Rotary Goodwill Meet May be held in March 2011

Kalyan Banerjee, R. I. president-elect (L), speaks at discussion ‘Initiative towards promoting peace in South Asia’ held in Chennai.

A Rotary South Asia Conference for Development and Co-operation may be held in March 2011 in Colombo, Chennai or New Delhi, following a suggestion to the effect by a group of senior Rotary International office-bearers, led by president-elect Kalyan Banerjee. 1,000-1,200 delegates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal are expected to attend the conference, which will be in the form of a revival of the successful Goodwill Conferences held by Rotary in earlier years, the representatives said.

At the two-day discussion on peace in South Asia, held in Chennai on Thursday and Friday, representatives from the five south Asian countries said there was a felt need for integration in the region along the lines of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the Eurozone. As an immediate step, Rotary International would write to the Pakistan government to see if a medical mission could be allowed into the flood-hit areas to support the people.

Mr. Banerjee said Rotary could contribute to increased people-to-people contacts and work on initiatives in the fields of health, education, sports, science and culture. While there were many agencies that were working towards this end, Rotary, because it involved people belonging to different strata of society, could contribute a lot, he said.

The former president, Rajendra K. Saboo, said the Goodwill conference held by Rotary in the early 1980s had foreshadowed the Declaration on South Asian Regional Cooperation, which had resulted in the formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The political situation made some interactions difficult, but it was important to work together to remove the boundaries, he said.
N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The-Hindu, said most people recognised that there were internal and external factors that were derailing the peaceful development of south Asia, but many of these had roots in socio-economic problems. Multiple deprivations were being faced by the people even when there was economic growth and development.

Though there was no strict one-one relationship between deprivation and extremism, it was important for policymakers to address these concerns of the people, he said. Taking the case of the India-Pakistan relationship, he said constant engagement was indispensable.
Just as India and China had agreed to cooperate on significant issues without letting their differences stand in the way, India and Pakistan should continue the dialogue process. The peace process could not be held hostage by individual incidents except in extreme cases, he added.
Sakaal Media Group chairman Pratap Pawar said the media would be more than willing to highlight positive initiatives taken by Rotary and similar groups. He noted that trade had brought the United States and China together and this could be replicated in south Asia, he added.
After preliminary discussions, the representatives came up with a set of suggestions to be implemented to promote closer cooperation in south Asia. Apart from holding regular conferences, it was also resolved to meet with Foreign Ministers of the different countries and encourage them to relax visa norms, especially for students.

The organisation would also contact scientists, such as M.S. Swaminathan, to come up with joint action plans on agriculture and have tie-ups with chambers of commerce like Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to promote trade and commerce.
Five universities in the five countries would be endowed with funds to conduct programmes on peace in the region, and exchange students would be supported by Rotary members. A follow-up meeting would be held at the earliest and would involve various media organisations to widen the reach of Rotary's efforts, the meeting decided

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