Urging South Asian nations to put aside mistrust and dispel unwarranted suspicions, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Friday said he envisaged mutual security cooperation, open borders and even a single currency in the region in the long run.
He called for promotion of peace in South Asia and cited the increased people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan as a reflection of an "intense desire for amity and goodwill."
Vajpayee was inaugurating a two-day conference on 'Peace Dividend -- Progress for India and South Asia' organised by Hindustan Times newspaper in New Delhi.
He said the demands of globalisation and aspirations of people provided the objective basis for energetic pursuit of a "harmoniously integrated" South Asia. People, businesses and organisations are waiting to interact more closely with each other.
They have waited for over half-a-century for fulfillment of "unexploited potential in their own neighbourhood" and were now impatient to move ahead, Vajpayee told a distinguished audience that included former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, union ministers, envoys of several countries and others.
The prime minister said, "We can sense this impatience in the outpouring of popular sentiment after our initiatives. The increased travel between India and Pakistan of parliamentarians, businessmen, artists and sportsmen show the intense desire for amity and goodwill. We have to respond to this desire by seeking every possible way to banish hostility and promote peace."
Welcoming the guests, Hindustan Times Vice-Chairperson and Editorial Director Shobhana Bhartia said the conference was an effort to create greater understanding and to resolve conflicts in the South Asian region.
The prime minister noted that the conference is taking place ahead of the South Asian Association for Regional Conference summit in Islamabad and said it could discuss ideas on economic, strategic and geopolitical future of India and South Asia.
With SAARC members developing greater economic stakes in each other, he said, "We will also develop mutual sensitivity to each others' concerns and promote more of our common interests."
Vajpayee said if the SAARC countries -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives --
provide legitimate avenues of free commercial interaction, they could eradicate black market and underground trade.
"We could jointly tackle smuggling, drug trafficking, money laundering and other trans-national crimes, which today flourish in our region because of our mutual rivalries and inadequate coordination," he said.