India has big role to play in South Asia: Ban Ki-moon
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New Delhi: United Nations (UN) secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Monday said India has a major role to play in lowering tensions in South Asia, making the region peaceful and nuclear weapons-free besides contributing to sustainable development around the world.
Addressing an event jointly organised by the Indian Council for World Affairs in New Delhi and the UN, Ban also urged India to make economic growth inclusive, so that it benefited all sections of society including overlooked tribals and Dalits, and to ensure that there was no discrimination based on gender, religion or sexual orientation.
Referring to what he perceived to be India’s role in the region, Ban said: “The world is looking at India to advance peace, stability and prosperity in South Asia.
“A secure regional environment will also help India reach its ambitious development goals,” he told an audience that included UN staff, diplomats and Indian and foreign defence and military personnel.
Welcoming India’s leadership in deepening cooperation in South Asia, Ban said: “As the world’s largest democracy, India has important lessons for others. Across the region, political leaders should put aside long-standing grievances and seek new ways to peacefully end disputes.”
“This is especially in the case of India and Pakistan,” said Ban, who earlier in the day met external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.
Ban, who arrived in India on Saturday, attended the Vibrant Gujarat summit in Gandhinagar over the weekend—something, he said, that had kept him from attending the National Unity March in Paris on Sunday, aimed at expressing solidarity with the French against the killing of French journalists and cartoonists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week.
The UN secretary general’s comments about South Asia come in the backdrop of incidents of firing along the India-Pakistan border that have claimed about a dozen lives in the past fortnight, according to news reports. The cross-border firing violates a ceasefire agreed by the two neighbours in 2003.
India’s new government that took office on 26 May under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced its intention to explore the possibility of restarting peace talks with Pakistan in August on Kashmir and a host of other issues. But it called off a meeting between the foreign secretaries of the two countries after Pakistan’s envoy to New Delhi held consultations with Kashmiri separatists.
In his speech, Ban said he was “troubled” by the lack of disarmament globally. In the case of South Asia, the region faced the “grave danger of nuclear weapons” with each addition to arsenals raising the risk of nuclear nightmare, he said. Globally, there were some states that had announced “reductions and limitations” of nuclear weapons arsenals, he said, “but in some regions, including this one, arsenals are growing more diverse and more sophisticated...(nuclear weapons) stockpiles are growing.”
There were countries that had announced “a moratorium on nuclear testing, but other nuclear states including (those in) South Asia have not signed the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty). Governments are investing in weapons while cutting their health budgets,” the UN secretary general said.
Recalling that in the 1950s and again in the 1980s, India had called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, Ban said: “I call on India to renew its leadership on nuclear disarmament... India has the solid responsibility to help South Asia to stop developing nuclear weapons,” he said, adding: “This is all the more urgent in our era of rising violent extremism”, with the youth in many parts of the world disillusioned with their governments and using violence to express their resentment.
On Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ban said the continued instability in these countries was not just their responsibility, but of the whole of South Asia. He urged India to remain “invested” in Afghanistan.
On India’s role in sustainable development, Ban urged the country to tweak its “Make in India” slogan to “Make it green in India”.
“By respecting the environment, India can grow economically,” Ban said referring
to Modi’s plans to transform India into a major manufacturing hub.