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l September 03 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 5 l

C O M M E N T 

Asia: A period of change

Yashwant Sinha

Changes and challenges facing Asia

What are the most important changes that can be noticed in recent times, particularly in this region?

First of all, terrorism stalks Asia as never before. India a long-standing victim of terrorism was hit again yesterday. Mumbai was deliberately chosen because what these terrorists and their sponsors envy the most is India’s success in the economic field. The relative stability that ASEAN enjoyed over the last few decades has also been shattered by the rise of extremist forces in the region. A harsh, militant, puritanical form of Islam brought in by outsiders, preying on a false sense of victimization is threatening to displace South East Asia’s Islamic tradition of syncretism and co-existence. The bombings in Bali and Jakarta and the discovery of expansive networks of terrorist organization in the region have revealed the scale of the new threat to Asia.

Secondly, a new international order has begun to emerge in the region replacing the uncertainties of the post-Cold War era. The region is no longer marked by rivalry between superpowers. Countries of the region have more or less settled into a system where major powers are learning to co-exist peacefully.

Thirdly, the after-effects of the Asian financial crisis have blown over and the region is entering a new trajectory of growth. While globalization and the opportunities and challenges that it presents continue to be debated extensively, integration of the principal economies of the region with the world has proceeded apace.

Fourthly, the remarkable success of the ASEAN experiment has prompted many others of Asia to actively strive for regional cooperation. Persisting poverty and under development, rising population, increase in migration and refugee flows, rapidly depleting natural resources including water, trafficking in small arms and drugs, trans-national crimes etc. - all provide ballast for such cooperation amongst countries.

Finally, proliferation with the attendant risk of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups is now the greatest in Asia. This is particularly so in the immediate neighbourhood of India where it is possible to find the conjunction of authoritarian rule, religious fundamentalism, terrorism, drug trafficking and weapons of mass destruction. Some of the most deliberate and well-documented instances of nuclear and missile transfers have taken place in this region.

Asia’s response

Confronted by such change, what should be Asia’s response? It is a commonly shared conviction that in order to continue the march towards prosperity of our peoples, we must work towards the twin goals of enhancement of peace and security and sustained economic growth and development. While countries will continue to have a national perspective of security arising out of their own geography and history, it is increasingly accepted today that in the realm of security, we are all dealing with global threats and global challenges. It is no longer possible for any country in the world to insulate itself from developments that are taking place in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. The events of September 11, 2001 provide the most telling example of this.

A cooperative approach to security which helps in increasing stakes of members in enduring peace and stability is therefore essential. Such an approach would be accommodative of the diversity of the region and would also be a reflection of growing strength and confidence amongst countries. The ARF plays an important role in the above regard. But it needs to be strengthened through effective bilateral and other arrangements amongst the countries of the region on issues such as counter terrorism, curbing proliferation and protection of sea-lanes of communication.

To effectively tackle terrorism, there must be clarity on three important issues. There are some in the world who argue that certain ‘root causes’ are responsible for the phenomenon of terrorism and that this menace can only be addressed by dealing with the proclaimed political grievances of those indulging in violence. Others insist on a definition of terrorism before dealing with it. The emphasis on root causes and semantic exercises in defining terrorism, however, tend to play into the hands of those who resort to indiscriminate violence. No grievance and sense of historical injustice can justify the use of violence against innocent civilian populations. Those who emphasize addressing “root causes” such as poverty, absence of political freedom, territorial disputes, religious intolerance, ethnic discrimination etc. are suggesting that we must continue to live with terrorism or rather die at its hands until all these problems are resolved.

It is equally baseless to link terrorism to any particular religion and perceive its recent growth as heralding a ‘clash of civilizations’.

Also important is the issue of double standards in the fight against terrorism. I refer to the tendency by some to condone terrorism in some places while condemning it elsewhere. This is counter-productive. Such leniency will only boomerang on everyone. We collectively owe it to ourselves as well as to the world to push, prod, persuade and mobilize the international community into redoubling efforts aimed at eradicating the phenomenon of terrorism from its very roots.

Speech by External Affairs Minister Shri Yashwant Sinha at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore on 26.08.03

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