Only two months after assuming the leadership of the coalition in government, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party was the host of the meeting of the Socialist International Asia-Pacific Committee which took place in Islamabad on 30 May 2008 in a much changed Pakistan. In opening the meeting, the PPP Co-Chair Asif Ali Zardari warmly welcomed and thanked the Socialist International for the steadfast support shown to the PPP and its leadership during the difficult times of persecution, exile and authoritarianism in his country. Today, thanks to the will of the Pakistani people, they were leading a government resulting from the return to democracy which his party had fought for. The role of his late wife and PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, had made all this possible. The SI Secretary General Luis Ayala in opening remarks, honoured the memory and the leadership of Benazir Bhutto, for whom democracy was a corner stone of her struggle and said that the Socialist International was proud that she had made the International her platform to voice the aspirations of the Pakistani people for freedom, peace and democracy. With her actions and her coherence, she had changed Pakistan and she had also sent a powerful message across the world in favour of the principles and values at the core of our political movement.
The meeting’s discussions began with a focus on the current situation in Pakistan and the opportunities ahead after two months of a PPP-led government. In these debates, along with Party Co-Chair Zardari, participated, among others, Foreign Minister Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Sherry Rehman, Finance Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf, and PPP Secretary General Jahangir Bader. Regarding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Committee agreed unanimously to support and adhere to the request made to the United Nations by the newly elected Parliament for a UN investigation into the circumstances of her death. Despite the fact that Pakistan had many challenges to face and problems to overcome, and that expectations were high, there was a new situation in the country in which the strengthening of the democratic political institutions came first and a new moment in the country’s history with opportunities for change, a process in which the PPP was the catalyst for the new agenda for Pakistan. A global issue whose effects were felt across the world and which particularly affected Asia and Pakistan today was that of the food crisis. In this regard, and considering that this subject was on the agenda of the SI Congress, it was agreed that the PPP will be part of a group of parties of the SI, from the South and North of the world economy that will prepare a proposal for the Congress for urgent action. With regard to the country’s foreign policy, the Committee members firmly supported Asif Ali Zardari’s view that any advance for peace and democracy was a priority for Pakistan, and all those working for these objectives in countries in the region were partners for the PPP.
Concerning other regional developments in Asia and the Pacific, delegates expressed their dismay at the response by the Burmese government to the recent cyclone Nargis and called for the release of the NLD Leader Aung San Suu Kyi whose house arrest has recently been once again extended. The Committee unanimously nominated Asif Ali Zardari to visit Burma on behalf of the Socialist International to act in favour of her release. The decision to bring an end to the monarchy in Nepal by the new Constituent Assembly, whose election had been observed by a delegation of the Socialist International, was greeted as an historical step in strengthening democracy and freedoms in that country. The situation in Sri Lanka, where a six year old cease-fire had ended last January, was a subject of concern, and the Committee called for international efforts to be intensified to restore negotiations between the government and the insurgents and to re-establish an internationally monitored cease-fire. With regard to Afghanistan, the delegates underlined the need to continue the international cooperation to ensure the safety and freedom of its citizens, especially women, and to secure a future for peace and democracy in that country, which has presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2009. The return to elected government in Thailand last December, was welcomed as a positive development, however, the authoritarian aspects of the prevailing Constitution and the increased polarisation in the country remained of concern. In relation to North Korea, the Committee was equally concerned that the six party nuclear disarmament talks had been stalled since the end of last year and urged all involved to get the negotiations back on track to achieve a peaceful and durable resolution to the question of that country’s nuclear capability. The Committee was encouraged by the recovery of President Ramos Horta in Timor Leste whose assassination attempt was strongly condemned by the Socialist International last February and supported his recent call for the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste (UNMIT) to remain in the country until democratic stability, a reduction in social tensions and sufficiently strengthened institutions were in place. In Bangladesh, the break with electoral democracy more than a year ago remained an issue of concern and it was stressed that an end to the state of emergency and the ongoing detentions of political figures was crucial for the holding of elections, announced for December this year, as the only way to ensure democratic governance in the country. Regarding Fiji, the Committee reiterated its call for free, fair and transparent elections, as undemocratic rule continued following the coup in December 2006, with restrictions on civil liberties and intimidation against the media. The Committee also expressed its heartfelt sympathy for the people of China following the devastating earthquake that struck the country and its recognition of the recovery efforts and the openness and role of the authorities and all those concerned in dealing with this enormous catastrophe. It noted with encouragement the talks initiated by Chinese officials with exiled Tibetan representatives, so that progress could be made towards a fair and lasting resolution to the issue of Tibet.
The meeting of the Committee, attended by representatives from Burma, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and also from France, Germany, Greece and Sweden, was broadcast live in its entirety on national television and covered with great interest by all the media of Pakistan. It decisively reaffirmed the support of the global international social democratic movement to this new Pakistan, with peace, stability and democracy at the centre of its political agenda, a message which was further publicly underlined at an official function with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, with which the meeting in Islamabad concluded.