Indo-Pak mistrust have "devastating consequences: Ex-Sri Lanka president

Chandrika Kumaratunga, who served as Sri Lankan president for around 11 years, said why cannot "we see Chinese economic power as an opportunity rather than a threat for South Asia."

New Delhi: Huge suspicion, mistrust and tension between nuclear-powered India and Pakistan have been causing "devastating consequences" in South Asia, particularly halting its economic growth and exposing the region to the risk of a major conflict, former president of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga said on Tuesday.

In her address at the Raisina Dialogue, she said national security concerns should compel major players in the region to cooperate with each to effectively deal with challenge of terrorism and violent "politicised extremism".

Pitching for economic integration among SAARC countries, Kumaratunga, who served as Sri Lankan President for around 11 years, said why cannot "we see Chinese economic power as an opportunity rather than a threat for South Asia."

"Huge suspicion and continuing mistrust between the two large states of South Asia has caused devastating consequences to the entire region," she said speaking at the inaugural session of the three-day dialogue.

She said India is the world's fastest growing economy and it will have much to gain from regional economic integration.

In his address, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said terrorism is spreading in the region, threatening its stability. "We must not tolerate state entities supporting, harbouring, financing terrorist networks," he said.

Calling India Afghanistan's best friend, Karzai, without naming Pakistan, said states harbouring militant elements was not at all acceptable and that regional organisations like Shanghai Cooperation Organisation can play an effective role in dealing with the menace.

Karzai said he had visited Islamabad over 20 times during his 14 year tenure as Afghan President in an effort to improve ties but he did not succeed.

He said Afghanistan's relationship with China is comprehensive and Kabul has an important role as a transit hub for regional economic integration.

"Afghanistan wants best relations between India and China. There is a need for positive symmetry," he said, hoping China-Iran rail line would be extended to other countries.

Karzai also talked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the Afghan Parliament in December last year and said India has been helping the country to a great extent in the last few years.

Speaking at the conference, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali said terror and lack of political will have impeded regional connectivity affecting economic growth of the region.

Talking about Indo-Bangla ties, he said relations between the two countries are at their "best" now.

In her address, Kumaratunga also said South Asia is today one of the two most violent regions of the world and cooperation was essential to ensuring regional security.

She said the paradox of South Asia is that the "very cultures we have shared for millennia have succeeded in dividing us."

"South Asian states expended time and effort in consolidating separate identities - causing inter-state tension," she said. 

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