Shobhana Bhartia

Respected Atalji, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed a great pleasure to welcome you to the first conference under the aegis of the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2003 02:41 IST

Respected Atalji, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is indeed a great pleasure to welcome you to the first conference under the aegis of the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative.

We are especially grateful to Atalji for taking the time off from his busy schedule to inaugurate this conference. There could, of course, have been no better person than the Prime Minister to launch the proceedings, not just because of his stature, within our country and abroad, but because he has demonstrated in his actions that he understands the importance of peace and recognizes the dividends that accrue from following that path.

Thank you, Prime Minister, for your support and your encouragement.

What is the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative?

Well, we believe that a serious newspaper must do more than just mere reportage or carry interesting articles. A great newspaper is one that defines its role in terms of contributing to intellectual debate and shaping the future.

The Leadership Initiative is part of that endeavour. We hope to gather the best and the brightest and to provide a platform for the free and candid exchange of ideas. We are pleased that at our first conference, we have been able to bring together some of the most influential, thoughtful and incisive minds, not just in this region, but in the world.

And we hope that the ideas that flow out of this room over the next two days will contribute towards providing a blueprint for action and will help determine the agenda for the future.

When we planned the Leadership Initiative, I was particularly keen that the first conference should focus on peace and prosperity in South Asia. Some of the reasons for this are obvious: We do, after all, live in South Asia.

But there are other, less immediately obvious, reasons as well. For a start, I do not think we can achieve global prosperity or world peace unless the issues confronting South Asia are suitably addressed.

This region is home to one quarter of humanity. By the year 2050, this figure will rise to one third of the world's population.

Even before that happens, a full quarter of the world's economic output will come from South Asia. The region will not just be one of the world's greatest markets; it will also be one of the world's great production centres.

In many ways, South Asia is a microcosm of the rest of the world. It is home to nearly all of the world's great religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Buddhism, among others.

In this region we also find conflicts whose resolution will determine the future of our world. The conflicts between old and new; between religious fundamentalism and modernity; between terrorism and civilization; between military dictatorships and civilian rule; between authoritarianism and liberalism; and between ethnicity and nationhood.

If the conflicts that bedevil South Asia are not resolved, the fall-out will shake the whole world. We all recognize how a single nuclear conflict will change the shape of modern warfare. And we have seen how a single spark in a small part of South Asia can lead to terrorist movements that threaten the stability of all modern civilizations.

In today's global environment, events in one part of the world can have consequences that are felt thousands of miles away. For many years, the international community ignored Afghanistan and watched silently as the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas, persecuted women and minorities, and unleashed a reign of terror on the people of Afghanistan.

That silence and that neglect, were to have terrible consequences which the world recognized only when two planes hit the World Trade Centre in faraway New York.

That pattern is repeated week after week, month after month. A terrorist movement run by an Arab, headquartered in Afghanistan and targeting the United States can strike at will anywhere in the world. And the victims could be of any nationality.

That is how interlinked the world is today. We ignore unrest, discontentment or oppression anywhere in the world at our peril. The consequences of such neglect can explode in our own backyards.

In the long run, if there is no peace in South Asia, there can be no peace in the whole world. If there is no economic progress in South Asia, then the instability and frustration that results from the misery of millions of people will shake the foundations of international order and stability.

Hence, the theme for this conference. South Asia matters. And that's not just because we are meeting in Delhi. But because whatever happens in this region can have a profound impact on the rest of the world.

We've called this conference, The Peace Dividend. There's reason for that. We see peace as more than just the absence of conflict. We see it as a necessary precondition for stability and prosperity.

Whatever the problems within our region, there is no doubt that it is also home to millions of massively talented and skilled individuals. Wherever in the world you go, you will find people from South Asia. In such fields as information technology, we are among the global leaders. But there are many other areas where South Asians have excelled and have competed with the best in the world.

That, in a sense, is the paradox of South Asia. How do we unleash the innate talent of our people within our own countries? How do we create an environment that allows them to excel and prosper at home just as much as they do when they go abroad?

The answer, I believe, lies in peace and in the resolution of conflict. Prosperity is the greatest dividend from peace. Create an environment that is safe, secure and stable and we will unleash the genius of the South Asian people.

This conference represents our attempt to understand the conflicts that trouble our region. It is an effort to help resolve such conflicts, to create greater understanding and to sketch out a roadmap for the way forward.

Over the next two days, we will have the privilege of listening to leaders in public life, in business, in the field of ideas and in the areas of academics. We will question them, discuss the issues with them and try and find some answers.

At the end of the conference, a special document will record the proceedings. This will be circulated to all the speakers and delegates and to leading institutions, think-tanks and corporations in India and around the world.

What this document says, and indeed what answers we come up with, is really up to all of you -- to each and every person who is participating in this conference.

Our role, as befits a paper such as The Hindustan Times, is to bring the best and the brightest together. After that, it is up to all of you.

On the subject of peace and the dividends it brings, there can be no speaker whose credentials are more appropriate than Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

As Prime Minister, he has constantly and continuously put his reputation and his career on the line in his quest for a peaceful South Asia. He has spoken often of the need for understanding and for dialogue. And he has recognized that all progress is, ultimately, predicated on peace.

It gives me great pleasure therefore to ask you, respected Prime Minister, to inaugurate this conference and share your views with us.

First Published: Dec 13, 2003 14:10 IST