Establishment of “Citizens’ Commission for South Asia

“South Asia is at the crossroads today. While the rest of the world is moving rapidly in the direction of peace, stability and development, South Asia continues to remain mired in conflicts and poverty. Unless it pursues a path of purposeful cooperation based on peace, development and reconciliation, the region will not be able to realize its full potential. There is the danger of it slipping deeper into the abyss of poverty, deprivation, disease and illiteracy resulting in the gradual erosion of the very core of our societies with their ancient and rich heritage.

The Civil society is convinced of the inevitability, benefits and imperative of peace and cooperation. It is also eager and prepared to play a constructive role in persuading and urging the governments to pursue a path of peace and reconciliation, progress and cooperation. Indeed, the Kathmandu Conference on ” South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges” held in December 1999 had stressed the major responsibility and role of Civil Society in creating a positive climate to facilitate optimal progress for cooperation in the region. It must act as an advocacy group in the interest of the peoples of this region.

In order to realize the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the peoples of South Asia, it is necessary to invoke the South Asian tradition whereby its elder statesmen, scholars and public personalities can guide the citizens of South Asia to realize the full potential of what this region has to offer to its people. Conflicts, bilateral or regional, are not the only impediments. Above all, we have to overcome and change the mindset, deeply entrenched through decades of hostility and suspicion into purposeful cooperation and collective action.

The Coalition for Action on South Asian Cooperation (CASAC) which is an independent non-profit network of South Asian opinion and policy makers committed to the promotion of regional cooperation in South Asia has over the past 5 years played a major role in mobilizing and channelizing opinion in this direction. CASAC is now proposing to seek the advice and guidance of some of the most distinguished personalities of this region by constituting an informal “Citizens’ Commission for South Asia”.

Hon. Dr. I.K. Gujral, elder Statesman and former Prime Minister of India has agreed to chair this Citizens’ Commission. The proposed Commission comprising around 21 eminent personalities from the region will reflect and deliberate on the problems and challenges confronting South Asia. The moral and intellectual weight of their call will help realize the enormous potential inherent in cooperation in South Asia. Some of the eminent “Citizens” who have agreed to join the Commission, among others, include:

1. Prof. Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate,

2. Dr. Kamal Hussain, Renowned jurist,

3. Ms. Asma Jehangir, Eminent human rights’ champion,

4. Dr. Muhhamed Yunus, the pioneering visionary and the architect of the Grameen Bank,

5. Mr. Abdul Sattar Moosa Didi, former Vice-President of the Republic of Maldives,

6. Mr. Sartaj Aziz, former Foreign and Finance Minister of Pakistan,

7. Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba, former Prime Minister of Nepal, and

8. Dr. Devendra Raj Panday, former Finance Minister of Nepal.

Some others are also expected to join the group shortly.

The CASAC Executive Committee, which met in New Delhi on September 16 and 17, 2000 has commenced substantive preparations for convening this important meeting of Citizens’ Commission for South Asia, which is being held in the context of the SAARC official process continuing to remain in a state of impasse. The Commission’s deliberations therefore assume special importance. It is expected to discuss issues confronting South Asia and propose a series of actions for the consideration of the governments of the SAARC countries and the Civil Society at large. The Citizens’ Commission is expected to meet in Kathmandu in December 2000.