Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Proposal for a South Asian regional union

WILLIAM GOMES

THROUGHOUT THE triumphs and tragedies of the internal politics of Bangladesh, especially at a moment of crisis or a defining point for the nation, the neighbouring countries of India and Pakistan have always played a vital role in many ways.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Charter was formally adopted on Dec. 8, 1985 by the governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to provide a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding and to accelerate the process of economic and social development in its member states. But it’s really sad that SAARC itself has failed to accelerate the practical cooperation of the leaders of the member states for greater development; in reality, it has become a platform of shame and failure.

There is a long story of plotting and problems that can go on and on for many pages. But I want to share the dream of a united union of secular states, comprised of three countries of South Asia - Bangladesh, India, Pakistan - and one country of south central Asia - Afghanistan.

There is struggle for unity in this region, in name of religion, power and politics, where Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can come out of their conflicts; one example is the Kashmir conflict, where both India and Pakistan refer to Kashmir as an "integral part" of their respective countries, leading their nations and the region into further conflict and crisis.

India and Pakistan have fought wars over Kashmir; Islamic militancy has grown in these countries, with the mood of hatred providing a welcome environment for the insurgency. We need to work with India and Pakistan to resolve this crisis, and that will be possible with a union of secular states. Unless India and Pakistan sit together to resolve the problem, it will never be solved. The root of religious oppression is interrelated with the growing crisis in this region. Also, any crises involving India, Pakistan and Afghanistan affect Bangladesh. In the same way, any problem that is related to religion or politics obviously powerfully affects the other countries in the region.

I dream of a union of secular states, not an atheist or Hindu or Islamic union of states. A union of secular states will lead with the concept of secularism, whereby the states in the union are officially neutral in matters of religion, neither supporting nor opposing any particular religious beliefs or practices. Where the state treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion and does not give preferential treatment to a citizen from a particular religion over those from other religions.

In the union, there would need to be a centrally planned economy with a macroeconomic stabilization policy. The economy would be directed based on economic democracy, by adopting a very firm focus on national planning with a series of five-year plans. The dreams and expectations of the small minority of corporate shareholders to the majority of public stakeholders should be positively reflected in the union's economic plan. Whereas the people will come under one umbrella, the union will be a platform for change; every citizen will be a change-maker. There would need to be a unique currency. The union should imitate the Asian Tiger economies within their first 10 years.

By encouraging economic interdependence within the union, the union will be able to deal effectively with problems from outside competitors.

The education system should be a progressive process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, and cognitive strategies, enriched with international, environmental, scientific and professional methodologies. The states should ensure the right to education by applying the same standard to all their citizens, while the politics of the union should be taught systematically to everyone, from the lower to the upper classes. The union, based on democratic centralism, would practice direct democracy. This will be a critical combination of two different democratic processes.

To bring forth the change in the region is not easy as simply writing down ideas. I want recall the words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th U.S. president, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable." G. K. Chesterton also said, “You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.”

Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind, which then spread to others. This thought will spread to the nations of the region; it will not go backwards. One day, the nations of our region will not be named in connection with any violence, but will be called the land of prosperity and possibility. #

William Nicholas Gomes is a renowned human rights activist; filmmaker and freelance journalist of Bangladesh. He can be reached by email: cda.exe@gmail.com