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Publication Date : 07-09-2012
A recent news item in this newspaper suggested that the 18th meeting of the heads of state or government of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) scheduled to be held in Kathmandu in May next year would likely be put off. Other news sources quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying that necessary infrastructure development had not even started. In addition, there were also reports that 16 luxury-cum-security German limousines needed to be imported for the event, and it would take at least six to eight months for the vehicles to arrive in Kathmandu, and hence the May 2013 summit would not be possible.
The political chaos in the country is, no doubt, responsible to a large extent for Nepal’s inability to hold the summit in time as promised by Nepal during the 17th Saarc summit when it sought to host the 18th summit. The political situation in the country does not deter the prime minister and the foreign minister from attending unnecessary international conclaves, but prevents preparations for the summit. It is a strange situation and even stranger attitude of our leaders.
Kathmandu has played host to the Saarc summit two times in the past, in 1987 and 2002. Isn’t that too much for an over-populated city like Kathmandu? A small country like the Maldives has hosted the summit three times: twice in the capital Male (November 1990 and May 1997) and once in Addu City in November 2011. India, which hosted the second Saarc summit, did so not in New Delhi but in Bangalore (November 1986). With the unruly city life in the capital, wouldn’t it have been in the best interest of the country and the people to host the coming summit in a new urban area any where in Nepal except the Kathmandu valley?
The site chosen would benefit from the infrastructure development, and once such development takes place, the pressure on the valley would lessen considerably. Any of the towns from Mahendranagar in the west to Bhadrapur to the east would be a suitable venue for the summit. It may not be possible to hold the 18th summit in any of these places; but the leaders, if they have the foresight, should try to develop the necessary physical infrastructure in all possible venues so that Saarc summits or any other international meetings and gatherings can be held there without much fuss.
But the fact is that our leaders and the leaders in other Saarc countries seem to forget that Saarc even exists once a summit is held and done with. The news item in this newspaper mentioned that the Maldives did not convene a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Saarc countries till the middle of this year and hence the delay by Nepal in making preparations for the summit. The delay in convening the meeting of the foreign ministers indicates the importance Saarc countries attach to their own organisation.
Both India and Pakistan, the two powerful countries of the regional organisation, seem to pay only lip service to the importance of the organisation. Why else would the organisation, which formally came into being in Dhaka, Bangladesh over a quarter of a century ago, have nothing substantial to show as its achievement? It is obviously the big powers of the region that are at fault, and the smaller countries of the region have no other option than to follow the path they have been shown by the leaders. They too attend the summits and mini-summits of the foreign ministers as a matter of routine, and forget the very next day what they have decided upon.
The other day, a n international news channel aired an interview with a Pakistani legislator, and the TV anchor wondered what kind of democracy was prevalent in South Asia. The Pakistani lawmaker was quite candid in his reply, and noted that leadership and power in most South Asian countries was inherited from the next of kin. In short, power was hereditary.
In Pakistan, the Bhuttos ruled the Peoples Party roost in Pakistan: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, his wife Nusrat Bhutto (chairperson of the Peoples Party), their daughter Benazir Bhutto, her husband Asif Ali Zardari (present president of Pakistan), and their 25-year-old son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (president of the Peoples Party), the Nehru-Gandhis (no relation to the apostle of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi) family in India, and lest we forget, here in Nepal we have the Koirala family from BP to Sujata to Sushil. The Koiralas’ place in the Nepali Congress (and may be in governance) is secure. Like the Pakistani legislator said, this is the kind of democratic norms we have in South Asia, and hence the less than lukewarm commitment to regional matters that matter the most.
And yet in the present age of interdependence, regional bodies like Saarc can help the region prosper if the countries in the region see eye to eye, if not in everything, at least in matters that affect the welfare of the peoples of the region. This simply means that some national interests have to be sacrificed so that the region as a whole is put firmly on the path of progress and prosperity.
The European Common Market or the European Economic Community (formed in 1957) that later transformed into the European Union with one single currency is today at a breaking point because not all countries have been able to abide by its strict economic discipline. Saarc may not lead to the formation of a South Asian Union with one currency and laws common to all the countries, but if the leaders of South Asia are able to shed their present South Asian syndrome, it could lead to greater prosperity for all the one billion plus people of the region.