ISLAMABAD: The establishment and anti-democtratic forces have not allowed democracy to function. “You can have democracy on paper, but they will rig the elections,” remarked noted economist Kaiser Bengali while speaking on the first day of a conference on “Peace and Sustainable Development in South Asia: The Way Forward,” at a local hotel on Tuesday.
The conference has been organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute’s (SDPI).
Citing the bureaucracy’s repeated obstruction of the NFC Award implementation as an evidence, Bengali said, “The dominant group simply does not want to share power”. He said there was a spirit of cooperation and compromise between the federating units during the negotiations, but in the months following, Islamabad created “one obstruction after another”.
Bengali bemoaned ethnic fragmentation in Pakistan and the failure of the establishment to construct a genuine vision of national identity, arguing that they were instead pursuing personal aggrandizement and a policy of “beating heads” in Balochistan, reminiscent of the Centre’s strategy towards East Pakistan.
Earlier, in a panel on sustainable development and religious diversity, MNA Marvi Memon proclaimed a jihad against religious intolerance. “We find massive discrimination and intolerance,” she said, “And there is definitely a huge area where the blasphemy laws are misused”.
Memon said that parliamentarians have a responsibility to ensure that the misuse of the blasphemy laws does not continue. “Anyone who has any courage to speak on this issue is shot down immediately”, she said, “Whenever we want to talk about it we are told not to touch it. I do want to touch it”.
Federal Environment Secretary Javed Malik, urged that there must be a “change in thinking” on the relationship with India. “A paradigm shift in policy towards fostering peace is a must for achieving sustainable development in the region”, he added.
He noted that people on the ground across South Asia desire normalized relations between states in the region, and that collaborative efforts for attaining peace would help divert resources from security to confronting the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Former Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme and current SDPI member Dr Shafqat Kakakhel urged that South Asia needs a “cultural revolution” to “dismantle, disrupt and destroy the nexus of poverty, social injustice and economic inequities”. “For peace, internal reform is a necessary precondition” he said, arguing that expanding economic opportunity, improving social justice and, pursuing democratic processes are keys to normalizing relations in the region.
Executive Director of SDPI Dr Abid Suleri in his introductory speech added that “One of the prerequisites for a stable and prosperous Pakistan is a sustainable Afghanistan and one of the prerequisites for India to top the league of emerging economies is a sustainable Pakistan.” Dr Suleri added “NATO is unlikely to leave Afghanistan without peace and development in Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries”.
Dr Suleri said that the TAPI gas pipeline and the Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement show a commitment to collaborative initiatives on the part of the international community.
Indian feminist and historian Urvashi Butalia gave a comprehensive account of how people at the grassroots level were trying to catalyze steps towards peace between Pakistan and India. Butalia noted that the masses are more concerned with earning their bread and butter than engaging in inter-regional animosity and are demanding their governments deliver on issues like climate change, sustainable livelihoods and food security.
In a session on sanitation and water issues, experts called for an integrated poverty alleviation programme, agreeing that the lack of water and sanitation facilities in Pakistan directly contributes to many dimensions of poverty including health, education, gender, and income.
The sessions on day two (Wednesday) will include discussions on the impacts of structural adjustment, 25 years of SAARC, responding to climate change in South Asia, peace through development,poverty reduction, financing climate change, the role of men in ending violence against women, water and sanitation challenge in South Asia, and regional trade.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2010.