New Delhi: Terming terrorism as a cancer that can consume South Asia if left unchecked, India on Saturday asked the nations of the region to join hands to tackle the scourge as ‘others cannot solve these problems for us’.

"The scourge of terrorism has taken a huge toll on all our societies. It is a cancer that if not checked, will consume us all," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said inaugurating the 5th Conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians.

Singh said, "South Asia cannot realise its full potential until and unless the region solves its differences peacefully and develops the culture of solving our problems themselves".

"Others cannot solve our problems for us," he told the gathering of Speakers and Parliamentarians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Nepal.

Singh said the region has a shared civilizational and cultural heritage that dates back many centuries. "We celebrate our pluralism and diversity of religion, language and culture while finding our strength in unity. We must learn to speak with one voice on the common challenges that face us," he said.

Earlier, Speaker Meira Kumar welcomed the delegates gathered at the central hall of Parliament.

She welcomed Afghanistan, the newest member to the Association that was formed in 1995.

Noting that South Asia has perhaps the most youthful population in the world, Singh said the youth deserve a better future.

"We can reap a rich demographic dividend if we can equip our youth with the right skills... channel their energies to productive ends. Disaffection and alienation provide a fertile breeding ground for intolerance, violence and terrorism which then threaten our societies and rupture the social fabric," the Prime Minister said.

He said the establishment of the South Asian University was a timely initiative in this context.

Referring to common challenges, Singh said all countries in the region are plagued with mass poverty, unemployment, lack of adequate health care, illiteracy and environmental degradation.

Seeking better cooperation between the member-countries, he said no country can prosper in isolation.

(Agencies)