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Too many cooks could end up spoiling the broth

Publication Date : 01-09-2012


In whatever shape or form, peace is always a noble idea. So when a group of Asian public-policy figures announced they will meet in Bangkok next month to finalise a plan to set up an Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC), in a bid to resolve regional disputes, there was a sense of optimism in the air. After all, the continent has seen its fair share of intrastate conflicts, as well as sub-state ones.

No one is really sure how the APRC will develop and whether it will evolve into something meaningful. But the name itself sounds like it means business and the initial statement suggests that the council is serious.

"It has been agreed that Asia lacks a peace-facilitating body or institute," former Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai said in an interview. "These are noted and experienced individuals who can help create peace dialogues. Collectively their good offices can render shuttle diplomacy and engage various parties towards peace."

The founding members who have confirmed their participation for the upcoming Bangkok meeting are former East Timor president Jose Ramos Horta; Pakistan's former prime minister Shaukat Aziz; former Malaysian premier Tun Abdullah Badawi; Austria's former chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer; Indonesia's ex-vice president Jusuf Kalla; and the Philippines' former House speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

But as these "former" public figures make their move towards setting up the council, "current" officials in Southeast Asia have also come up with an idea of their own.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Institute of Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) will be launched in November during the Asean Summit in Cambodia. The plan was announced at the last Asean ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh. The funding for the institute will be contributed by member-states.

The AIPR was initiated by Indonesia and is part of the blueprint for the Asean Political and Security Community. Some Asean diplomats are questioning the merits of the APRC and its purpose when the regional grouping has already come up with the AIPR. They see the council as an effort by some former officials to generate attention for themselves.

They have a point. While the AIPR is made of up of state actors, the APRC is made up of former ministers, none of whom has any real track record for negotiating peace in an international setting. Some may have helped to bring about peace in their respective countries during their terms in office, but to shift gears to an international setting is entirely another matter.

Southeast Asia itself has a number of sub-state conflicts. Some countries like Laos won't even admit they have armed conflict on their soil. Most have been reluctant in permitting outsiders getting involved as mediators because they all deem the conflicts internal affairs.

In this respect, for the state actors to push for something like the AIPR is a bold move. The APRC, on the other hand, might have to take a backseat to the official track, simply because it lacks the mandate to do anything unless the state actors invite it to the table.

But from the look of it, the APRC could be waiting for a very long time before the Asean member-states change their attitude towards the idea of peace mediation. In the meantime Surakiart and company could end up sitting around a campfire singing "Khumbaya my Lord, khumbaya. Where is my budget, khumbaya?"


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