Civic action promoting governance in South Asia

18 April 2012 12:09 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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L-R Prof Murchkund Dubey, former Foreign Secretary, India,Dr. Devendra Raj  Pandey, former Finance Minister Nepal,Barrister Iqhtiaq Ahmed, Former Attorney General, Bangladesh, the writer, Ambassador Niaz Naik, former Foreign Secretary ,Pakistan and Nikhil Chakravarty, Eminent Journalist and Editor Mainstream,India.
Sri Lanka was going through its own agony with sudden stoppages to working days imposed by the JVP. In this working environment, an erudite Editor in the form of Aziz Siddiui, former editor of Frontier Post and subsequently the Pakistan Times was invited over to Colombo to prepare a briefing paper via HRCP. Being what he was, he would take pencil and paper, and the words would flow and stop without error once the text was fully delivered in one sitting. At the same time, the task of accessing Observers began. Dr. Kamal Hossain who was associated with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in drafting the post liberation Constitution of Bangladesh was our principal interlocutor. One of his suggestions was Ambassador Fakhruddin Ahmed. We found him to wise, calm counsel. Together we undertook numerous missions on elections, visited Bangladesh when he was in Government as well as with FEMA.
The mission to Pakistan was followed soon after to Sri Lanka for the Presidential election. The report of which was written in the cold winter of December 1988 in Lahore at the Falletis Hotel where we criticized JRJ’s decision to proscribe the JVP and the left for the 1983 riots when blame clearly lay elsewhere. You could order strawberries and ice cream and it would arrive in quantities akin to a heavy lunch. The Pakistan mission had eight persons while the Sri Lankan mission had ten persons .Many missions followed thereafter. They were some of the finest men and women of the generation in South Asia then. Amidst the sound of horse drawn buggies and swirling mist we hunkered down to edit and finish our report. An irony in the deliberations were every now and then either a Bangladeshi or Indian in the Group would excuse themselves to go meet a cousin or friend! Underscoring the fact that the continent was one land with people who had family ties divided by post-independence borders. It occurred again when Inder Kumar Gujral, who was PM for a period in India on a subsequent mission found he and the then President of Pakistan  came from the same village, which he visited.
The tales and stories are numerous and are filled with fond memories. Ambassador Fakruddin, though he was much older than I became very good friends. We shared many a journey. Whether eating freshly skewered chicken by the road in Delhi, walking up and down Harun Road in Karachi whiling away the time before taking the night coach flight  from Karachi to Islamabad, braving the weather in Katmandu, dealing with ballot boxes flung into the village pond resulting in a redpoll in a particular location in Bangladesh, watching the storming of the Russian Parliament on CNN from the Intercontinental in Islamabad on the orders of Yeltsin, crushing a rebellion, having Chinese food in Dacca, understanding Jamdani silk saris or peering into the valley at the Khyber Pass. We have walked bazaars together shopping, done the tour of Islamabad on a few occasions and shared many a toast with our South Asian colleagues. His book, Critical Times: memoirs of a South Asian diplomat came out when I was spending time in London and I recall picking up a copy from his son. Later on he never missed an opportunity to travel economically around India, or the Trans-Siberian express to name a few. His role in FEMA, in the interim government etc., were catalogued by colleagues closer home. A colourful but regal personality who joined us then was the Nawab of Pataudi whose entire wardrobe was stitched by a tailor in London. These collective travels brought other interventions
L-R   S.A.M.S Kibria, Former Finance Minister, Bangladesh, the writer, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister Designate Bangladesh, Anura Bandaranaike MP, Ambassador Niaz Naik, former Foreign Secretary ,Pakistan, Dr. Devendra Raj  Pandey, former Finance Minister Nepal, Prof Murchkund Dubey, former Foreign Secretary, India and a distinguished participant from Nepal.
in the form of many a track two South Asian initiative. They were heady times with the spirit of South Asia capturing our imagination.
Pakistan went in and out of democracy, Bangladesh gave birth to caretaker governments, Nepal promised democracy, faded away into chaos and has given a new start to itself, Sri Lanka has maintained a veneer of democracy but had to deal with many an upheaval wracking it for decades. In all of these observations, civil society from where leaders are groomed and retire too played their part. By the 90’s we seemed to have tired. Some old hands still bat on in the SAARC region .Quite a few policy related institutions have sprung with leadership from civil society colleagues at the helm.
Our troubles and challenges are far from over .In fact it presents compelling reasons revive older efforts. Our ability to transform track two civil society activism into tangible change remains a responsibility still heavy on us. It requires sustained professional activism. Our concern for each other’s governance must stay kindled. We are culturally and historically bound together and the link must be strengthened. More eminent activism and involvement should be fostered and a new leadership nurtured amongst and from us. As I look back I see, I have lost many an  older acquaintance. The memory though  seeks to   canvass a renewal of faith in the enterprise, knowledge and affinity amongst us to be invested in the future good of our people and region.
(The writer is the Chairman of the Institute for Human Rights and the Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies)
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