LAFF Society


U.Va. Vice Provost Gowher Rizvi Calls for South Asian Unity in Wake of Mumbai Terrorist Attacks


December 11, 2008 ' The recent terrorist incidents in Mumbai, India, greatly saddened Gowher Rizvi, the University of Virginia's vice provost for international programs, professor of global affairs and a son of South Asia. But he wasn't surprised. Evidence and intelligence reports indicated some attack would take place in India, said Rizvi, whose 30-year career reflects his commitment to study and promote innovation in democracy worldwide, with an emphasis on South Asia. And though 150 were killed at 10 sites in Mumbai, all of South Asia is no stranger to terrorist attacks. He expressed the hope that the Mumbai attacks will serve as a wake up call and drive the nations of South Asia closer together, rather than further apart. He envisions a region drawn tighter by shared interests and cultures, rather than split by national rivalries. Rizvi's understanding of the shared culture and history that links the South Asian countries and the need for governments to solve problems together has roots in his own life. His ancestral home is in Murshidabd in India; he was born in Bangladesh, raised in India's West Bengal region and has friends and relatives throughout South Asia. "If countries move away from confrontational relations, all the problems they desire to solve will be easier to solve," he said. While the Mumbai attacks drew the world's attention to India, Rizvi said terrorism is a problem throughout the region. "The greatest number of victims and the greatest amount of terrorist deaths have occurred in Pakistan, as well as numerous attacks in India," Rizvi said. "Pakistan has to deal with the terrorists and needs all the help India and the U.S. can offer." Rizvi pointed out that already there is a positive side to the events, with the interests of the three countries converging. "India needs a stable Pakistan so that it does not become a training ground for militants. The U.S. needs Pakistan, as does India, to fight Al Qaeda on the western front, and Pakistan needs its hands free so it can fight terrorists, of which it has been the main victim," Rizvi said. From Rizvi's perspective, the terrorist incidents provide an opportunity for the U.S. to change course in its relationship with Pakistan, moving from a policy of strengthening Pakistan's military forces toward one of providing economic assistance to its social sector. Education and health issues are devastating South Asia, Rizvi said. In India, which is poised to become one of the three great economic powers by mid-century, 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 50 percent are illiterate. The co-author of "The State of Access: Success and Failure of Democracies to Create Equal Opportunities" (with Jorrit De Jong), Rizvi has written about disadvantaged groups and the need to build an understanding of common cultural heritage in the region. Among the poor of all the South Asian countries, the disadvantaged are the least healthy, educated and employed and have little, if any, political power. The main issue, in India and the other South Asian countries, is that they need to "carry the poorest and give them a share of the wealth. If India wants to be an economic superpower, it needs to carry its neighbors with it," Rizvi said. Building on shared cultural and historical backgrounds is the key to an economically successful and peaceful South Asia, he said. "The world and the people of South Asia see each other as separate states and through a government lens," Rizvi said. "All the people have a shared history, culture and aspirations. Their problems and successes are alike. "Each country, as it develops, needs to develop a stake in their neighbor's prosperity," and promote regional cooperation in South Asia. A passion for social justice, an interest in institution-building and a commitment to support developing human resources through higher education has driven Rizvi's career. In addition to numerous academic appointments, he has worked to manage conflict and strengthen democratic institutions in Asia. Before coming to U.Va. Sept. 1, he developed a worldwide executive training program on "Innovations in Governance" at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. During a time at the Ford Foundation, his work focused on supporting efforts to promote social and economic development of historically disadvantaged groups in South Asia. He was responsible for a national education program in the U.S. to lead educational programs dealing with contemporary issues in Asian politics, economics, society and international relations during a one-year stint at the Asia Society in New York. He has also served as special assistant to the United Nations coordinator in Afghanistan. His most recent major accomplishment was working with the government of India to establish the South Asian University, supported by eight countries in the region ' India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Batan and Maldives. The goal of the new university is to "produce a new generation of leaders who will see themselves as leaders of South Asia and have a South Asian outlook and create a shared South Asian vision," Rizvi said. "The next generation will bring that vision back home and work in their countries to achieve common goals with their neighbors." Learning to share different perspectives is also Rizvi's goal in his work at U.Va. "All students at U.Va. need to become global citizens. They need to understand the global complexities and learn to work in a multicultural context," he said. The underlying key, he added, is learning that not all people "have shared assumptions."

' By Jane Ford
UVa Today


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in these pages are the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the LAFF Society.

Comments (1)

Willard J. Hertz 12/22/2008 12:14:00 PM

Without in any way disagreeing with Gowher Rizvi's views, there is a paradox in his argument that U.S. Policy toward Pakistan should move from "strengthening Pakistan's military forces toward one of providing economic assistance to its social sector." When I was the Foundation's Assistant Representative in Pakistan from 1964 to 1968, that's exactly what the U.S. Was doing – and the effort included both U.S. Aid and private agencies like Ford, the Population Council, and CARE. FF's program, for example, focused on the Green Revolution, rural development, economic research, educational development, and, of course, the Harvard advisory team to the national and provincial governments. The Harvard team, headed by Richard Gilbert, was the most influential American group in the country. In fact, Pakistan was the model “take-off” country, with substantial annual growth in GNP and a steady stream of leading economists and international policy mavens visiting to see the progress. Then the progress ran off the rails because of the inherent political instability of the country and the resistance of various Islamic groups to social and educational change. This is still the country's underlying condition.

Shortly after my return to the Ford New York office, the Foundation sponsored a large seminar in the board room to review Pakistan's economic progress and the Foundation's contribution. No one expressed greater pride than vice president David Bell, who had been the head of the Harvard advisory team in Pakistan in the late 1950s. One of the guests was Joseph Lelyveld, then the NY Times correspondent in South Asia and later the Times' Executive Editor. After hearing the Foundation's self-congratulatory reports about its program in Pakistan, he commented acidly, “You're kidding yourself. You have still not dealt with Pakistan's defeating political instability.”


Members log in to comment