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Government, Civil society and Private Sector needs to come together to re-imagine and give shape to an integrated and prosperous Eastern South Asia

 Shillong, India, August 19, 2018

Regional experts and leaders who assembled at the Shillong Dialogue recently organized by the Asian Confluence, unanimously felt that the Eastern South Asia sub-region has the natural advantage, commercial feasibility and also the political will to push for greater integration and cooperation. The dialogue was inaugurated by Mr. Conrad Sangma, Chief Minister, Meghalaya, who put forward a very positive and pro-integration pitch on behalf of the Meghalaya government and was also hopeful of bringing together the Chief Ministers from the other North Eastern states to make for a concerted pitch on greater connectivity with India’s Eastern Sub-Himalayan neighbours of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal.  Mr. Surendra Pandey former Finance minister and Member of Parliament from Nepal and Shri Shakti Sinha, Director Nehru Memorial Museum and Library addressed the inaugural session in presence of experts from Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and

The two day dialogue had focused deliberations on shared opportunities, challenges and the geo-spaces of possibilities to come up with concrete ideas to root the larger vision of regional connectivity and prosperity at the ground level. It aimed to discuss and deliberate on factors that could be game changers for the integration discourse in this sub-region and come up with concrete action agenda to pursue that with government and private sectors in these states and countries. The backdrop of this dialogue is an ongoing study that is being undertaken by the Asian Confluence in collaboration with The Asia Foundation. The study has identified three pillars for possible cooperation, viz. Tourism, Agri-horti value chains and Trade-Tourism-Transit Hubs. The dialogue had intense and dedicated barintorming session on each of these pillars to come up with concrete ideas, projects and action agenda. These ideas and agenda were contributed to by a group that comprised of government officials (from agricultural, trade, tourism departments), diplomatic corps, private sector players from  these specific sectors, subject experts and academia. The dialogue focused on n how such development will be able to positively impact the marginalized producer, trader and other service providers linked with these sectors, with emphasis on those from communities residing at or near the borders and peripheries.

There was much interest among experts, private sector and government on creation of climate-smart and gender inclusive Agri-Horti loops in the sub-region with participation from the four neighbouring countries and north eastern states. It was concluded in the dialogue that with the right kind of government facilitation and support and efforts by private sector in the region, a regionally integrated agri-horti value chain is a distinct possibility in the near future. Experts lauded Asian Confluence for this great effort of brining together relevant stakeholders to charter an action-oriented roadmap for regional integration and suggested that the organization take concrete follow-up steps to take the ideas ahead. The government also assured that while financial resources are a constraint, it will look into the suggestions very seriously and work together with Asian Confluence and private sector players to pick up some of the ideas to translate them into real projects on the ground. 

The dialogue also saw a number of bright suggestion being shared by leaders from the region on how they can engage to make the connectivity and dintegration discourse stronger and dvisible to the larger mass. This included suggestions by Mr. Conrad Sangma regarding a visit to the neighbouring countries by all Chief Ministers of the North Eastern states as a joint exercise to strengthen bonds, share ideas and starting of on a proactive agenda to promote regionalism and integration. Mr. Surendra Pandey, Member of Parliament, Nepal, suggested that relationships between Nepal and North Eastern states could be strengthened through an idea where all seven states could be linked to the seven provinces of Nepal as twin entities. There were also suggestions on Sylhet and Shillong becoming twin cities given their historical links.  The eminent gathering opined that the sub-region needs to look at the connect that existed in the region before the imperial rule so as  to consolidate the present opportunities in the light of the historical, cultural, commercial and civilisational links that the region and its people shared.

Mr. Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director of Asian Confluence, stressed that while there are many hurdles to regionalism and integration, the possibilities are immense and we need to look at the positives and collectively work around the hurdles. Dr. Sagar Prasai, Country Director, The Asia Foundation, opined that the sub-region has both economic rationale and political will to engage and integrate further and this opportune combination needs to be capitalized by working our concrete ideas through further deep-diving on the ideas that emerged from Asian Confluence’s work,  so that the relevant details can be etched out

The dialogue has participation from the top leaders in the Meghalaya government including the Chief Minister Mr. Conrad Sangma and the Home Minister Mr. James Sangma and also from eminent experts like Prof. Shakti Sinha, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library government, former Ambassador Muchkund Dubey, former Ambassador Rajiv K. Bhatia, Pran  Group of Industries, and many more from the diplomatic corps, private sector, academia, civil society organizations and media from across North Eastern states and the four neighbouring countries.

 Shillong Dialogue
 

For more please contact: Sabyasachi Dutta, Executive Director, Asian Confluence, director@asianconfluence.org; +91-8826166366