Thursday, February 08, 2007

Message for People's SAARC:Shafquat Munir

Message for People’s SAARC January 13, 2005

By Shafqat Munir

Development Journalist/Researcher
President, Journalists for Democracy and Human Rights (JDHR) Pakistan

Dear Comrades,

Paradigm shift in world politics as consequence of 9/11 and arm twisting in the name of globalization under the World Trade Organization made the people of the developing and least developing countries in South Asia more vulnerable to multiple crisis and resource constraints.
Under neo-colonialism, the players of globalization are manipulating world resources at the cost of the poor and the marginalized. They are dictating their terms in the name of trade liberalization and withdrawals of agriculture subsidies under the WTO agreements. Inter and intra state conflicts, particularly Pakistan and India tension, have been costing heavily on the people of the world’s one of the largest regions, the South Asia. Having common heritage, historical linkages and traditional commonalities, the South Asian countries and people share common problems. The major problems are poverty, under development, resource constraints, and crisis of governance, religious fundamentalism and growing threat of HIV/AIDS.
To fight against common enemy, the poverty and under development, South Asian countries particularly Pakistan and India need to join hands to benefit from each other’s experiences, development and peaceful co-existence. But unfortunately both India and Pakistan seem reluctant to opt for a peaceful solution of their conflicts, particularly of Kashmir and now the issue of Baglihar dam.


On stereotype enemy approaches of the establishments of both India and Pakistan, let me share with you of my experience to India when I visited Chandigarh in May 2003. I happened to be at the Chandigarh Pres Club where I reciprocated a speech by the President of the Club. Right from the Attary border crossing to Chandigarh, over 100 Pakistani delegates were given a warm welcome and the atmosphere was so peace friendly that some of the jubilant youth demanded that there should not be any border walls between the two counties. In my speech at Chandigar Press Club I had cautioned against the political and vested interests of our establishments. I still believe that border walls are not the issue, if at they remain these walls in tact, at least, there should be free gates for movement of people across the settled borders without restrictions.
In South Asia, visa regime in Nepal and Sri Lanka is flexible and could be an example for rest of the countries in the region. The visa regime in Bangladesh is at somewhat moderate level but the visa system between India and Pakistan is cumbersome. The two important nuclear nations of South Asia due to enemy image of each other are not roping the tide of opportunities that is lying ahead in case they join hands for the development of the two countries. Only by freeing or relaxing visa regimes, both India and Pakistan could get benefits in coin and kind. But establishments of both the countries do not want that because they fear that it would damage their vested interests. Both the governments announced in newspaper that journalists and development researchers would be given multiple visa entries and that too without police reporting process. But I was not allowed this multiple visa facility. I wanted to reach at the People’s SAARC to join you in Varanasi but I was allowed visa only for Delhi and that too after a long delay that made my travel to Varanasi impossible.


I am sure if today both the establishments and intelligence agencies of India and Pakistan decide not to send their agents for sabotage in each other’s countries, there would be no sabotage activity in either of the countries. You would agree that no common Pakistani or Indian national need to damage interest of their fellow human beings rather they would like to strengthen friendly bonds between the two peoples. The establishments of the two countries should realize that South Asia, one of the most diverse regions on the planet, is fast emerging as the poorest, the most illiterate, the most malnourished, and the most deprived region in the world largely because of Pakistan-India tensions and politics of sabotage and now the terrorism and counterterrorism.
We need to realize also that while the region contains nearly one fifth of humanity, just the increase in its population each year exceeds the total population of the fifty smallest UN member states. If we look at the Mahbub Ul Haq Centre’s Human Development Report on South Asia, we find a devastating picture of colossal human deprivation in South Asia. Nearly one half of the world’s illiterate people and forty percent of the world’s poor live in South Asia: around 500 million people live in absolute poverty; more than one half of adults are illiterate and over one fourth of the total population, 350 million, is unable to access the daily necessity of safe drinking water. Eight hundred and thirty million people have no access to basic sanitation.
Over 400 million people go hungry every day. South Asia accounts for 23 percent of the world’s total population, but its share of the global poor is 40 percent. The adult literacy rate in South Asia is only 48 percent, which is now the lowest in the world. South Asia’s share of world’s total illiterate population is twice as high as its share of the world’s total population. According to a UNICEF study, the worst affected region for malnourished children is South Asia, not Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the much higher GNP growth rate and a more robust increase in food production in South Asia. The per capita GNP of South Asia (US$ 309) is lower than that of any other region in the world. While South Asia contains 22 percent of the world’s population, it produces only 1.3 percent of the world’s income. Women are bearing the brunt of the region’s increasing poverty.
At one hand the extent of human deprivation in South Asia is widespread; on the other hand resources are being diverted to maintaining large armies, modern weapons, and military spending. Pakistan and India are the two among the largest armies in the world. The region spends twice as much each year on the purchase of high-tech arms as does Saudi Arabia. South Asia is the only region where military spending as a portion of GNP has gone up since 1987, although it has declined substantially in all other parts of the world after the end of the cold war.
If we compare global military spending with that of South Asia, we find that military spending in rest of the world declined by about 37 percent from 1987 to 1994, from a peak of US$ 1200 billion in 1987 to around US$ 800 billion in 1994. However, military spending in South Asia during the same period went up by 12 percent from US$ 12.5 billion in 1987 to US$ 14 billion in 1994. Since 1987, military holdings, combat aircraft, artillery ships, and tanks have declined by 1.5 percent globally, but have increased by 43 percent in South Asia.

Dear friends,

This kind of militarization is jeopardizing health, education, environment, food security, access to resources, security of movement of the people and livelihood indicators. We need to unite to reverse this tide of misuse of resources so as to re-diverting them to improve social development indicators.

Let me request you to please demand from this platform, the People’s SAARC;

That the poor South Asian establishments should change their behaviour and thinking. They should focus on security not in military terms but of the security of the people in terms of respect for their fundamental human rights, free movements and more and more livelihood options.
That the leadership in South Asia should not rely on their establishments, military and civil, rather on the people to address the worst form of power imbalances at all levels in our societies.
That we need to lobby for a common South Asia Citizenship.
That there should not be visa restriction for the people of South Asia to move across region. Either visa should be abolished for South Asian citizens or there should be flexibility in grant of visas
That there should be a resource pool that should address issues relating to abject poverty with a view to get it alleviated
That South Asian countries should establish a powerful trading group in the world to take common stands at the World Trade Organization while taking part in negotiations on certain international trade issues
That South Asian countries should rise above petty conflicts and steer their agricultural economies out of the clutches of the multilateral corporations’ monopolistic designs, thus ensuring food security and food sovereignty.
That South Asian countries should have a free media regime, allowing free exchange of each other’s publications and media productions into their countries.

Thanks you very much, Hope to see you soon in any similar gathering.

Shafqat Munir