‘ABODE OF PEACE’!

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 07 Oct 2017 11:42:08


When one nation of the region is constantly sending out terror squads into neighbouring countries, there is little possibility of any camaraderie among the members. This is Pakistan’s actual plan -- thwart any internationalism. Time and again, SAARC meets have witnessed certain uncalled for acrimony on account of Pakistan’s cantankerous approach to regional issues.

Colombo, Oct. 4, (PTI): SAARC countries should join hands to make the region an abode of peace, prosperity and progress, said Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan while addressing 8th conference of Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliamentarians, a platform for the parliamentarians of South Asia to work together to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in Colombo. She emphasised that the implementation of the ‘noble goals’ in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be successful only when SAARC countries present a united front.

THAT was one vision that had a poetic, mesmeric attraction. South Asian nations saw a common vision and tied themselves together in a commitment to fulfill it. The birth of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was the launch of that big dream -- almost as an oriental response of the occidental collectivism in the name of European Union. The energy the very name -- SAARC -- generated in early stages was almost divine. Or so everybody felt then.

Many decades later, that dream is available only in a pale shadow of its former self. Certainly, it has not gone sour, but it has not remained as sweet as it was at the start. And the monster that has thwarted that vision is an undesirable bilateralism in the place of multilateralism. The member-nations of SAARC are locked mostly in bilateral issues, unable to sort those out because of the very constraint of the forum they created in the name of regional cooperation. As a result, SAARC, today, is nothing more than a formality that must be gone through in a clock-like singularity without much hope of solutions to genuine regional issues.

That was the reason why Mrs. Sumitra Mahajan, that affable Speaker of the Lok Sabha, wished -- almost lamentably -- how SAARC may miss the bus altogether if it fails to create an abode of peace, prosperity and progress in the South asian region. If fastidious bilateralism is the trouble-spot in SAARC’s affairs, unwillingness to operate on common platform with common causes is another malaise.
Even at the cost of sounding rather boorish, it must be stressed that one of the member-nations thwarting the spirit of multi-dimensional platform is Pakistan.

Time and again, it has sought to raise bilateral issues not just with India but with other member-nations as well. It has often tried to raise the Kashmir issue on SAARC platform, thus almost compelling all other member-nations to oppose the move. Each time Pakistan did that, the SAARC summits have failed to elicit any positivism out of the collective intelligence and goodwill of all the nations.

This is so because Kashmir is almost as if the cause of existence of Pakistan. In the international community, its avowed diplomatic approach is to keep raising the bilateral issue of Kashmir and embarrass not just India but the whole comity of member-nations. It is this approach -- mostly by Pakistan -- that has soured the regional discourse in South Asia, with no solution whatsoever in sight.

There is another angle to this situation as well. When one nation of the region is constantly sending out terror squads into neighbouring countries, there is little possibility of any camaraderie among the members. This is Pakistan’s actual plan -- thwart any internationalism. Time and again, SAARC meets have witnessed certain uncalled for acrimony on account of Pakistan’s cantankerous approach to regional issues. There are other nations, too, to raise bilateral issues and disturb the multi-dimensional dialogue that is so necessary to ensure sustainable development as a common agenda. Each time Pakistan, or any other member-nation for that matter, raises bilateral issues, India has insisted upon following of SAARC idea in letter and spirit. Those appeals have had only limited impact, thanks to the dirty dimensions of international realpolitik.

So, when the expectation is aired that SAARC member-nations must convert the South Asian region into a zone of peace, prosperity and progress, the entire idea of SAARC runs into an obstacle spearheaded by none other than Pakistan. The statement of Mrs. Sumitra Mahajan indicates the efforts India has often put in to uphold the idea called SAARC in letter and spirit. She said, nowhere in the world are collective efforts more important than in South Asia. Her concern, obviously, is that failure of collectivism would only endanger regional peace, prosperity and progress. ‘We have an opportunity to convert the region into one of harmonious progress’, she stressed.

The difficulty is with countries like Pakistan. SAARC is a small body with only eight member-nations. Yet, because South Asia is globally critical region, the importance of SAARC cannot be lost sight of. Yet, whenever the regional developmental agenda comes up for disc ussion, it is Pakistan that stalls the process. It has also kept the Kashmir issue on the boil even in the SAARC forum. Such an approach prevents other member-nations from carrying further the SAARC agenda of collective development, much to everybody’s sadness.

True, SAARC would never want to achieve something like what the European Union has made possible. Yet, a united front is the most basic expectation. When that also gets stalled almost on purpose by one country, then there are reasons to suspect its intentions.

The appeal of Mrs. Sumitra Mahajan has to be viewed from this angle. Very prudently, she raised the issue of working together. It was not just a political tall talk; it was a shared concern for the region’s developmental vision. SAARC is one forum which can muster the strength to promote true collectivism and multilateralism for sustainable development. What is basic, however, to have that vision fulfilled is the need for the member-nations to attain higher maturity in the changing times of today.

For its part, Pakistan talks a sane language for a while and then slips back to its normal cantankerous self. This has been the experience at various international meets. It raises issues that have no relevance to the collective regional concerns. It does not understand that in an atmosphere of disturbed peace, progress and prosperity are not possible. The Indian appeal is that may peace be first ensured so that the peoples of all the eight countries have an ambience to pursue higher and finer goals.

Whatever has been achieved in the European Union can also be replicated in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. However, all member-nations will have to promise, they would follow the path of peace and togetherness and not the path of violence, as is represented by Pakistan’s involvement in terror and violence. SAARC is a rare forum from which appeals of collectivism appear more relevant. The lofty ideal on which the idea of SAARC stands, therefore, needs to be followed in total loyalty.