Not all is well in the South Asian region. Even high officials seated at the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, and also those who have served the organization in the past, in a subdued voice opine that if the regional cooperation comprising of the eight South Asian States were to continue and take a substantial leap forward then the associated governments must empower the secretariat with additional powers. Eloquent speeches being made at SAARC Summits alone will not work, they conclude.
Empowering the Secretariat, they claim is to allow the Secretary General not to waste time and energy in begging “clearances” from the concerned countries each and every time some regional initiatives for the common good remains in the nearby plate.
However, at the people to people level, the relations were becoming friendlier despite of some grumblings that exist in between some countries of this region at the bilateral level.
Some even opine that until and unless India and Pakistan remain engaged in exhibiting hostility towards each other, the entire spirit of the creation of the SAARC regional movement will remain just in paper.
The progress chart of the SAARC is certainly a dismal one.
“Bilateral animosity must not impede the functioning of the SAARC Summits and the venue of the Summit must provide some space for bilateral talks which could, hopefully, ease the existing uneasiness in between the two countries concerned, if it remains at all”, so said the former SAARC Secretary general, Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo at a regional seminar held in Kathmandu, October 23-24, 2011, on the theme, “Building Bridges and Promoting People to People Interaction in South Asia”.
The seminar was jointly organized by the Center for South Asian Studies in close collaboration with the GPPAC (The Netherlands) and RCSS-Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Colombo.
Welcoming the regional seminar participants at the inaugural session, Nischal Nath Pandey, the executive director of the CSAS, opined that the countries of South Asian region must come closer as they have much in common.
“Our culture and traditions have much in common”, said Pandey.
Mr. Pandey emphasized the need of the Kathmandu based SAARC secretariat playing a proactive role in bringing the people of this part of the world closer. He lamented that the SAARC Secretariat has even failed to effectively use the “funds” that the regional body receives from friendly countries for the promotion of contacts in between the peoples of this region.
Amal Jayewardene, the executive director of the RCSS was of the opinion that since the SAARC regional movement has already come of its age and thus it would be more than pleasing if the SAARC secretariat expanded its relations with similar regional bodies, for example, the ASEAN and the EU, for the betterment of the entire South Asian region.
“ SAARC body has already been recognized by the UN and several other organizations outside South Asia thus we have to enhance our relations with those regional organizations for the benefit of our people and learn from their gained experiences as well”, said Jayewardene.
He hoped that such seminar would act as a catalyst in cementing the bonds that exist in between the countries of South Asia both at the government and the people to people level.
In her key note address, the SAARC Secretary General, Her Excellency Uz. Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed said that “our leaders have taken several initiatives for achieving substantial benefits for the whole region and also for strengthening the regional cooperation.
Beginning 2010 till 2020, the entire decade has been declared as the year of Intra Connectivity. Much remains yet to be done in SA for the alleviation of poverty; Ms. Fathimath reminded the South Asian seminar participants and through the media to the respective leaders.
Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo from the Chair of the inaugural session point blank told the gathering that “SAARC has fallen short of its expectations”.
According to Ambassador Nihal, though “divergences exist but yet several commonalities bind the South Asian nations”.
Ambassador Nihal Rodrigo pleaded for greater power devolution by the SAARC Summit to the SAARC Secretary General so that he or she can work with greater confidence for expanding and enhancing regional cooperation in a meaningful manner. (We will publish Ambassador Nihal’s working paper presented at the second day of the seminar). Ed.
Thus the inaugural session concluded.
The second session began with the seminar paper presented by Ambassador Mrs. Veena Sikri (she had served in Kathmandu some two decades back as First Secretary-Head of Press and culture section) emphasized the need to synergize the efforts of the South Asian countries together to transform SA into a vibrant region.
Catherine Woollard, the Executive Director, EU Peace Building Liaison Office, Brussels, mainly focused on the relationship of the European Union with the Civil Society on conflict prevention, using the case study of EPLO, ( the platform for European not-for-profit organizations active in peace building) and stated that Conflict prevention is understood as one part of peace building on the lines of what Jean-Paul Lederach and others associated with conflict transformation which sees conflict as “inevitable and often positive” but concurrently which rejects violence and seeks to “transform” conflict in order to prevent violence.
Later it was the turn of Ranjan Roy, the Associate Editor, Times of India, to ventilate his feelings.
Mr. Roy basically centered his paper on some of the fresh initiatives taken by his news paper to go along with the Jung Group of Pakistan in order to act like active facilitators in fostering greater understanding between the people of the two countries, India and Pakistan.
Talking on the initiative called “ Aman Ki Asha”, Mr. Roy made it abundantly clear that it was just one of the humble initiatives taken to engender lasting peace between two bitterly hostile neighbors and hoped that Aman Ki Asha intends to stay the course hoping a better tomorrow because, said Mr. Roy, “that is the least we owe our children”.
Moving statement indeed.
Ms. Saloni Singh then made a brilliant presentation on “the Role of CSOs in Building Peace in South Asia: The case Illustration of Didi Bahini”.
Elaborating the role of Didi Bahini, Ms. Saloni said that her organization was creating awareness among the people across the country belonging to all ages-male or female.
However, she lamented the way even peace initiatives being taken up by some Nepali CSOs were becoming the victim of politics.
“Too much political interference in each and every sector has marred the development of Nepal and that social area was the hardest hit of it all and the general Nepali population has been denied their logical participation in the affairs of the State.
“We are sisters in development”, opined Ms. Saloni, the Executive Chair of Didi Bahini.
Now it was the turn of Consuelo Katrina A. Lopa-the regional coordinator, South Asian Committee for Advocacy, Manila to present her elaborate working paper during the third session.
Focusing mainly on the ASEAN regional body and the team that she represented, Ms. Lopa maintained that “on top of the attitudinal differences between civil society and the ASEAN there has been a clear lack of mechanisms that provide for civil society engagement with the leaders of the ASEAN and its associated functional bodies”.
Mr. Hussain Hassarat, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Kabul, dwelt first on the hassles through which he had to undergo while coming to Kathmandu via New Delhi. It was a traumatic experience for him indeed to get entry visa for Nepal.
He, however, summed up the activities of the Civil Society based in Afghanistan as, (sic), the Afghani civil society is in all a strongly fragmented, fragile and obviously influenced by the international donor community.
As if this were not enough, Mr. Hussain further claimed that the “Afghan civil society looked more like contractors and brokers and that Afghani civil society have become the victim of rampant corruption and also these CSOs lack the desired capacity.
The second day’s fourth and the seminar last session began with the presentation of a comprehensive working paper from Nihal Rodrigo-the former SAARC Secretary General. He spoke on “Relationships and Linkages between SAARC, Corporate Sectors and CSOs”.
The Former SAARC Secretary General says, (sic), “It is important that SAARC seriously considers evolving international structures that could serve as a Forum for discussion and discourse on global issues-economic, environmental, security, Conflict prevention, armed violence, peace building and reconciliation processes impacting on the region as well.
The SAARC regional movement veteran further said that “Acceptable lessons could be derived respectively from the Davos, Boao, Shangrila examples to engage regional and global political leaders, government officers, sec urity/defense personnel, economic, strategic and other think-tanks, women’s groups and relevant civil society organizations in a South Asian Global Enterprise”.
Gopal Khanal, the Secretary of the SAFMA Nepal chapter in his paper on “SAFMS-Towards South Asian Unity” dwelt at length on the evolution and the activities of his organization in order to bring the people of the South Asian region closer.
He urged the civil societies functioning in this part of the world to act in unison but not in a partisan way as it has been observed. Journalist Khanal suggested that a regular interaction among the South Asian Civil Society members and governments could act as a catalyst in increasing the familiarization process among the general population residing in South Asian region. “If the people of South Asia are united, the government too should be united under compulsion for a compact South Asian Union”, Khanal concluded.
Ms. Nadeeka Withana, Regional Liaison Officer, GPPAC, South Asia made her power point presentation and dwelt at length on the activities of the GPPAC.
The GPPAC too had assisted the Center for South Asian Studies in conducting this regional seminar.
(We apologise for delayed posting). Ed.