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High-Profile Seminar:Envisioning New South Asia, by Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba,16 April 2007 Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 16 April 2007

High-Profile Seminar

Envisioning New South Asia

By Dr. Syed Ali Mujtaba

The recent high-profile seminar at the Andhra University, Vishakhapatnam that had delegates from Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka witnessed a robust academic debate between the prophets of doom and the advocates of peace. The theme of the seminar was: “Envisioning A New South Asia.” The good part was that it ended with the Italian proverb: “after every absorbing game of Chess, the King and the Pawn both have to go and rest in the same box.”

A prophet of doom thundered, ‘I do understand Bharat, even Hindustan but what is South Asia? I don’t understand. They talk about common culture and civilization. All this is humbug. With all the similarities, didn’t Europe go to War? Then it’s said, India should have more trade with its neighboring countries, why?  The logic of trade is profit. Does India stand to gain trading with its neighbors or extra regional countries? The best prescription is India should give a fraction of its surplus economic growth to its smaller neighbours to keep them contended, he summed up. 

This view was countered by some one buildup a case for common South Asian Union. There are two choices before us, either to live in the current moving anarchy syndrome or forge unity for common welfare of the people living in this part of the world, he said.

Some one made a fervent appeal for prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts in South Asia. He argued: Since conflicts n South Asia are of protracted nature, so instead of rushing towards its resolution, efforts should be made for prevention and management of such conflicts.

There was no dearth of Mr. Dooms at the seminar. A Professor in late fifties professed; ‘I don’t see any resolution of Kashmir issue in sight, there would be none at least in my generation, even in my children or grandchildren’s generation. There is no light in the tunnel of the Indo- Pak conflict.’

To this it was pointed out, the India-Pakistan peace process is an act of tight rope walking. Currently, the optimists have taken an edge over those who doubt and remain pessimist over the outcome of Indo Pak peace process. This is a very delicate moment in the history where for the first time the two adversaries are sitting on the same side of the fence on the many issues.  It would be in the interest of both the countries to work hard to maintain the era of good feeling and resolve their differences for regional peace and integration.  

Another presenter pointed out three dominant problems that beset South Asia. First is India- Pak tension, second, India’s mindset in dealing with its neighbours and third inadequate confidence of the smaller nation to handle their own economic, social and political issues and blame India for such ills. There are signs of positive changes on all the three fronts, he argued.

South Asia is only above the sub-Sahara African region in terms of human development index; therefore all the countries in the region must manage or resolve their problems to an acceptable level and make collective efforts to build peace, stability that’s so vital for the human development of the region.

The new millennium is witnessing a resurgent South Asia and the relationship with the neighboring countries is being refashioned as never before. There is a marked shift in the agenda for the projection of a better future. South Asia has collectively has initiated structural adjustment in policies that has a strong bearing on the region. Envisioning a resurgent South Asia seems the future agenda of the region.

Another doom theorist propounded that India’s self perception in recent times tends to rule out any alteration in the South Asian vision. India perceives itself as a leading power of Asia and is more interested to adjust its role to a larger Asian theater than investing seriously to repair its South Asian image. The challenge before SAARC therefore remains how to transcend the prevailing perception about India’s role in the subcontinent.

A futurist countered this argument saying India needs to take SAARC seriously to serve its regional as well its global interests. Its ability to gain the confidence of the member countries and share its resources with them will enhance its political image and clout to play a larger role in the regions around it. ‘They are keenly watching India’s behavior and their perception of India’s role would have a bearing on New Delhi’s politico- strategic engagement with these regions,’ he said.

India need not get itself strained in the pool of South Asian politics; instead it must set out itself for sailing across Bay of Bengal. In such an event, the SAARC would get itself salvaged from the state of being wrecked, someone said. There is a considerable section that looks at SAARC as a positive development in the region. As the theoretical paradigm indicates, there are inherent difficulties in moving towards complete regional integration. Nonetheless there is no ambiguity that to achieve full economic integration, the SAARC has to travel a long way, opinioned another scholar.   

The SAARC was compared as a cluster of bamboos, each of which was an independent entity, and which together could withstand turbulent winds, and the tallest of the bamboos must stoop its head but must never impose its will on its smaller neighbors.   

About the US role, it was said that currently the overarching objective of the US foreign policy is to integrate all the major national economies into global capitalist free market under its leadership. The Indo- Pak peace process, the inching forward on economic front in the SAARC affairs is in the American scheme of things. The US policy towards South Asia is on the mend and hopefully for the better, it was argued.

On China’s interaction with the South Asia it was said the new characteristics of its policy is to stabilize its peripheries with the recently launched Western Development Campaign, coming to grips with the rising India, nuclear stability in the region, counter terrorism measures, exploration of markets for its exports and exploring ways to secure sea lanes for sustainable supply to fuel its economy.   

 An alarm was raised about the reported attempt by China to divert the river Tsangpo in Tibet (the origin of major rivers of South Asia) to meet the requirements of its mainland. ‘If this project is successfully executed, India and Bangladesh would be at the mercy of China for the adequate release of water during the dry season and for protection of floods during the monsoon seasons. The Tsangpo project not only threatens the environmentalist but also pose a threat to national regional and international security,’ it was said.

A fervent appeal was made to the South Asian countries to accommodate each other and move towards cooperation and then initiate the process of regional integration. Only a stable society can attain the benefits of various economic programmes being designed to see a prosperous South Asia.

There was also a paper on internationally displaced persons that sought attention for collective response to the refuges problem in South Asia. There was another paper that sought to look at the problems of fishermen and advocated their security as a part of human security measures adopted by the SAARC. Another paper pleaded; non- traditional security issues to be tackled in the context of economic development. Then someone questioned the rationale of prioritizing military security over human security and stressed the need for inclusive growth through human and economic security. One paper examined the traditional Indian approach to human security for addressing contemporary issues in South Asia.

On the whole the three-day international seminar envisioning a new South Asia left a considerable body of knowledge for future deliberations. In the end John Lennon’s prophetic words stated the roost: You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not be only one. I hope someday join us and the world will be as one”.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)







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