Staff Reporter

“People are against artificially constructed borders on the subcontinent”

NEW DELHI: In the week preceding the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Bhutan, Jawaharlal Nehru University here played host to “People's SAARC”, an assembly of civil activists from South Asia, earlier this week.

The two-day conference, titled “Assembly towards Union of South Asian Peoples”, was attended by representatives from SAARC member-nations such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, as well as delegates from Tibet and the Philippines. Serving parliamentarians from Nepal, Pakistan and India's former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar took part in debates over the question of a strong “South Asian Identity” and people's collaborative actions across borders for peace and development in the region.

Feminist-activist Kamla Bhasin argued that the dream of a united South Asia was not a far-fetched one and the People's SAARC was testimony to the opinions of the people in South Asia who were against artificially constructed borders on the subcontinent.

Veteran journalist and civil rights activist Kuldip Nayar concurred that a united South Asia was possible in the near future. Each region also had to have its own sovereignty, he added.

According to Bhutanese democracy activist D.N.S. Dhakal, democracy has a long way to go in the region.

 India's role stressed

Presenting the Nepalese perspective, Dr. Arjun Karki acknowledged the important role that India had increasingly come to play in South Asia and at the global level. He emphasised the need for India to play a more responsible role in that capacity and prioritise its relations in the region over the west.

India-Pakistan relations also came under focus as being critical for the success of SAARC as an organisation.

Lamenting that Indo-Pak disputes had hijacked the South Asian agenda, Pakistani human rights activist Iqbal Haider implored both countries to ensure that greater regional issues do not suffer due to individual differences and urged the need for a comprehensive settlement on all issues, whether water or Kashmir.

During the session on “Climate justice and economic cooperation: Impacts on livelihoods, the discriminated and human rights”, speakers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India and Nepal shared their field experiences of how climate change is disproportionately affecting the developing world.