Raisina Dialogue, a joint initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs and a leading think tank, Observer Research Foundation.
There was consensus among the participants on how mistrust, a lack of political will and poor regional security are the biggest impediments in the way of a fully economically integrated South Asian region.
They had converged for the inauguration of the Raisina Dialogue, a joint initiative of the Ministry of External Affairs and a leading think tank, Observer Research Foundation, which kicked off in Delhi on Tuesday evening.
A powerhouse panel of former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Bangladeshi foreign minister Mahmood Ali were amongst those who shared the stage with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj at the opening session.
Ms Kumaratunga accused South Asian nations of lacking a common vision, saying, "shared cultures had succeeded in dividing us in our quest for a national identity as opposed to a regional identity. This has led to violent inter-state and intra-state conflicts, making South Asia one of the 2 most violent regions in the world." She blamed India-Pakistan tensions for holding regional cooperation hostage for the last 70 years.
Mr Karzai said the region could no longer tolerate state entities harbouring and supporting terror networks as policy. Afghanistan's lack of access to India's goods, services and markets needs to be addressed. "This is not a utopian dream," he said, adding that Afghanistan's full potential as a transit hub between South and Central Asia must be realised.
Both leaders pitched for better ties between India and China. While Ms Kumaratunga said China's economic heft should be seen as an opportunity by India rather than a threat, Mr Karzai was clear that cooperation between Delhi and Beijing is a regional imperative. India has been consistently wary of China's massive infrastructure investment in South Asian countries as an indication of Beijing's growing hegemony in the neighbourhood.
The former president of Seychelles, Sir James Mancham, and Mr Ali were the other speakers at the opening session, which concluded with Ms Swaraj saying India's growth could be an opportunity for the rest of the region, and indeed, the world.
She said the current government, in 20 months in office, had earned the reputation of being a "constructive player in the world arena, with a reputation for action oriented leadership."
Ms Swaraj ended the day by wishing the new initiative a prominent space in the annual international diplomatic calendar, giving India a chance to make its presence felt in the world, from right here, in Delhi.