Strengthening the Bridges of Unity
Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ms Seema Ilahi Baloch, gave the South
Asian region and the world outside, ample food for thought when
she said recently at an inaugural film of the Pakistani Film
Festival held in Colombo, that the need of the hour is for the
well-meaning of the world to focus strongly on the multifarious
suffering and destruction, war and conflict engenders. Referring
to the ravages of war in some parts of her country, the High
Commissioner said: 'We did not ask for this war. We know, just
as you know with your experience of war and its atrocities that
war destroys a nation - physically and spiritually'.
Indeed, we in Sri Lanka have lived through the traumas of
conflict, well over 25 years, and know fully well that the
suffering and destruction such situations engender, is very real
and that it does no one any good. This is a lesson of universal
significance and is a message SAARC has to take to the world in
the years and decades ahead.
Meanwhile, all eyes would be on Sri Lanka as she forges ahead
with the task of nation-building. Sri Lanka, of course, scored a
'first' by defeating the terrorism of a most ruthless variety
and is greatly admired on account of this, but she would need to
look beyond the conflict and speed ahead in the all-important
project of healing wounds and bringing together in a spirit of
fraternity her communities and social groups.
In respect of nation-building too, then, Sri Lanka would be
seen as a prospective role model and she would need to live-up
to these expectations as SAARC winds-up its 17th Summit and gets
down, hopefully, to implementing the core projects on its
agenda. As President Mahinda Rajapaksa said emphatically during
the Summit, the time is "now" to take forward the SAARC
programme. As the President pointed out, SAARC has engaged in
extensive deliberations over the years, but the task before the
organization is to act fast with a sense of purpose and
As we pointed out a couple of days back, the prospects of
speeding ahead with the SAARC enterprise are now brighter than
ever before, with economics tending to dwarf politics. East and
South Asia have emerged as the engines of global economic growth
and there is no better catalyst in bridge-building among
countries and nations than economic cooperation.
As mentioned earlier, the Pakistani initiative of according
Most Favoured Nation Trade Status to India, a few days back, is
likely to stimulate further improvement in Indo-Pakistani
relations, besides hastening the process of regional economic
cooperation. This is also a pointer to the fact that the dynamic
economic growth being experienced in this region, is helping in
the bridge-building effort among the SAARC Eight.
However, India is on record that a key to the forging of a
more secure SAARC region is the enabling of the countries of
SAARC to be strong stakeholders in the bourgeoning growth
process of India. That is, the facilitation of regional economic
cooperation is the key to regional stability and security.
Progressive opinion in this region would like to see this
happening in the days ahead.
President Rajapaksa's emphasis on the need for social justice
and equity also needs to be pondered on and acted upon by SAARC.
We could have tremendous economic growth but very little
economic equity or social justice. And on this score, very much
is being left to be desired by South Asia and the world beyond.
It needs to be remembered that the vast majority of the
world's poor is in the SAARC region. Action to rectify this
anomaly is long overdue.
It must be ensured that economic growth percolates down to
the most needy and on the success of this initiative lies, to a
great degree, domestic as well as regional socio-political
stability. Accordingly, the importance of social equity and
justice could never be underplayed.
In the days ahead, then, the SAARC Eight would do well to
increasingly focus on the process of cooperation on every
conceivable important level. This is one of the most assured
ways of defeating divisions within the SAARC fold. Consequently,
it is the key to saying goodbye to conflict and war.
Hopefully, SAARC would strongly focus, as never before, on
programmes and projects that would enable stronger regional
cooperation. Swords have to be transformed into ploughshares and
this process should be of overriding concern among us, if we are
to see an end to bloodshed and dehumanizing turmoil.