We have to harness the energies of the young people to bring about a change in the destinies of the South Asian countries and give our people a life free from hunger and want. It is the young who are the real agents of change. These observations were made by Dr Kamal Hossain, former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, former UN Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan from 1998 to 2003, and currently a member of the UN Compensation Commission, while speaking on the occasion of a lecture in memory of Fatehyab Ali Khan, former Chairman, PIIA, at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) Monday evening.
“I would like to address you, the young people, because the future lies in your hands. You are the agents of change”, he said.
He said that his and his party’s most valuable asset during the 1970 elections (the last elections in the united Pakistan) were the young, almost a thousand of them who most painstakingly, without expectation of material rewards and fired by idealism, worked day and night for the party writing campaigns and disseminating the party manifesto among the masses. “We did in 1970 what Barack Obama did in 2008”, he said.
Unfortunately, he said that today, the young were victims of disinformation.
“Let the voices of the young be heard over the electronic media. Let them ask the children particularly in the rural areas, ‘are you happy with your school’, if you want meaningful and lasting change. Let them go to the grassroots level and interact with the masses”, he said.
“A revolution is waiting to happen in South Asia”, Dr Hossain said.
In Bangladesh, he said the voting age was brought down from 21 to 18 which resulted in a larger turn-out of the young at polling booths and said that the results of this positive step had begun to manifest their results.
It was the youth, he said, who could steer the country clear off past acrimony and bickering and jointly guide the ship of state in a harmonious direction, thus bringing about change and prosperity. He said that the young people today had far greater access to information than in the 1960s, but they lacked motivation. They did not have the role models that his generation had.
He said that there was absolutely no substitute for democracy and that it was the most viable, just, and egalitarian system of governance ever devised. It was a system that fully assured citizens justice, egalitarianism, dignity, and human rights. However, he said that today, in many cases, democracy had come to be diluted and instead of being a system of governance of the people, for the people, and by the people, it had come to be a governance of the 1 percent, for the 1 percent, and by the 1 percent. It was this eventuality, he said, that we had to guard against.
As for South Asia, he said that the region was laden with resources but unfortunately the countries of the region had not been able to harness them. What was needed, he said, was greater cooperation among the nations of the region to exploit them jointly for the common good of our masses. In this context, he quoted the late Chinese Premier Chou En Lai when he said, “In light of new realities in the region, the countries should now think of forming a commonwealth of South Asia and move from confrontation to cooperation.
Lauding the media, he said that while they had played a commendable part in mitigating misunderstanding and acrimony among the countries of the region, more still needed to be done in this regard and said that the media could be made real agents of change in a region where even today, per-capita income was less than half that of the rest of the world and there was mass poverty. Positive change, he said, had to come in the bottom 50 percent of the population. Only then could we claim to have ushered in egalitarianism.
In reply to a question about galloping extremism in some of the region’s countries, he said that it was not extremism for the sake of extremism but that it was manipulated by vested interests who exploited the simplicity of the unsuspecting to achieve their personal ends.
In reply to a question about the dilemma of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, he expressed utter dismay over the sordid episode but held the Myanmar government responsible which in 1980 passed a new citizenship act rendering those Burmese citizens whose ancestors had immigrated into Burma from other places stateless.
Earlier, welcoming Dr Kamal Hossain, Dr Masuma Hassan, Chairperson PIIA, most nostalgically and touchingly recalled the era prior to the creation of Bangladesh, her association with Dr Kamal Hossain’s family, and their trip to a conference in New Delhi as representatives of a united Pakistan.
This article originally appeared in the News, please see here.