On the morning of Sunday, 25 May, SAF-India chairman Hon. Mani Shankar Aiyar opened the 7th annual SAF Governing Council meeting in Durbar Hall at the Intercontinental Grand Palace Hotel Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir, India). The meeting was attended the SAF Advisors: N .Ram, Lady Mohini Noon, France Marquet and chairpersons of SAF chapters except for Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, (Chairman, SAF-Maldives) and Dr. Kamal Hossain (Chairman, SAF-Bangladesh). Dr. Hossain was represented by Prof. Jamilur Reza Choudhury, (Vice-Chancellor, BRAC University) and Mr Farooq Sobhan (Former Foreing Secretary). The chairpersons were accompanied by their respective SAF Advisory Board secretaries.
A number of vice-chancellors of Indian universities also attended the meeting as observers. These included Prof. Surabhi Banerjee of Netaji Subhas Open University, Kolkata; Prof. Riyas Punjabi, Vice-Chancellor, University of Kashmir; Prof. Mahendra Lama, University of Sikkim, Gangtok; Prof. Ahmed Khan Tareen, University of Pondicherry; and Dr. G.M. Khawaja, Director of the Institute of Kashmir Studies. Mr. Abdullah Rasheed, Regional Director of the World Organization of the Scouts Movement, Asia-Pacific Regional Office, Manila, Philippines, was also invited to attend as well as Vidya Ram SAF substitute advisor.
Hon. Mani Shakar Aiyar warmly welcomed the participants to what he called a meeting with an ‘open agenda’ and invited the Governing Council members to report on the activities of their respective chapters during the year 2007. With regard to the SAF-India chapter, he stated that the Advisory Board had been reconstituted and would be assisted by three committees: an Academic Committee headed by Dr. G.M. Khawaja, a Cultural Committee headed by Wajahat Habibullah, and a Social Committee headed by Syeda Hameed. The SAF chairpersons highlighted the following topics.
Dr. Sayed Makhdoum Raheen (SAF-Afghanistan) stated that since relinquishing his position as Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism and taking over as Afghanistan’s Ambassador in India, he has nominated Mr. Omara Khan Masoodi, Director-General of Museums in Afghanistan, to replace him as the next chairperson. The Secretary of the SAF-Afghanistan Advisory Board has also been replaced by Mr. Obaidulla. Nevertheless Dr. Raheen said that he will continue as an advisor and informed his colleagues that Hon. Dr. H.B. Ghazanbar, Women’s Affair Minister, has very kindly accepted to serve on the SAF-Afghanistan Advisory Board.
Dr. Raheen stated that the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage is developing satisfactorily and the first ever exhibition of Afghan women’s paintings was inaugurated by Dr. H.B. Ghazanfar on 7 May 2008.
Prof. Jamilul Reza Chowdhury (SAF-Bangladesh) mentioned that the MoU signed between SAF and the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies, on 12 December 2006 will be inaugurated by the end of he Year He stated that an agreement has also been reached between the Institute and BRAC University (BU) for purposes of conferral of degrees as well as for cooperation on other related matters.
Mr. Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup (SAF-Bhutan) stated that the signing of the MoU between SAF and the SAARC Institute of Forestry has been delayed due to the elections and the establishment of a new democratic government in Bhutan. He thanked SAF for increasing the number of group scholarships to Bhutanese students at the ACJ, Chennai and BNU in Lahore.
Dr. Rita Thapa (SAF-Nepal) stated that the South Asia Madanjeet Institute of Training for Community Midwives ouncil of Technical Education and Vocational Training Training in Nepal was proceeding satisfactorily. She informed the Council that at present forty students are enrolled of whom 80 per cent come from remote insurgency districts. She expressed her happiness that the establishment of a democratic government will not affect the midwife programme, as Nepal has voted for peace.
Furthermore, SAF-Nepal has received a letter of appreciation from the government. Next year the programme will be expanded by the introduction of English-language courses, which will enable students from other SAARC countries to participate.
Prof. Salima Hashmi (SAF-Pakistan) explained that the SAF Madanjeet Singh group scholarship programme is being upgraded following the signing of an MoU with SAF on 4 July 2007. The graduate level course is expanding to encompass postgraduate level and will shortly become a Master of Art degree course. Regional cooperation will also be strengthened by the addition of academic jury members from SAARC countries. She concluded that the courses at the School of Visual Art at BNU are highly proactive and serve as a tool for peace in the region.
Mme. Chandrika Kumaratunga (SAF-Sri Lanka) regretted that since the Lakshman Kadirgamar Centre in Kandy was shelved, no further SAF projects for institutions of excellence have been proposed. In order to promote SAF’s objectives, she suggested that SAF-Sri Lanka begin establishing different workshops in collaboration with other institutions, as proposed by Kandy University: a South Asian Youth Parliament to promote human rights, and a workshop on South Asian heritage in cooperation with the Heritage Trust of Sri Lanka.
A workshop may also be conducted in collaboration with universities of the eight SAARC countries to organize a performing arts festival. She suggested that perhaps a link could be established between SAF and the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Foundation (CBKF) to promote regional cooperation.
On behalf of the SAF Advisors, I thanked the SAF chairpersons and observers for their valuable proposals and suggestions, which, I said, have been noted and will be implemented subject to availability of funds. I endorsed Mr. N. Ram’s remarks, that in order to promote SAF’s objectives of regional cooperation, all contentious issues must be scrupulously avoided. I also emphasized that SAF projects must be evaluated rigorously before they are accepted.
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador