Pak Min proposes permanent SAARC Commission

New Delhi: Pakistan Federal Minister Farzana Raja today proposed a permanent SAARC Commission to boost poverty alleviation efforts in the South Asian region.

She was addressing the South Asia Forum on `Coordinating and Intensifying Poverty Alleviation Efforts across SAARC Region, with Special Emphasis on Women and Youth` here.

Raja, who is also the Chairperson of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), emphasized that SAARC member countries should formulate policies to protect vulnerable groups of their respective societies.

Pakistan is one of the countries of SAARC region which has developed its first Poverty Reduction Strategy Program which aims to protect the poor and vulnerable and develop human capital for the 21st century, she said addressing the forum.

"Given our respective horrifying experiences with rise of terrorism in the region, it is all the more critical that we provide necessary social support to vulnerable segments of society lest they fall into the trap of terrorists," she said.

Referring to growing poverty in SAARC region, Raja said the conflicts among SAARC countries, such as trans-boundary water issues, territorial disputes, insurgency by non-state militants, etc divert resources and focus of governments away from welfare of people, thus further increasing poverty.

Suggesting measures for intensifying poverty alleviation efforts, she suggested multiple measures for intensifying poverty alleviation efforts, which would, in the long run, enable the member states of SAARC to move towards a South Asia Economic Union.

Appreciating the SAARC Development Fund initiative, she proposed that it may be used to further enhance coordination between national and regional plans for reducing socio- economic disparities within the region.

Raja underlined the need to make efforts to increase intra-regional trade under South Asia Free Trade Agreement from its present ratio at five per cent to boost economic activity which would generate resources and employment opportunities for neglected segments of society.

The Minister suggested that a fund may be set up to help identify non-governmental organizations which are working at grass-root level.

She also suggested establishment of SAARC Awards for recognition of contribution of individuals and organizations in the field of social safety nets.

On programmes conducted by BISP, Raja said it is currently providing monthly cash transfers to almost four million families and this figure is expected to rise to seven million families.