Aid for all

IT is heartening to note that the Japanese aid consortium currently in the country, will discuss aid projects for the entire country and not just the North and East. Undoubtedly, the North and East provinces are devastated, and need to be rebuilt. And there is a need to turn AK 47 automatic rifles into plough shares in order to wean away the youth from a lifestyle of violence towards economic development. But, the two insurgencies of 1971 and 1987-89 were also due to the poor socio-economic conditions of the deprived youth of the South, which were craftily exploited by a manic leadership which drove thousands to their deaths.

We do not want yet another massacre of the innocents due to the same reasons. Meanwhile, the World Bank has now consented to disburse payments under their supervision on the pledge made by foreign donor nations on the North and the East.

As our front page story of today states, it is the people of all Sri Lanka who have to repay the loans taken for the reconstruction of the north and east. But this time at least we may have to grudgingly agree on the LTTE's lament on this score.

Foreign aid since independence hardly trickled to the North and the East. These two provinces did not benefit from the country's biggest project, the Mahaveli scheme - - certainly not the North. And what monies that accrued to Colombo over the years as foreign aid for disbursement throughout Sri Lanka, were partly purloined by politicians and bureaucrats from every Government. Even if you look at this Government's record, we can see that the credit line that was negotiated with India was first used to serve themselves, and the parliamentary Opposition (except the JVP) by voting themselves new vehicles for their use. This is not the example that any Government or Opposition must set, when the ordinary folks are being asked to tighten their belts for the sake of fiscal discipline, surely.

Whither SAARC
January 11-13 was yet another non-event in the South Asian calendar. They were the dates on which seven South Asian leaders were scheduled to meet and take decisions aimed at uplifting the living standards of teeming millions who are enslaved in abject poverty. As often being the case, the summit was postponed, once again indefinitely, due to bickering between the two South Asian nuclear giants, India and Pakistan.

The bickering as well as postponements have become so commonplace today that they hardly have any effect on the South Asian body politic. Also making little or no impact on the day-to-day life of more than 1.5 billion South Asian people is the much bragged about co-operation. Ask any South Asian whether they feel their lives have been changed for the better as a result of South Asian cooperation. Most of them will say no.
But ask SAARC-wallahs; they will come up with an impressive list of areas where agreements have been reached, and argue that people-to-people co-operation in the region is in full flow.

Beneath the political bickering exists the sublime that manifests itself in the absence of politics. We are talking about people who are bound together by common ties that range from culture to culinary tastes. Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar's imagery in a speech in New Delhi last week of seven sisters who are mothers and share a common home stirs hope even in a gloomiest situation for a revival of regionalism in South Asia, although he sees many a boulder on the road on which SAARC travels. The Prime Minister last week suggested an apex European Court style judicial tribunal for the region as a stepping-stone for an Asian Court. For that to happen, for a South Asian unity to be struck at a people-to-people level, both India and Pakistan will have to make sacrifices.


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