Monday, November 5, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Nov 6, 2012

SAARC Speakers’ conference In his address to the conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliaments in Islamabad the other day, President Asif Ali Zardari urged the regional countries to unite to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism. He underlined Pakistan’s suffering at the hands of the fanatics, enumerating the loss of 40,000 lives and Rs 80 billion in economic losses. The president said a collective approach was required to face the challenges confronting the region and to benefit from close cooperation in all fields. The parliaments of the region should play a leading role in solving complex issues by protecting political liberties, human freedoms and the rule of law, the president went on. Zardari said parliament in Pakistan had been empowered and a democratically elected government was nearing completion of its term (these may seem commonplace achievements in older and more established democracies, but given Pakistan’s chequered history, are counted amongst major achievements of the democratic order ushered in in 2008). Pakistan is poised, the president underlined, to achieve the first peaceful democratic transition through the ballot box. All this promises Pakistan is well on its way to realising democracy’s dividends, the president added. Interestingly, he argued that some people might feel parliament was still under assault from some quarters, but these were merely the teething problems of a genuine democratic transition. They represented the dying kicks of the old order, he underlined. The president’s address also dealt with the problems of drug trafficking and food security, the former providing a major source of finance for militancy, while the latter remained a serious challenge. SAARC enjoyed the advantage of cultural affinity amongst the people of the region, the president emphasised, but it must be said that these advantages have yet to be translated into a realisation of potential. People to people contact, interaction amongst parliamentarians and other such confidence building measures could certainly go a long way towards achieving the peace dividend in the region. It may be useful to recall that in the last decades of the last century as well as the first two decades of the 21st, the well known pattern of the growth of drugs trafficking in regions torn by wars has retained its virulence. In the Indo-China wars of the 1960s and 70s, for example, the area began to be characterized as the ‘Golden Triangle’ (of the drugs trade). Today, the ‘Triangle’ in South East Asia has been transformed into the ‘Golden Arc’ of the Af-Pak region. Interestingly, the president characterized heroin as a weapon of war developed by the ‘international community’ (read west) against the rival ideology (read communism), which still remained to be dismantled long after it has passed out of the hands of covert efforts to fund irregular combatants fighting the ‘enemy’ and transformed, along with kidnapping for ransom, into the main source of terrorist financing. For all our foaming at the mouth against the terrorists, not enough attention has been paid to starving the terrorists financially by interdicting drugs, stopping money laundering, and tackling the menace of kidnapping for ransom. This is doubly crucial now that the past sources of funding from certain Gulf Arab countries has dwindled to a trickle after the ‘sponsors’ of jihad themselves found they were increasingly becoming targets of those sections of yesterday's proxies that had slipped the leash. What unites, actually or potentially, the region of South Asia are the common challenges of terrorism, poverty, underdevelopment and finding SAARC’s place in the sun in the world community. Taking a leaf from the book of successful regional blocs such as the EU and ASEAN, it is obvious that the gateway to ‘heaven’ lies in economic cooperation and trade. If SAARC can move towards this goal, and recent moves bettering India-Pakistan relations offer the best hope for a long time, it can improve the lives of all its peoples while becoming a formidable trading bloc with the rest of the world. When the advantages are so obvious, all that is needed is the political will to implement these ideas.

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