A Summit of hope?
Syed Fattahul Alim
The two decades old South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is making its presence on the world stage. Though an event involving seven nations having a common historical as well as cultural bond on a regional level, the Summit has a global significance. Firstly, the South Asian Forum, SAARC, represents more than one fifth of humanity. So any summit of this South Asian forum, let alone the present are, cannot but have a huge significance, if only for the simple fact that such a large swathe of the world population is involved in this event. Secondly, two nuclear powers having common geographical borders are the members of this grouping of nations. Thirdly, this region will soon emerge as the world's third most powerful economic engine.
Understandably, the twice stalled SAARC summit should attract the attention of the whole world, particularly of the global media and the governments. And there is apparently no reason why the event should not make quite a splash on the global scene.
However, if the past history of this not-so-enviable regional bloc is any indication, it will not be too much to say that the SAARC forum and its summits have not been able to draw the amount of global attention it rightfully deserved so for. The reason for this rather low key level existence of SAARC is that the member states of this regional forum have failed so far to own their association befittingly. However, all the member states of SAARC should not be held equally responsible for this state of affairs. The smaller states of this regional bloc had on more than one occasion shown their eagerness to develop this association to a level that it truly merits. But that expectation of the smaller partners of SAARC has remained largely unfulfilled until now.
One reason for this failure on the part of the SAARC nations to ensure this regional body its rightful place among other such regional economic blocs in Europe, Asia, and other continents lies in the bitter history of partitioning of the Indian subcontinent during the fag end of the British rule in this part of the world. But unlike Europe, in some parts of Asia and many other regions of the globe, the past bitterness continued to fester and cloud the relationship among the nations in the subcontinent even long after the British had left their erstwhile colony in India. The long drawn-out military confrontation between India and Pakistan over Kashmir led to the escalation of arms race and finally militarisation of South Asia.
Mercifully, during the past few years, there has been a marked thaw in the relations between those two nuclear neighbours. Two recent tragic incidents further bear out such an assessment of the situation at the diplomatic level between those two big partners of SAARC. One is the devastating earthquake in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir that killed scores of thousands of people and rendered millions homeless. India has extended a very warm hand to help Pakistan out of the present tragedy. Pakistan, too, has responded very positively to the overture full of empathy and follow feeling. The two countries have again passed through a second test of endurance after a series of bomb explosions in Delhi that left dozens of people dead and many more wounded and traumatised. But as if to say no to the bitter past, neither India not Pakistan allowed their governments or their media to engage in a fresh war of words or blame-game over the man-made tragedy in Delhi. These are a very clear indication of the future course of developments on the diplomatic front between the two traditional rivals in South Asia. But all those positive happenings point unmistakably to the wind of change now blowing all over the place, especial in South Asia.
The 13th SAARC summit hosted by Dhaka will hopefully mark the end of the age-old hostilities in South Asia. But the end of the past bitterness between two important partners of SAARC should not also be looked upon as an end in itself. The leaders of India and Pakistan need to do more than just say that they will not dig up the past any more. The peoples of South Asia have long been waiting for the moment when their leaders would come of age and chart a common and shared future for them all.
As a matter of fact, establishing people-to-people contact among the countries of South Asia was the basic and guiding spirit of SAARC when the need for this regional forum was conceived more than two decades back. Unfortunately, the leaders of SAARC could not live up to that speculation of the people of this region until now.
Meanwhile, the peoples of the SAARC region will be keeping their fingers crossed with the fresh hope that their leaders will not fail them this time, but break new ground through the present summit. The people, however, do not expect the impossible from their leaders. What they want is simple -- an environment of cooperation and mutual trust. Once this minimum demand of the people is met by the leaders, that would be enough to release the people's creative energy so that they may build a prosperous future for themselves.