Asia: A period of change
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.
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.
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
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