By: E.A. Vidyasekera
Secretary - Coordinator
Of Secretariat, AAPSO
SAARC-South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation countries comprising the Indian Sub-Continent was set up more than three decades ago on the initiative taken by then president of Bangladesh Mohamed Ershad.
Despite, obstacles and setbacks, several positive achievements were realized during this period such as in interstate trade, education and culture.
South Asia comprises more than 20 percent of world population and also a reservoir of poverty and illiteracy. At the same time region has made many achievements in Science and technology. India, the biggest country in the region both in terms of land area and population is bigger than all the other countries of the region put together, India's' achievements in science and technology is stupendous .Recently it has entered the space race by launching a missile to the mars. Similar to the development in China, India's development in confined to certain areas. Elimination of illiteracy is still to be achieved. The literacy remains around sixty five percent of the population. Poverty still remain high both in urban and rural areas. India has one of the biggest - net work of railways but need an overall improvement to cope with the present day need, accidents, derailing with overcrowding trains a frequent occurrence.
Pakistan too still remains backward with high rate of illiteracy. Tribal provinces such as Baluchistan is so backward with very low literacy rate less than twenty percent. Among the women it is still low as less than ten percent. Pakistan suffered badly owing to the wars in Afghanistan-first with the invasion by "former Soviet Union" and later by NATO forces. Afghanistan suffers immensely as they face attack both from Talban on one side and the NATO forces on the other. Now the Pakistani tribal areas suffer regularly owing to the drone- attacks, conducted by the U.S. led NATO forces.
Since the carving out of Pakistan from the British India territory to form a Muslim State, both India and Pakistan were at logger head for the possession of Kashmir. Both countries fought three wars with huge destruction to both countries. The war fought in 1971 was as a result of India helping the Bangladesh liberation movement when East Pakistan became an independent state. Coupled with their animosity and rivalry, both countries entered the nuclear race with developing nuclear weapons. The bone of contention has been "Kashmir State". When British India was partitioned in 1947, both parties came to an agreement with the British Empire that the" princely states" ruled by the "Maharajas" which remained semi-independent should decide themselves to accede to either India or Pakistan. In the case of Kashmir, the Maharaja of the state was a Hindu though the majority of the population were Muslims; Maharaja wanted to remain independent but with tribal forces from Pakistan side attacking Kashmir after partition to annex it to Pakistan; Maharaja proclaimed to accede to India which resulted in a war between the newly freed two dominion states of India and Pakistan ultimately ended in a ceasefire arranged by the U.N. to hold a plebiscite to determine the accession which had never been held owing to different interpretation of plebiscite rules advanced by the two states.
Today Kashmir remained divided by the ceasefire line known as the "line of actual control". The "state of Jammu and Kashmir" is controlled by India has been integrated as part of India and administered according to Indian law. The other part is known as "Assad Kashmir" is ruled by Pakistan. Both sides accuse each other of border skirmishes which results in death of their soldiers. India accuses Pakistan of training "Mujahidin" and suicide attack against India. Ten years back several of them had attacked Indian Parliament in New Delhi and also the Taj Hotel and vicinity in Mumbai killing many including foreign tourists. Infiltration into Indian Territory is a regular occurrence in Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra, and Patna.
Both countries spend enormous amount on building huge armies with sophisticated military hardware .Animosity between India and Pakistan has affected the smooth functioning of the SAARC and also the stability of the region. Pakistan in addition has a huge burden of 12.5 million refugees from Afghanistan left over more than three decades. This is a bigger destabilization factor in Pakistan facing huge internal conflicts and instability affecting the neighboring SAARC countries.
Several attempts made by the leadership of both countries to settle the dispute over Kashmir had not been successful. India proclaimed Kashmir to be integral part of India. Pakistan considers it a "disputed" territory. Pakistan says that the U.N. need to hold the "plebiscite" where as India says that Pakistan need to withdraw their forces from Pakistan held Kashmir area before plebiscite is held. This dillydallying only intensifies conflict which is a common feature in Kashmir territory, increasing the number of casualties and refugees.
Pakistan was created to fulfill the aspiration of Muslims in undivided India for a viable Muslim state but it led later to three states- India; Pakistan and Bangladesh. Within Pakistan there are conflicts in Baluchistan and Pakhtunkhwa (North-West Frontier Area) Baluchistan is campaigning for a separate state with Iranian Baluchistan. In addition U.S. drone attack in the tribal region of Pakistan has become a pestering wound in Pakistan politics .NATO military hardware passes through the territory of Pakhtunkhwa was blocked by the state government as they want the drones to be stopped. Some believe that Pakistan is ungovernable and it is disintegrating. South Asia is sitting on a "powder keg" as both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers with two armies faced to each other with intermittent border clashes. On the other hand nuclear China borders the northern region with territorial claims. Even a mountain area in Kashmir bordering is now under the control of China and the latter has constructed a large highway across it to pass through Pakistan territory to the Arabian sea. India also has border problem with Bangladesh and also the international rivers with both Pakistan and Bangladesh. South Asian regions development is shattered owing to the rivalry between India and Pakistan.
In the past during the bi-polar world, India had close relation with Moscow and Pakistan with Washington. Now with the rise of China, Himalayan border and Tibet. Today India is also a rising power and with rapid economic growth may step into be a world power. With the religious extremism and ethnic sectarianism developing in the sub-continent, development is hindered. What is absolutely needed is peace and stability which will give massive boost to the region.
Role of the civil society and popular diplomacy in building peace, unity and stability in South –Asia
Since the partition of India and emergence of three viable sovereign states in the subcontinent, peace and stability had been illusive. The main reason had been the prominence of the religious factor in consolidation of the state. India opted to be a secular state from the very inception of partition. Pakistan was established on the basis of Islam and called it an Islamic Republic. But the two wings of the Islamic Republic- West Pakistan and East Pakistan could not co-exist very long primarily owing to two reasons. Firstly the two wings of Pakistan were separated by the Indian Territory almost by 1000 kilometers. Secondly the East Pakistan spoke only one language Bengali which was denied equal recognition by the central government of Pakistan located in West Pakistan-firstly Karachi, then Islamabad. Attempts to impose Urdu language above Bengali in East Pakistan failed miserably, leading to revolt and ultimately liberating in 1971 to be known as Bangladesh. Pakistan finally had to recognize the reality and accepted Bangladesh as a Soverign nation state.
The main drama of Pakistan is the issue of Kashmirs’ accession. Kashmir a predominantly a Muslim majority state now is “temporarily” divided between the two contendending states. Extremists of all shades play with fire only at the expense of human costs. Unlocking the knot has become a huge task. Military and diplomatic efforts by both sides so far failed. Rather the sub-continent is awash with clandestine religious, fanatic, sectarian groups waiting only to create blood bath. The security has been expensive. Arms dealers have a lucrative business under this situation. Big powers are eager to sell sophisticated arms which only create more disharmonies.
Nevertheless there is a “silver lining in the dark clouds. The intellengtia of the Sub- Continent has come up with popular diplomacy. Peoples’ forum are organized and they debate regularly not only to diffuse the situation but to uphold confidence building measures to create peace and stability. Time to time artists, academics, and even religious leaders meet. In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh ,” Itihas Sammelani” (historical society) of Dhaka University organized a very representative lecture series on 4 - 6 October 2013 under the title “ Religion and Politics “ where representatives of all the countries in the sub –continent participated. This was a unique opportunity not only to know each other but to create an atmosphere of dialogue to uphold the importance of secular thought in good governance. Such deliberations will certainly provide a solid foundation for a new generation of secular politics as against religious politics.
Afro- Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization strongly supports such efforts by the civil society to venture with a popular diplomacy to provide better input for the state diplomacy to take a rational stand. The debates need to continue to clear the impasse.