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It is a privilege to address this distinguished group which has been deliberating over the past two days on a topic that has acquired immense importance over the past few years. It is always a pleasure to come back to the NDU and interact with such a well-informed audience of academics and researchers. I commend the NDU for organizing such interactive sessions where discussions are held in a healthy and intellectually stimulating environment.

The statement that the 21st century belongs to Asia is no longer a hopeful wish. It has already become a discernable reality and increasingly geo-economics is beginning to dominate geo-politics. As the United States and western powers look eastwards and the Asia-Pivot is trying to expand its influence, it is important for the Asian continent to realize its strengths, identify opportunities, ensure its independent and autonomous place in global politics and determine its future as an emerging economic powerhouse. In this power play, South Asia’s geo-strategic location gives it an added advantage of being at the crossroads of West, Central and East Asia yet, it is still to realize its full potential.

A glance at Asia’s history reveals its growing relevancethrough centuries. It has housed some of the greatest civilizations and empires of our history in China, Middle East, Turkey and Persia.Frictions and rivalries were inevitable, but so was the spirit of cooperation and political alignments. Today, the economic and political map of the continent illustrates the region’s complex tapestry. After decades of war and revolutionary turmoil, Asia has transformed itself dramatically. Starting in the 1970s, Asia has increasingly become the centre of global geo-economic gravity.

The rise of “Asian tigers” has been a game changer for the global economy: Rapid growth in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan in the 1970s, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in the 1980s brought prosperity and economicdynamismto the people of East and South East Asia. Japan played a major role in bringing large scale investment to the Asian tigers. In 1979 China changed course under Deng Xiaoping by proclaiming a policy of economic reforms that brought unprecedented growth of over 10 percent in China for the next three decades. China has now become the second largest economy of the world.

The integration of 10 South East Asian economies in ASEAN was another landmark for Asia and led to an era of sustained economic growth and prosperity for the people. ASEAN has become a template for other regions to emulate. Whatever the criteria – proportion of global GDP, trade, foreign direct investment or global capital flows – Asia has moved from the margins to the centre of the global economy. The truth is that the health of the 21st century global economy will largely be determined, and driven, by the emerging mega-economies of Asia.

Overlaying this 21st century global economic miracle is an array of parallel political and security policy realities that are almost 19th century in their character. Unresolved territorial disputes, resurging nationalismand growing non-traditional security threats dominate the region. This is augmented by the absence of effective regional political and security institutions and mechanisms that could ameliorate simmering regional tensions or manage crises that are inevitable in an environment as varied and diverse as Asia. All this is taking place against a background of increasing military buildup, at a time when most western military budgets are being reduced. Host to five nuclear weapons states – China, Russia, India, Pakistan and Israel, strategic stability in the Asia-Pacific region is of continuing concern for both the region and the world.

During the past decade, the world has also seen unprecedented chaos and violence triggered by a variety of factors and forces. With globalization and new technological advancements, controls at the borders have not been very effective for the security and stability of many countries. The Arab spring was a classic case in point, where revolutionary movements spread across the region like wildfire, engulfing a big chunk of the Middle East and shook the very foundations of many states. The quest for power in Syria and Iraq still rages on with no end in sight.The engagements of the major powers, particularly the U.S., Russia and China, have seen strategic shifts, but not yet found a new equilibrium.

Central Asia and Eurasia is one of the most important sources of world’s energy resources, after the Arabian Gulf and Siberia. However, one of the most serious limitations to its development is the lack of a legal regime, which has led to serious disputes among the littoral states over the question of energy exploitation and distribution. Politically, as well as economically, certain regional and international powers are trying to expand their sphere of influence in the region and a strong rivalry is emerging among these powers for the control and exploitation of these energy resources.

The “Asian pivot” or “rebalancing” is generating new dynamics in Asia. The rise of potent non-state entities, like ISIS, has changed the global threat matrix and is beginning to imperil the stability of many states and societies. Terrorism, climate change, economic interdependence, regional integration, and a shrinking globe, are all facets of the infinitely complex world that Asian countries have to grapple with.

The enormous potential of the Asian countries can be exploited for the benefits of its people through a sustained policy of interdependence and cooperation. While East Asia has surged ahead in economic growth and prosperity, South Asia remains mired in conflict and poverty. Pakistan has always stood for mutually beneficial cooperation and peaceful coexistence. We value enhancing economic ties, trade, transport and energy connectivity in the region and this has been the cornerstone of our government’s policies since we came to office.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has enunciated “peace for development” as the defining principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy. Building a peaceful neighborhood and a rebalancing between geo-strategic and geo-economic priorities constitute the main pillars of this policy. The Government has embarked on resolute efforts to create a peaceful external and internal environment, so that the core national objective of economic development is robustly advanced. The vision of a peaceful neighborhood cannot, however, be realized without a qualitative transformation in our relationships with Afghanistan, India and Iran.

Our western neighbour, Afghanistan, is at a pivotal juncture. Decades of war, external involvement and internal conflict affected all aspects of national life in the country. Undaunted, the resilient Afghan people are determined to emerge from decades-long conflict and to build a prosperous future. 2014 was a year of landmark transitions — in political, security and economic realms. The swearing-in of President Ashraf Ghani on 29 September 2014 ended the uncertainty about Afghanistan’s political future. Peaceful transfer of power and formation of a National Unity Government were historic firsts.

The Afghan National Security Forces have assumed responsibility for security, as NATO-led ISAF wrapped up its combat mission and assumed a “train, advise and assist”, role in the framework of “Resolute Support Mission.” Simultaneously, Afghanistan has commenced the “Transformation Decade” (2015-24) with the primary goal of becoming economically self-reliant. To this end, an ambitious reform programme has been outlined by the new Afghan government, which is supported by the international community.

International engagement over the past 13 years has helped bring about substantial improvements in Afghanistan including in the economy, infrastructure, health, education and democracy-building. In our view, it is imperative to preserve and consolidate these gains.

At the same time, it is essential to address the challenges; increase in insurgent activities, continued narcotic production and trafficking, and issues related to corruption and governance. We believe this precious moment of hope and optimism in Afghanistan must be defended, by not repeating the mistakes of the past. International community’s continuous engagement is a major imperative, since another abandonment of Afghanistan would lead to a repeat of the 1990s. The new Afghan government must be provided continuous economic and financial support for economic revival and for delivering on its reform agenda. All Afghan stakeholders must be convinced that their country would emerge stronger only if they worked with each other, not against each other, to carve out a political settlement. The external actors would have to agree on a regional consensus on non-interference.

On the economic front far-reaching initiatives have been taken by Pakistan and Afghanistan, including enhancing bilateral trade, streamlining transit trade issues, increasing investment cooperation, strengthening connectivity through road and rail links, and promoting energy collaboration through trans-regional projects like CASA-1000 and TAPI. Pakistan is also supporting the “Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process”, and would host its Ministerial Conference in 2015.

These positive trends are reinforced by the enhanced engagement of China both bilaterally with Afghanistan and in the regional context. Pakistan views this as a welcome development for peace, security, reconciliation, and economic progress of Afghanistan. China’s endeavours with Afghanistan, along with Pak-China cooperation on strategic projects like the Economic Corridor, would help effectively promote our common goals of a peaceful and stable region through grater trade and energy connectivity.

While considerable improvement in Pakistan-Iran relations has also started, India unfortunately has not reciprocated our outreach. The cancellation of Foreign Secretary-level talks by India on the pretext of our High Commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders was found unconvincing worldwide. Any efforts by India towards unilaterally altering the status of Kashmir would further compound the already complicated situation.

Unprovoked and indiscriminate firing and shelling from across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, with Indian leadership threatening disproportionate use of force, portend India’s dangerous desire to create a space for war. This hostile attitude also reveals a clear dichotomy in India’s insistence on eliminating terrorism on the one hand and creating distractions for our armed forces engaged in a relentless and non-discriminatory counter-terrorism operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’ on the other hand. While the international community recognizes that Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts must be strengthened, and not impeded, India with its massive defence spending is accentuating the conventional asymmetry and seriously impacting regional stability.

From the outset, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had emphasized to the new Indian leadership that the main dynamic in South Asia should be cooperation, not confrontation.Consistent with this perspective, we continue to follow a policy of restraint and responsibility but are determined at the same time to resolutely defend our national interests. We will not get drawn into any arms race, but will ensure maintenance of a credible deterrent capability. Pakistan shall not abandon its political, diplomatic and moral support to the Kashmir cause at any cost. Pakistan remains committed to a sustained, unconditional and result-oriented dialogue. Since it cancelled the dialogue, the onus would be on India to take the initiative. South Asia is home to one-fifth of humanity. We believe the fulfillment of their aspirations for a secure and better future should have primacy over any other consideration.

Pakistan appreciates US interest in South Asia and expects it to play a constructive role for strategic stability and balance in the region by allowingspace and resources to focus on the objectives of economic development and poverty reduction and reduce the possibility of a reinvigorated arms race in the sub-continent. We hope that not only USA but also other important members of the international community will also support this objective of regional balance and strategic stability in South Asia.

Pakistan also has vital strategic and economic interests in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific regions. Our own security and prosperity is closely linked with the security and prosperity of these regions. It is therefore important for Pakistan to expand its trade and economic links with ASEAN member states in the coming years.

In conclusion I would reiterate that the evolvinggeo-political spectrum in Asia entails strategic challenges and unlimited opportunities. We continue to dispassionately assess the emerging trends and pursue realistic goals dictated by Pakistan’s national interests and have taken far reaching decisions to meet emerging challenges.

If Asia can overcome its inter-state political challenges, the economic dividends will be unprecedented. We must intensify efforts to resolvecontentious issues and disagreements between the regional states through dialogue and political accommodation. Lasting changes can be managed through wisdom and far-sighted leadership.

Thank You

11 February, 2015

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