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Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, hinting at the contentious issue of occupied Kashmir, said Thursday that “unsettled disputes” were dragging South Asia back to poverty and underdevelopment.

The army chief was addressing a ceremony at the National Security Dialogue in Islamabad where he said that the national security was now more than protection from internal and external threats, adding that it included development and human security as well.

“Surely, it [national security] is not solely a function of the armed forces alone,” said the army chief, adding that national security had become an “all-encompassing notion’.

The army chief stressed on the importance of Pakistan’s geostrategic location, adding that it “positions Pakistan to promote regional connectivity and operate as a trade and transit hub for the region”.

He underlined the need for countries to work together to face various challenges such as terrorism, the coronavirus pandemic and other ills. “Responding in silos is no longer an option,” he stressed.

He said the world has witnessed setbacks such as the world war and the cold war, adding that the world was faced with similar charges. Gen Bajwa said history had taught the world that progress has been achieved through interconnected and interdependent sense of security.

The army chief urged world players to enhance their relations and move towards convergence rather than divergence for the benefit of the world.

Gen Bajwa said Pakistan, like other countries of the region, is facing “multidimensional challenges” that it cannot handle single-handidly, adding that a multilateral global and regional approach to defeat them.

The army chief said it is regrettable to acknowledge that despite a lot of human population in South Asia, it is still the “least integrated” region when it comes to important issues such as water, trade, infrastructure and energy cooperation.