Merry chase after illusions


Friendly Fire

Khalid Saleem

IF there is one truism in this troubled world it is that one just cannot keep the multilateral diplomatists away from their old tricks. Their merry-go-rounds continue as always; just that the venues are different though invariably ‘exotic’. The objectives of these development rounds remain the unchanged, ad nauseam. The world’s natural resources are to be ‘saved’; poverty and hunger are to be ‘squeezed’. And yet one discovers that after every much-trumpeted occasion, the outcome is the same. The poor of the world keep on getting poorer; the rich merrily keep on piling up their ‘subsidies’; while the multilateral diplomatists – who have their toasts buttered at both ends – have a rollicking good time at the expense of their poor, starving compatriots.
One has seen so many United Nations World Summits on ‘Sustainable Development’, each more hilarious than the other. In each one of these conferences, one is invariably informed that talks on a blueprint “to save the world’s natural resources and reduce poverty” are snagged despite warnings that failure would be catastrophic. The deadlock is invariably on an umpteen-page “Plan of Implementation”- one that pits haves against have-nots. Now, the perspicacious reader might well argue, does this not have a whiff of déjà vu about it?
What happens at the awesome and awe-inspiring multilateral conferences is that all “issues” are reduced to umpteen-page documents, at which our multilateral diplomatists match their wits and eloquence. While the poor and hungry of the blessed earth watch from the sidelines, the pros play their well-worn game of going round and round the mulberry bush. Each page of the umpteen-paged draft is honed to extinction to a stage where the end result – such as it is – is so full of holes as to be virtually undecipherable. It is also totally impractical.
This rigmarole goes on till the powers-that-be are satisfied that the document is sufficiently riddled with holes to make it practically unworkable. An “historic” compromise is, then, announced with the usual fanfare. The fact that no one has any intention of ever scanning the document again is neither here nor there. Another merry-go-round has happily come and gone; leaving our merry band of multilateral diplomatists to disperse for a well-earned rest before embarking on another odyssey to a far off exotic land.
One recalls some years ago, the Times of London, in a leading article at the start of one of these “rounds” pleading for, what it called, a “level playing field”. Rich countries, in the view of that revered paper, needed to slash their agriculture subsidies. The matter of subsidies – one may add in parentheses – is a sore subject in more ways than one; not just because it is the crux of the matter but also because it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Some years back, the New York Times, through one of its Op-Ed writers, had tried to turn the whole issue on its head by averring that the environmentalists had it wrong all along. According to this reckoning, “Most forms of environmental pollution look as though they have either been exaggerated or are transient – associated with the early phases of industrialization. They are best cured not by restricting economic growth but by accelerating it”. There you have it in a nutshell! The mantra is: what is good for the industrialized world is good for the rest of the world.
The poor and deprived billions of this world couldn’t care less about the clichés that are bandied about in these international forums. For them the fundamental issues relate to food, health care and clean drinking water, among others. These issues are of a fundamental nature and ones that cannot just be got rid of either through paper resolutions or through occasional distribution of crumbs from the High Table. It is a great pity that the world is being asked to accept the policy of papering over the cracks rather than just and durable solutions to the world’s issues. The United Nations – of the Nobel Peace Prize fame – is perhaps the biggest culprit in this game.
Reverting back to the humanitarian issues facing the international conferences, one wonders if any one of the multilateral experts would have the grit to put forward a revolutionary proposal on the table. Has anyone given a thought as to why the very regions that were once considered the bread-baskets of the world are today beset with hunger and famine? What about the billions that are being spent on keeping these merry-go-rounds going? Should these billions not be better spent on tackling the basic issues themselves?
The moot question is: should the nations of the world not be giving serious thought to setting their priorities right? The correct way to go about it would be to tackle the grassroots issues first before going on to such rosy concepts as “trade liberalization” and “globalization”. What one pleads for is merely that the rich nations first pool their surplus food (instead of burning it or dumping it into the sea) with a view to ensuring that no human being anywhere goes hungry. Having accomplished this, there remains the little matter of ensuring provision of clean drinking water to all. Once these little issues are behind us, then and then only would the ideal of a “global village” be well within reach. Failing this, the never-ending chase after illusions will continue as heretofore.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.

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