Last November, when the SAARC summit that was supposed to be held in Pakistan was canceled, I thought regional cooperation in South Asia would lose its momentum. Tensions between members not only postponed the SAARC Summit, but also hampered the South Asian Economics Students (SAESM) meet. SAESM was scheduled to be held in India in December where I was supposed to be a participant. I started believing in news, media and opinion pieces that said ‘there’s no future for South Asian integration as there is so much mistrust in the region.
After a concerted effort from the economics professors from across South Asia with the support of the World Bank, the 13th SAESM of economics students (selected based on top paper submissions) was successfully held in Kathmandu last week. The meet brings together students to share their research, learn from one another, participate in academic competition, and make friends from across the region. Despite regional dynamics, SAESM has never missed any year since its inception in 2004, and it may well be unique in that respect in South Asia.
Besides talking about economic theories and making policy recommendations for better regional integration in our research paper, we shared our common dreams for One South Asia.
I never thought that the participants from Pakistan and India would agree to share a room. But, they didn’t only share a same room, they actually became best of friend for five nights, and plan to meet frequently. Our friends from Afghanistan rocked the cultural night and all of us danced to their beautiful songs. Our friends were surprised when the entire Nepali delegation danced to songs from their country. We felt like we are siblings meeting after many years.
Traveling to Nepal for SAESM was the first abroad travel experience for many counterparts and it made them love South Asia more.
My Facebook timeline is full of emotional posts where new friends from the region share their emotions and love using social media. We already miss each other. This emotional outpouring is an ode to the spirit of One South Asia. In those six days last year, we have built lifelong bonds across the region.
How will SAESM help South Asia prosper? Joining the alumni of more than 1,000 participants who have attended this wonderful event; we, the future leaders of South Asia will hopefully make the One South Asia dream true. We know the beauty of cross country friendships, our research has taught us the importance of trade within the region, and importantly, we want to savor and build on this momentum in the years to come.