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A necessary reaffirmation of ties

Thursday 28 April 2005

The objectives set for the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership might appear too ambitious. There will also be questions about the need for yet another mechanism for interaction among developing countries. However, these doubts should not undermine the efforts to revitalise a collective endeavour to solve common problems. Meeting in Indonesia once again, the countries of Asia and Africa tried to revive the Bandung spirit that inspired the Non-Aligned Movement. While NAM contributed significantly to the dismantling of colonialism, it appeared to lose its way after this goal was achieved in most parts of the world. Today the countries involved in the Partnership are confronted with other challenges. They must cope with the demands of an increasingly globalised market and fend off the sole superpower’s attempt to impose its hegemony. Even as developing countries contend with these external pressures, they need to respond vastly better to their peoples’ desire for internal reform.

The decision to pool the resources and creative energies of Asia and Africa to meet the challenge of development is more than welcome in the current international situation. The democratic reform of institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank is of vital importance to the members of the Partnership. They can move closer to this objective if they abide by their promise to make collective and united efforts at multilateral fora. Some of the regional blocs involved in this larger enterprise have developed innovative and reasonably successful strategies for conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction. Lessons should be learnt from this positive experience if the scope for great power intervention is to be reduced. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed in a specific reference to the international oil trade, producers and consumers in the developing world can build direct linkages so as to minimise the role played by global cartels. The summit identified a wide range of areas in which the peoples of the two continents can cooperate in practical ways.

From India’s point of view, the Jakarta summit took place at a highly congenial time. It provided Dr. Singh an opportunity to interact with Presidents Hu Jintao and Pervez Musharraf and increase the momentum generated by the recent exchanges with China and Pakistan. It also refocussed New Delhi’s attention on an aspect of its foreign policy that has been in decline post-Cold War. As a founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, India has traditionally played a leading role in the affairs of the developing world. This status appears to have been reaffirmed at the summit when Prime Minister Singh was asked to speak on behalf of Asia during the concluding ceremony. India should be conscious of the honour conferred on it and live up to its responsibility. For a start, it should strengthen bonds with longstanding friends.

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