28 September 2015

How about South Asia going the "api wenuwen api" way?

First published in the 'Daily News' 5 years ago [September 28, 2010] this speaks to the recurrent theme of South Asian solidarity, unfortunately more apparent in its breach.

My thoughts are with Wasim Akram, former captain of the Pakistan cricket team. I read this morning that Wasim Akram’s wife had passed away after a brief illness, but this is not the only reason why I remembered him. I remembered Wasim Akram for a remark he made in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Mumbai. 

In a bloody three-day period in November 2008, Mumbai was virtually besieged by terrorists and when it was all over, 173 people were dead and 308 wounded. There was horror expressed from all quarters. Delhi, naturally, expressed anger and began pointing fingers at Pakistan. There was denial, naturally, from the Pakistanis, along with pledges to support India in investigations. There was also one voice of sanity, that of Wasim Akram. 

Akram suggested that India and Pakistan should play a Test match in Mumbai. That’s not really something that would wipe out terrorism of course but then neither was that the intent of the suggestion. This is what Akram said: “Cricket is not on anyone’s mind at the moment, but after three to four days both countries must take a positive step. 

I suggest Pakistan and India play a Test in Mumbai to give the clear message that we will not give in (to terrorism).” 

Media reports at the time indicated that the Indian Government would cancel the cricket tour of Pakistan scheduled for early 2009. Akram pointed out that if terrorist attacks hits cricketing relations between the two countries it would amount to caving into the designs of the terrorists. 

It must be mentioned also that in 1999, Akram captained Pakistan on a tour of India, the first such tour after a decade, despite threats from Hindu fundamentalists. 

“Cricket means everything in the Sub-continent. It has built bridges and has averted wars on several occasions. People love and worship cricket, so it would be a great loss if cricket is halted. I hope it isn’t,” Akram added. 

He was right. Cricket is a healer. In 1996, when Australia and the West Indies refused to play in Sri Lanka citing safety issues, Indian and Pakistani played a goodwill game against Sri Lanka in Colombo, showing solidarity and demonstrating to the world that Australian and the West Indian fears were unfounded. 

Sri Lanka similarly toured Pakistan at a time when no other test-playing country was willing to go there. They suffered a terrorist attack but vowed to re-visit. The Subcontinent teams are bitter rivals, but they do root for each other against other countries. 

The sentiment and its logic can extend beyond the boundary line, I believe. A few days ago I read about some bomb explosion in Bangladesh. I am acutely aware of what is happening (and not happening) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

I read about Indian politics, not just about Kashmir but other places where horrendous crimes against humanity are perpetrated. And I live in Sri Lanka, which is a country that lived through and survived three decades of terrorism. 

In short South Asia is a volatile region. ‘Security’ is of top-most concern to all member states of SAARC. Unfortunately, ‘security’ is an issue that we have not handled well, each opting to go alone and some opting for outsiders to dictate how things should be done. 
On the pretext of hunting Osama bin-Laden, the USA and its allies have invaded Afghanistan. They are clearly persuaded by other interests including accessing oil resources. US troops in our backyard is something all South Asian nations ought to be worried about. 

Historically, though, we have allowed our fears of one another to persuade us to run to one world power or the other, allowing for an unhealthy poking of dirty outsider-fingers in our affairs. 

Yes, we have a long history of suspecting one another of ill-intent, but this does not mean that we should or will continue to bite each other until the end of time. 

More seriously, it does not mean we have to ignore the fact that our ‘in-fighting’ has made it possible for people who really don’t give a damn about the welfare of our people or our strategic or other interests to plunk themselves in our midst and do the do-as-I-like. 

There are troops from some 16 countries ‘fighting’ in Afghanistan right now. Apart from promises and minor degrees of ‘logistical support’, South Asia (apart from Pakistan and Afghanistan of course) is out of the picture. These countries are not there for the love of democracy or the Afghans or even the Pakistanis, and this is pretty obvious, considering the untold suffering they’ve caused. Neither are they really interested or even capable of fighting terrorism. They’ve overstayed their welcome, are going nowhere in terms of finding Osama bin-Laden or annihilating the Taliban and it is high time they accepted defeat and quit the region. 

Today, SAARC is at a point when it should redefine the nature of stated commitment to regional security. This is a time when SAARC must seriously consider the formation of its own regional security net, including the deployment of ‘SAARC Security Forces’ (once formed) when and where necessary. 

Shifting paradigms is never easy of course, but for all its flaws and its over-weighting of India, SAARC exists and is a positive development in terms of regional cooperation. The limits can be pushed. Always. 

The issues that are footnoted or absented can be brought into the main text. There’s a common history and heritage we can all derive strength from, a brotherhood that exists and which Wasim Akram recognized and advocated. I believe it is time.