08 November, 2011
Senior Congress leader and former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has said that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has exhausted its potential as an inter-governmental movement.
Delivering the inaugural address at the People's SAARC India Assembly 2001, a two-day national convention of people's movements in South Asia, here on Tuesday, he said nothing imaginative had come out of SAARC for decades.
“The only thing reported about SAARC meetings is what happens on the sidelines. The same is true of the Non Aligned Movement also. Leaders of SAARC nations meet only to decide when and where to meet next. The circus moves on from one capital to another,” he said.
Citing the case of the G20 and WTO summits, Mr. Aiyar said inter-governmental meetings were today marked by parallel people's conventions all over the world. “We need such a movement in South Asia. Governments have to be taught what the people want,” he said.
Highlighting the need to take SAARC back to its vision, Mr. Aiyar said the principle of unity in diversity had to become the principle of nationhood in South Asia. “If it does, it could show the way to a united Asia,” he said. Such an Asia, he said, could easily be leaders of the world. “But we will never become leaders of the world if we are fractured. We can never have South Asian unity as long as there is Indo-Pak disunity.”
Mr. Aiyar said it was ironic that Asia remained the most divided continent while countries in Europe, America, and Africa were coming together.
Citing the case of the aborted project to build a gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan, he said every step taken to bring the countries of Asia together was thwarted by vested interests.
Secularism, he said, was in the constitution of all countries in South Asia but not in the minds of the people. “You cannot Sinhalise Sri Lanka, you cannot make it a Buddhist country; you cannot make Nepal a Hindu country. You can only build South Asia on the basis of a celebration of diversity,” he said.
Mr. Aiyar said the hatred spawned by the manner in which Partition was implemented had poisoned the relationship between India and Pakistan.
“Pakistan today is a country trying to find itself. If Islam is what unites Pakistan, Islamisation is what divides it. But I am sure Pakistan will become a strong state the minute internally it gets accepted by the people that they have to be tolerant, they should celebrate the unity of Islam in the diversity of Islam. The same is true of India also,” he said.
Noted historian K.N. Panikkar, who presided over the function, stressed the need to promote political, cultural, and economic exchanges between South Asian nations as an antidote to communalism that had emerged as a common threat.
Mr. Panikkar said the capitalist influence had affected social relations and the ties between countries in the region. He proposed a union of countries in South Asia.
Organising committee member Ashim Roy, State Planning Board member C.P. John, Sri Lankan film-maker Someetharan, human rights activist from Pakistan B.M. Kutty, and Manipuri activist Babloo Loitongbam were among those who spoke.
The parallel meeting has been organised on the theme ‘People's movements unite South Asia.' Representatives from various social action groups and human rights organisations will address major concerns in the region, including livelihood and human rights issues, environmental problems, and climate change.