Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Issues Face-to-face South Asia

Music of Earth is never dead. Symbolically, the truth of this statement is verified in the folk songs of Asian peoples. The oriental queens of melody, like Abida Perveen, Lata Mangeshkar, continue to sing of the agonies of a heart that refuses to submerge its feelings in the complexities of modern age. In the domain of art, literature, paintings, culture, the music of love, of beauty, of life and nature, of horrors of war, of agonies, of racial discrimination and frantic cries of the oppressed continue to permeate the fibers of man's creative art. Art is stated to be a defense against fate. The fate is, however, being made miserable by the forces that have made world affairs difficult to handle. In South Asia the plague spots have emerged in the environment of those areas that do not augur well for survival of a peaceful world ---a world where peace could and should win over forces of war and destruction.

The scientific inventions in all fields of human endeavor have undoubtedly brought comforts to our world, but not without its side effects. Peoples in South Asia live miserable lives full of chaos and tension. They feel insecure. They are not confident about regional peace. The issues that can possibly lead to war still remain potential threat to peace. The terrorism has emerged as a new enemy of humanity. The unprecedented arms race continues in the mainstream of unprecedented population growth. All resources are being consumed in buying destructive arms. But the people want food, shelter and jobs. They require medicines for their sick. They need books for their children. They yearn to live in an environment that is free of problems, free from exploitation and free from tension.

World affairs have come to such a pass that no prospect for peace seems to be visible even at the farthest end of horizon. The events such as Mumbai attacks in South Asia tend to damage our hope for world peace. Mind agitates to ask: Who would stem this tide of emerging chaos, confusion, and moving tension? Should we wait for a certain Messiah to bless life in our sagging spirits, which have become dead under the burden of inertia of idle hours?

The symptoms of fanaticism—mother of terrorism in all forms, exploitation, racial discrimination and a growing fear of insecurity being felt by the down trodden of South Asia, must put us all on alert. We must take some such steps as could crush snakes in grass that threaten peace.

The recession in world economy is casting its shadows on the economic developments in South Asia. The yellow lights of sunset of dollar augur well for this raw material producing region. They should, however, exercise their sovereignty over their exclusive right to fix prices for their raw material to such a level as could cover the expenses incurred on the imported machinery and equipment.

The World Bank and IMF have given free hand to plunder the material resources of this region. The horrible rate of population explosion has, however, got to be controlled without which the economic growth cannot be accelerated.

South Asia is bursting, as it seems, for the birth of a new economic cooperation—cooperation for economic dispensation that suits both the region and the developed world.

South Asian nations should turn away from centralized management and government controls and toward the incentives and rewards of the free market. They should invite their citizens to develop their talents and abilities to the fullest and provide jobs, create wealth, build social stability and foster faith in the future of all. The economic summits of the industrial democracies have already paid tribute to these principles.

The leaders of the South Asia should welcome the call for reform leading to greater reliance on their private sectors for economic growth. Overcoming hunger and economic stagnation requires policies that encourage regions own productivity and initiatives. Such a policy framework will make it easier for the rest of the world to help. The laws of economic incentives should not, nevertheless, discriminate between developed and developing countries. They should apply to all equally.

Much of the recent recovery in the world economy can be directly attributed to the growth of economic freedom. And it is this trend that offers such hope for the future. And yet this new hope faces a grave threat: the menace of trade barriers.

The Charter of the United Nations is based not only on avoiding the scourge war but also on establishing the conditions for friendly relations among nations and on solving problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, for the development and preservation of peace.

Notwithstanding the foreboding of the prophets of doom, the efforts for peace, at all levels, by all men who matter at national affairs of every country, should be made. It is high time that all countries of the region should hearken to the call of their conscious—the demand for peace.

Breakthroughs in resolving regional conflicts in South Asia have been accompanied by an explosion of national and ethnic clashes; many of them related to the collapse of old centers of power. It is not surprising that there is a talk of both a new world order and a new world disorder. They are like two sides of the same coin. One side represents mankind's ideals and aspirations, the other its fears and hatreds.

Forces of integration and disintegration are shaping the region of South Asia simultaneously. Terrorism has peeped out as high powered force of disruption—a destabilization factor. Viewed from one angle, modern communications, technology, trade, and the appeal of political and economic freedom have the potential to create a global democratic capitalist society where international cooperation will be more successful than in the past.

The issue of human rights, as it has emerged out of the ideas of the enlightenment, still remains alien to certain South Asian countries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations is now more or less five decades old. Born out of the holocaust and the atrocities of World War II, the Declaration outlaws murder, torture, and political imprisonment. These steps reflect the lessons of the Second World War, which demonstrated that internal regimes were not just a domestic matter but could they become a menace to world peace. This Declaration was adopted in the final years of Stalinist rule, when mass repression was still institutionalized, seemed to many to be a hypocritical gesture. In many of the signatory countries this characterization remains true, but the human rights are being violated at alarmingly rate in this region. The law enforcing agencies, in this region, are committing rapes murders, torture and other atrocities. Kashmir is just one illustration.
A search for peaceful resolution to the Kashmir issue, however, should be the focus of international experts in the emerging discipline of interactive and diplomatic conflict resolution. Dialogues on conflict resolution, bridging theory and practice and striving for a plebiscite in dealing with this international conflict should receive top priority.

Water has become another great threat to peace. The Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. The basin provides water to millions of people in northwestern India and Pakistan. Dams and canals built in order to provide hydropower and irrigation has dried up stretches of the Indus River. Water projects have further caused the displacement of people and have contributed to the destruction of the ecosystem in the Indus plain.

The enmity between India and Pakistan over water started early when India discontinued water supplies to Pakistan. Hard bargaining and the mediation of the World Bank led to the world acclaimed Indus Water Treaty in 1960. The treaty allocated the three Eastern Rivers — Ravi, Sutlej and Beas — to India, the three Western rivers — Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — to Pakistan.

A permanent commission known as the Indus Waters Commission was constituted to resolve the disputes between the parties. This treaty is globally respected that it has survived wars and periods of acute tension between the two hostile neighbors. However, the treaty has encountered hiccups wherein some contentious issues have cropped up.

If India and Pakistan take a political decision to restructure their relations, they will have to ensure that water serves as a flow to bring them together, rather than taking them further on the course of conflict.

Modern societies are moving away from the belief that there always will be conflict. There are now situations where we can marginalize conflict and where great changes can be made if parties can be led to perceive the causes of their disputes in new way.

In addition to regional disputes, the grave threat of terrorism also jeopardizes the hopes of peace. No cause, no grievance can justify it. Terrorism is heinous and intolerable. It is the crime of cowards who prey on the innocent, the defenseless and the helpless. The region should come up with modern approach to countering terrorism.

The maniacal arms race is dominating the economies of the poor South Asian countries. The bulk of their budgets go in buying or developing destructive arms and ignoring major issues. Days in and days out, voices are raised that arms control has become the dire need of the day.

In 455, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Marcian prohibited the export of all weapons and materials for making weapons, to the barbarians. The 1968 treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) bear more than a casual resemblance to Marcian' s policy enunciated fifteen hundred years earlier.

But then, as now, a mixture of politics and greed rendered control over the supply of weaponry an expedient of only temporary and partial value, at best. Lethal instruments are not important, but they acquire their significance from politics. The Huns and barbarians, no doubt, found the Roman supply blockade of weapons to be an inconvenience. Today the NPT and the MTCR similarly are inconveniences, but only inconvenient, to would-be acquirers of nuclear weapons and missiles.

But if politics subverts arms control, so does it facilitate arms control. Speaking in the House of Commons on July 13, 1934, Sir Winston Churchill claimed, "It is the greatest possible mistake to mix up disarmament with peace. When you have peace you will have disarmament.”

We can be hopeful about the world and the prospects for freedom We only need to look around to see the new technologies that may someday spare future generations from the nightmare of nuclear terror, or the growing ranks of democratic activists and freedom fighters, or the increasing movement toward free market economies, or the extent of worldwide concern about the rights of the individual in the face of brute state power.

Nonetheless, it is high time for the governments of South Asia to hate all tensions that create exploitation, war and bloodshed. They should promote peace, liberty, justice, democracy and human rights. However, when peace is denied, liberty is snatched, justice is taken away and democracy usurped, they should support all such efforts at all governmental and non-governmental levels that aim at restoring basic rights everywhere. They all should put in their best to ensure that the beautiful world of ours continues to pulsate with heartbeats of life, music and love.

The potential for a lasting peace is there. The potential for a destabilizing peace is there, too. If the leaders of the South Asia fail to face the problems head on, they have the ingenuity. They have the need. Only the question remains: Do they have the will? I think, they do. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation