Social Democratic Forum for South Asia (SA)

“Tolerant societies without conflicts do not necessarily mean,

they are ‘functional democracies’ and

“procedural” democracies do not mean

they provide a decent human life for all their citizens”.

– Kusal

Objective of draft document

This is an attempt to generate a discussion on the issue of how the SAARC could be turned into an effective regional organizational tool to bring stability and development to the region through citizen power and intervention.

The most primary objective of this draft is to seek a core regional group of concerned citizens – professionals, academics, social activists, trade unionists, business chambers and artistes at the least, who would come together to network the region for a regional conference on “Conflict Free SA for Regional Stability” before long, as time is running out for most countries in the region.

01.  Reason(s)

The SAARC region is the region with most conflicts, either in par with the Mid East or far worse. Sri Lanka has over 300,000 IDP’s after the government’s final swipe in eliminating the LTTE and Pakistan has ten times that, 03 million plus, after the government military offensive against the Taliban in the SWAT valley. This SA region has both local and regional conflicts that in most cases go beyond national borders and hold international power blocs involved too. Of the 08 full members, 06 members – Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal have their own conflicts that run across borders and impact adversely on each other.

Unfortunately the most appropriate regional organization the SAARC is inept and plays no role in working towards regional stability. Instead, external power blocs are allowed to decide on the fate of the region. The USA decides how and who should conclude the Afghanistan conflict. Pakistan is told they are playing the “bad brother” role in that conflict and is forced to fight the US war against the very Taliban they created, to fight former Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

India is blaming the ISI and Pakistan for the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attacks, forgetting they have also been interfering into neighbours’ sovereignty creating bloody conflicts in neighbouring States. India is directly responsible for the bloody human tragedy that is still festering in Northern Sri Lanka, for their role in training and arming the LTTE and the other armed groups during Indira Gandhi rule. They armed and supported the Mukhti Bhani in Bangladesh, against Pakistani rule there too.

Pakistan is accused for armed insurgency across the disputed Kashmir border, in Indian Kashmiri territory. Bangladesh has “Rohingya” refugees settled within its borders being recruited as “armed fighters” for the Taliban in Afghan and Pakistani soil.

SAARC has never been getting involved in trying to solve these conflicts of its own members. The SAARC as a regional organization is not necessary, if such cross border conflicts can not be taken seriously and addressed. SAARC at the end of the day is wasting the tax payers’ money in all of their member countries and continue with conflicts that destabilise the whole region.

Therefore it is time the SAARC, which is a State-based forum of Heads of States and other governmental organs, be lobbied and pressured by an alternate regional forum of SA citizens. It is time such a broad forum come together to generate a dialogue and a programme that could turn SAARC into a positive, futuristic forum that can take regional issues constructively.

02.  WHY Social Democracy

The ever inquisitive human has only been able to come up with 02 broad development models in its recent evolution, after establishing nation States. The first is the “market based economy” with a right to private ownership of wealth that grew over a century or two after the industrial revolution and still keeps evolving as the “Western” answer for development and growth. The second is a dichotomy to this Western model of market economy, philosophized and theorized as the Marxist answer in the form of “Socialism”.

“Socialism” unfortunately, could not present itself as a viable alternative in the manner it was politically established in those countries that over threw the capitalist mode of development. “Re reading Marx” provides answers for the debacle of “Socialism” in the modern world. Marx in his writings theorising “socialism” and the way he defined it, had never argued “Socialism” could be the “alternative” or the inevitable phase of socio-economic development in societies that had not reached full growth as capitalist societies.

Therefore the next phase of growth in the SAARC region has to be on market economies that would also take care of the marginalized and the poor in their own societies. This would mean a society that would be democratic to the extent that markets would not be unjust to social segments and would not leave them aside without proper opportunities.

Governments would have the responsibility of regulating markets and distribution of wealth in a justifiable manner and the citizens given opportunities to participate in social decisions.

Such societies should not be those neo liberal societies that allow markets to grow in fictitious bubbles and then crumble in recessions and “melt downs” as in the present economic crisis, for the people to pay with their tax monies to bail out private capital.

Thus the necessity, to strike out a compromise that would provide “functional social democracies” in the SA region.

03.  Starting with SAARC

South Asia is a region with a rich and diverse culture and with a long history of powerful civilizations dating back to the earliest Mohandajaro-Harappa civilization. South Asia then was perhaps extending to land beyond Afghanistan in the West and Burma (Myanmar) in the East. Today, after decades of colonial rule under different Western rulers, South Asia is demarcated as those 07 countries India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan that came together in December, 1985 to establish the SAARC.

In 2006, as proposed by India, Afghanistan was allowed “observer” status and included as a member in 2007, making SAARC an 08 member regional co-operate body. Meanwhile different countries have requested for “observer status” in SAARC and now there are 10 observers.

Of the 08 member countries in the SAARC, there only 02 countries – India and Sri Lanka that could still claim to have democratic social procedures in governance. These 02 countries, with all the conflicts they face within their governing systems, maintain an elected civil representative system of democratic governance, continuously for over 60 years. They have other democratic mechanisms like HR Commissions, comparatively “independent” judicial systems, elected local government bodies, trade unions, etc. in place.

Pakistan had been under military rule more often in its 60 plus year history, though it did have elections in between. It has other democratic institutes under pressure that at times prevails with or contradicts military rule.

Independent Bangladesh is comparatively a young State, had enjoyed democratically elected governments, but has not been able to sustain democracy fairly effectively, with military coups and non-elected interim regimes coming in between.

Nepal is a very nascent democracy that needs to be watched over the next few years as to how it would sustain and grow into a democratic State, since leaving its Monarchy and taking an insurgent Maoist group into the mainstream to live with constitutional conflicts.

Maldives, very recently opened a new democratic chapter in its political mono-culture and promises further democratization of its society as a multi-party democracy, at a distance from other member countries.

Bhutan is the most passive of the member countries in SAARC though under a Monarchy and a popular one within its borders.

04.  The political problematic

In almost all these countries, while socio-economic growth is an issue, the major issue is their inability to establish pluralistic Nation States with socially justifiable levels of distribution of national wealth. These States are yet to provide democratic space for suppressed minority communities, who are in poverty and also claim their share in governance.

India, though a federal state by way of its constitution, has not politically grown into a democratic pluralistic State that shares power in a federated system. Its Centre in Delhi has sway over provinces, when it so desires, as was proved in 1999 with the dissolution of the Tamil Nadu government by the Centre. The Central State is also soft towards majoritarian and Hindu-politics to the extent that other ethno-religious societies perceive they are excluded. The Kashmir war being a border issue as well, the Assamese, Punjabi and Nagaland issues are issues of exclusion from the State.

This exclusion from State and the right to share power has led to a running political war in Sri Lanka manifested between the armed LTTE and the State, for 30 years. The elimination of the LTTE by the SL regime at the expense of untold of misery and human tragedy, has left the core political issues to be found answers with.

Exclusion of different communities has its own maverick interpretation in Pakistan, while the State is heavily dependent on a military that controls or has access to over 40% of the national economy of Pakistan. Bangladesh is also suffering from its own ailments that challenges the State.

The worst in these countries is the growth of “majoritarian fundamentalism”. In India the ‘Hindutva’. In SL the Sinhala-Buddhist ideology and in both Pakistan and Bangladesh the Islamic fundamentalism. These majoritarian fundamentalisms, leads India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to pose as the saviours of their nation States in the name of “national security”. In the name of such “national security” is justified the transformation of the State into a “repressive” State. India after the Mumbai 26/11 attack is a case in point. SL is a proven example after the “May 19 declaration” of concluding the war.

Beneath all this is the huge issue of poverty, severe disparity in distribution of national wealth, unequal opportunities and very obviously a serious lack of a stake in actual politics of the societies for over 60% of the total population in the SAARC region.

05.  The issue of “Nation building”

All of the above clearly indicates that SAARC is not a regional body that has strong and democratic Nation States. All member countries are yet to establish functional democratic societies in their required plural and inclusive form that would allow for socio economic growth.

Over the years, every country has muddied its own conflict with increasing brutality and with foreign interventions, either overtly or covertly.

SAARC as a regional body has left all these issues out of its deliberations and has not been helping each other to arrest and manage the conflicts within resolving level.

06.  External pressure

The SAARC region is not without international interference. USA with a change in administration after Obama’s election that professes dialogue in conflict resolution still continues with its military aggression against Afghanistan, dragging Pakistan directly into it. In all regional conflicts, it’s the international community and the super powers that dictate terms, when it is the SAARC and its ministerial forums that should play the important role of bringing stability to the region.

It is an irony in a way for a 08 member SAARC to have a larger “Observer” community of 10 countries including the USA, Japan, China and the EU sitting over its ceremonial deliberations.

For a SA Social Democratic Federation

A single rich or growing economy will not bring stability to the region, for obvious reasons. Even if a nation registers a growth of over 07% to 08%,

  1. Cross border conflicts will not be solved democratically with “national security” providing reasons for military build ups.
  2. inequality in society added to majoritarian authority would lead to extremism(s) of marginalized communities that would definitely run across borders
  3. Militarisation of the region under a single “big growth” would push others into more insecure manipulations and unholy foreign alliances
  4. Geo-political suspicions would remain or even get hardened across borders with conflicting foreign policy alliances

Therefore, a confederated region with sharing of knowledge, technology and resources across national borders is a necessity, in achieving regional stability across borders.

This requires market regulation at a regionally confederated level, politically, that allows national growth within federated economies, based on,

  1. accepting new local federal boundaries that allows at least provincial identities for nationalities – North / East States of India, Balochistan in Pakistan, Kashmir in both India and Pakistan
  2. plan to have a common currency within a fixed time frame
  3. a SAARC central bank with equal representation of all federate member States
  4. a regional common stock market for SAARC
  5. a SAARC Supreme Judiciary to oversee national judiciaries on ‘rights violations’ within States and of its citizenry.
  6. SAARC redefined and restructured to have a regionally “elected” governing body over the region
  7. A frame work for SAARC foreign policy that would not compromise nation states and their independence

This initial draft is by –

Kusal Perera – Sri Lanka/Journalist


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