter in Thatta, Pakistan.

In the panel on Agriculture Value Chain Development of South Asia, experts observed that Pakistan is still driving on traditional farm based production approach. Experts in the panel on Promoting Freedom of Belief in Pakistan reiterated the equality of all religions as enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. They also added that education and literature can help shape a more tolerant future of Pakistan. Curriculum design should be in favor of religious tolerance in the country.

Experts at the panel on Gender Equality highlighted the significant role that women play in the social, economic and political realms across various parts of South Asia. Gender equality and empowerment require minimal foreign aid but active administrative direction, community participation, and commitment towards implementation of decisions in favor of gender inclusion.

On improvement in service delivery in Pakistan, experts highlighted that there is need for citizen empowerment to bolster accountability of those in-charge. Faisal Shaheen, Visiting Associate at SDPI, observed that there is need for coordination between state and non-state actors for improvement in service delivery. Khaleel Ahmed Tetley from RSPN observed that communities should be mobilized to demand accountability of politicians with regards to service delivery in the country.

The panel on the role of ICT in economic development discussed the background of ICT in Pakistan as well as presented a cross-country comparison of technology growth. Pakistan is one of the fastest developing markets for the mobile financial services in the developing world. Studies quoted that adoption of 3G can lead to economic benefits including enhanced socio-economic development and increased employment. Financial services through e-banking have the potential to increase GDP up to 5% by 2020. Speakers stressed that Pakistan must formulate its own National Broadband Plan.