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International Conference on “Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: Incentives and Constraints”

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A two-day international conference on “Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: Incentives and Constraints” was organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) on November 22-23, 2016 at Serena Hotel, Islamabad. The conference comprised of four working sessions in addition to inaugural and concluding sessions. Mr. Sartaj Aziz Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the Chief Guest at the inaugural session. The concluding session was chaired by Sardar Masood Khan, President, Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

A total of 12 papers were presented during the conference. Twelve eminent scholars from Pakistan and abroad (Afghanistan, China, Nepal, France and Sri Lanka) participated in the conference. The objective of the conference was to discuss regional perspectives on strengthening peace and cooperation in South Asia by highlighting incentives and constraints and suggesting a way forward.

Concept Note:

South Asia is geographically contiguous to Central Asia, East Asia, Middle East and the Indian Ocean. The region comprises eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It covers less than 4 per cent of world’s land area and is home to more than 1.7 billion people, representing 21 per cent of the world population. Over the years, the region has shown GDP growth at 7-8 per cent, yet 40 percent of the world’s malnourished children and women live in poverty-stricken South Asia. Climate change, environmental degradation, and increasing socio-economic inequalities are threatening region’s growth and prosperity. The lack of access to basic necessities persistently increase the probability of internal conflicts, rendering regional states vulnerable to ethnic and sectarian violence. Peace building efforts, economic cooperation and human security are the least focused areas in South Asia. Regional peace has remained hostage to the unresolved lingering of political/territorial disputes. Due to a high level of these disputes, SAARC has so far failed to emerge as a unifying multilateral organization. Over the past three decades, global geopolitical developments, such as the Cold War, Afghan Jihad and lately the War on Terror (WoT) have also deeply impacted the region’s political, the socio-economic and security environment. At present the regional outlook is bleakened by terrorism and radicalism which continue to pose a threat to the region’s security.

Peace and cooperation are two inter linked phenomenon. Existence of conflicts in the region do not bode well for the prospects of developing regional cooperation. Building peace through resolution of longstanding territorial/political disputes is undoubtedly in the interest of all the South Asian states. While there are several constraints on developing cooperation, the incentives are far greater.

An environment of peace and cooperation in the region would offer multifaceted opportunities and incentives to all the South Asian countries such as faster economic growth, poverty alleviation, increase in employment level, economic interdependence, infrastructure development, energy cooperation and regional connectivity. High levels of complementarity in the energy sectors with varying comparative advantages are a major incentive for strengthening peace and cooperation. For instance, India has an edge in producing coal-based energy, Pakistan and Bangladesh have the benefit of gas-based power generation, while Nepal and Bhutan are hydro-based energy producers. In order to sustain more than 6 percent GDP growth rate, there would be a high demand for energy in South Asia. Compared to the last two decades – where the  energy consumption was 5.8 percent against a low energy production rate of 2.3 percent – the demand for energy is now growing at an annual rate of 9 percent, whereas the deficit in energy production has almost doubled in the last decade. All the ingredients for developing an integrated power infrastructure such as power grids and gas pipelines exist in the region. In the power sector, the present installed capacity (from all fuel sources) is 222,142 megawatts vis-a-vis present suppressed demand is more than 300,000 megawatts. Over 75 percent of petroleum products in the region are imported. The estimated total hydropower potential is 299,330 megawatts which is in excess of the requirement.

Another incentive for strengthening peace and cooperation in South Asia is the potential for expansion in intra-regional trade. Despite being closely linked geographically, culturally and historically, intra-regional trade has been very low. Pakistan and India have the potential to enhance their present trade of less than US $ 3 billion to US $ 20 billion.  Bangladesh’s exports to India can potentially rise by 300 percent. South Asia’s economic potential has long been constrained by economic integration. An important barrier to greater economic integration is the poor quality of infrastructure in the region and inadequate investment for its development.

China’s growing interest and investment in the region provides a significant incentive to South Asian countries to draw maximum benefits from various Chinese initiatives relating to regional connectivity and infrastructure development such as One Belt and One Road (OBOR) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Peace and cooperation will create a conducive environment necessary to attract large volume of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from multiple sources which currently is very low in case of South Asia when compared to the other regions.

Peace in South Asia is being affected by two major challenges that include unresolved longstanding bilateral disputes. The nature of relations between India and Pakistan is the core of the regional security complex. India-Pakistan strategic stability is essential for regional peace and intra-regional economic integration. Moreover, an additional constraint in building peace and cooperation is the nuclear weapons and conventional arms build up in South Asia. India’s on-going military modernization poses a serious challenge to conventional military balance with Pakistan. If this trend continues, it is likely that Pakistan would be compelled to undertake counter measures to ensure strategic balance. This may initiate an arms race with inflated defence budgets at the cost of economic and social progress. The experts believe that the arms race has an inherent potential to destabilize the deterrence ability.

Cross border terrorism is yet another issue of concern for many South Asian countries. It is not confined to one specific country or area but the entire region faces this challenge in one way or the other. The porous nature of borders and ethno-communal cross-border linkages make the regional states vulnerable to terrorist groups. At the core of this issue lies militancy-plagued Afghanistan. On the other hand, a stable Afghanistan could become an ‘Asian transit hub’, connecting Central Asia, South Asia and West Asia. Therefore, concerted efforts are required by regional and global stakeholders to defeat the forces of radicalism. Afghanistan needs persistent financial and material support from the international community to regain peace and stability.

Solution to the regional challenges lies in creating a common vision and approach for strengthening peace, cooperation and economic integration. A regional approach should include mechanisms for resolving political disputes, creating economic interdependence, maintaining balance of power, initiating dialogue process and confidence building measures, increasing people-to-people contact and enhancing the role of regional organizations.

SAARC member states need to enhance energy cooperation as a basis to accelerate regional connectivity/progress. Concept of ‘SAARC Energy Ring’ as well as the energy projects – CASA, TAPI, IP and Kunar Power Plant are major incentives for cooperation. Peace and stability in Central Asian states and Afghanistan is a prerequisite for transfer of energy from Central Asia to South Asia. The role of regional organizations, such as SAARC and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with overlapping membership of India and Pakistan is significant in this regard. Through these platforms, the common threats and challenges can be addressed and preventive strategies can be worked out.

Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) organized a two-day international conference titled: “Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: Incentives and Constraints”. The conference aimed at highlighting the importance of peace and cooperation in South Asia by discussing incentives and constraints, issues pertaining to South Asian politics, regional trends and foreign players’ interest. Scholars from the SAARC region, Europe and China were invited to share their perspective on South Asia and visualize the prospects of peace and cooperation.

Proceedings of the Conference

November 22, 2016

Inaugural Session

In his welcome address, Ambassador Sohail Amin, President IPRI, welcomed the delegates from Afghanistan, China, Nepal, France and Sri Lanka. He said that South Asia is passing through a critical stage of transformation where both incentives and constraints for strengthening peace and cooperation are emerging together. He believed that an environment of peace and cooperation in the region would offer multifaceted opportunities and incentives to all the South Asian countries in the form of faster economic growth, poverty alleviation, enhanced employment rate, economic interdependence, infrastructure development, energy cooperation, and regional connectivity. Highlighting the challenges in South Asia, he identified that the lingering political and territorial disputes have been a great hindrance in strengthening peace and cooperation in the region. He added that the region faces multi-faceted problems having implications for regional peace and security, which include Pakistan-India conflicting relationship due to their longstanding bilateral disputes, especially the Kashmir dispute, India’s on-going military modernization in nuclear and conventional arms, structural limitations of SAARC, lack of infrastructure and uncooperative policy approaches of some countries resulting into divisions in South Asia. Underling the reason of the postponement of SAARC summit, which was scheduled to be held in November 2016 in Pakistan, he regretted that in fact, it was an Indian effort to impede the SAARC process in order to divert attention from its atrocities in the Indian-held Kashmir. He added that the postponement of the SAARC summit due to Indian attitude would have a direct bearing on peace and prosperity in South Asia. With this kind of attitude, consolidation of cooperation in the region would remain an elusive idea. He emphasized that the way forward lies in creating a common vision for strengthening peace and cooperation based on resolving political disputes, creating economic interdependence, maintaining balance of power, initiating dialogue process and confidence building measures, increasing people-to-people contact and enhancing the role of regional organizations such as SAARC and SCO.

In his inaugural address, Chief Guest of the Conference, Mr Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out the Indian aggressive posture towards Pakistan designed to try to isolate Pakistan in the South Asia, its spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan, increasing violations on line of control to put constraints on Pakistan’s ability to deploy more troops on the western border. Comparing India-Pakistan policy approaches in the region, he identified that Indian hegemonic temptations and aggressive posture undermines regional cooperation, whereas Pakistan believes in peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity. Illuminating Pakistan’s efforts in normalizing relations with India, he said that during negotiations with India, Pakistan would continue to seek normalization of relationship and promoting steps that would pave the way for settlement of all lingering dispute including the core dispute of Jammu and Kashmir. He pointed out that supply of modern weapon systems to India by the international community is widening the existing conventional capabilities in the region without fully recognizing the dangers posed to the peace and stability in the region. Supporting Pakistan’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership, he called for criteria-based and non-discriminatory approach for new memberships to the NSG, or it will affect the strategic stability in the region. In this context, he said Pakistan’s application for the membership of the NSG should be evaluated on the basis of fair criterion.  Explaining the imperative of strategic stability in the South Asia, he stressed that there is a need for credible minimum deterrence as instability has consequences with far more dangers. He added that Pakistan is maintaining minimum nuclear deterrence for peace and stability in the region. He regretted that India’s opposition to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is based on illogical reasons. Highlighting the Kashmir dispute, he stated that India is responding to indigenous struggle of Kashmiris for their right of self-determination by denial and illusion. He referred to India’s malicious propaganda to term Kashmiri struggle as terrorism and declare Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part. He stressed that India must understand the ground realities of Kashmir movement and recognize the indigenous nature of the movement struggling for right to self-determination in Indian occupied Kashmir.2912017

Session I

Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia:

 Regional Perspectives

In her presentation “Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: Sri Lankan Perspective,” Ms Dayani Panagoda, Policy Specialist, German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Colombo, Sri Lankan, identified the signs of the 21st century‘s revolutionary changes in the world order such as emergence of China as a giant in trading and increasing of economic importance of India, South Korea and Japan, which are causing global economic shifts from West to Asia. She added that politically, the uni-polar world is in the wane and multi-polar world is in the making. Besides, the world is yet to experience the ideological shifts of global power blocks after the new president and the government in the United Sates (US) and the Russian alignment with them. She acknowledged that in the wake of all these changes, the strategic importance of the South Asian region become more and more relevant with the development of new infrastructure facilities in sea routes and the silk route project in the Indian Ocean. She stressed that South Asia should be poised to reap the harvest of these global shifts. Explaining Sri Lanka’s policy in this regard, she shared that the country is poised to take advantage of changing situation in world order. She added that there are two important internal factors on which Sri Lanka is focusing at this juncture. These are peace building and ensuring security of the nation’s island in terms of inter-dependence and positive growth of the economy in terms of inter-connectivity. She further explained that Sri Lanka believes on “Asia-centric foreign policy” (openness and friendliness is the base of the policy), which could provide benefits to all the countries in the region. She stressed that the current experience of Sri Lanka in peace building could be a valuable asset in creating a peaceful South Asian region.  She emphasized that peace in the region is strongly interlinked with the economic growth of the countries in the region. With the increase of trade in the Indian Ocean, there will be opportunities opening up for the countries in the region to embark on new economic activities such as shipping, financing, banking, insurance and information technology. It would demand more and more interaction between the countries to survive within this new order.

In his presentation on “Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: Pakistan’s Perspective, Dr. Moonis Ahmar, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi identified Pakistan’s perspective on the daunting task of peace and cooperation in South Asia, which is two-fold; first, a realistic perspective, based on the notion that South Asia, is a hub of inter and intra-state conflicts and cannot move in the direction of a peaceful and stable region unless there is substantial political will and determination on the part of people at the helm of affairs to deal with issues, which are a cause of conflict and instability. Second, an alarmist perspective, which argues that in view of serious threats to human security and the challenges of human development, South Asian countries have no option but to mend fences and take plausible steps for unleashing the process of peace  and meaningful cooperation in the region. He outlined three major changes, which will shape positive things in South Asia once the process of peace and cooperation begins: First, economic dividends of peace will substantially improve the quality of life of more than one billion people of South Asia by providing  better education, health, housing and transport facilities.  Second, when the quality of life of people will improve, the menace of intolerance, extremism, radicalization, militancy, violence and terrorism will also be controlled, because deep rooted poverty, economic and social backwardness in a society makes it more susceptible to extremism and violence.  Third, the prestige of South Asia in the world will also get enhanced when the region transforms from conflict and crisis prone, and under-developed to peaceful, stable and developed.

In his presentation on “Dividends of Energy Cooperation in South Asia,” Brigadier General Dharma Bahadur Baniya, Kathmandu, Nepal, pointed out that South Asian nations are lagging behind their developed counterparts in terms of access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy. He said that the existing power shortages and growing import of fossil fuels impose a heavy cost of energy insecurity on the region. He added that South Asia is going through a phase of economic transformation from low to high growth, but persistent shortage of energy has been a major factor in restricting the region’s rapid upward trajectory. He identified six barriers in the way of greater regional cooperation on energy sector in the region: First, political disputes between various countries (notably, India-Pakistan) are impeding efforts to integrate the region. Second, due to the persistent differences particularly between India and Pakistan, SAARC so far has not been able to emerge as a powerful institution for energy cooperation in the region. Third, population growth and rapid urbanization are an emerging problem in today’s world. It is diverting the energy requirement away from economic growth in the region. Fourth, the energy sector in all countries in South Asia is perceived to be volatile due to lack of credit worthy investors, commercial risks and lack of clarity in government policies. Fifth, across the region, countries are ill equipped to tackle the energy demand and are more dependent on imported fossil fuels. Sixth, each nation within the region has a legacy of subsidizing energy prices and determining policies in isolation. This creates economic differentials, which are not conducive for cross border trade. He emphasized that the countries in the region could benefit significantly only by strengthening the mechanisms of energy cooperation through improved intraregional connectivity so that they could overcome the energy poverty for robust economic growth in the future.

Ambassador Inamul Haque, Former Foreign Minister, chaired the first session of the conference and said that Kashmir is the major hurdle in normalization of relations between Pakistan and India. The latter is not only avoiding dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir issue but also is continuing with its state-terrorism and oppression against innocent Kashmiris in the occupied valley. He pointed out that while there are numerous constraints in South Asia, incentives for peace should be the region’s main drivers towards sustainable development since issues like climate change, poverty, water stress and population explosion are foreboding transnational security.

Session II

Incentives for Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia

First speaker of the second session, Syed Muhammad Ali, Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), Islamabad spoke on “Strategic Stability and Arms Control in South Asia” and highlighted global as well as regional trends. He identified changing global trends as emergence of new conflicts, formation of new alliances, advancement and deployment of new strategic capabilities, reduced prospects of arms control and reduced effectiveness of international organizations. He highlighted regional trends as enhanced Indo-US strategic ties and Pakistan’s efforts to diversify its relations and adopt multilateral approach to resolve Afghan conflict. He also recognized the growing asymmetric capabilities between India and Pakistan. He talked about Indian strategic capabilities and identified the new developments in its arsenal. He highlighted Pakistan’s internal security environment and said that operation Zarb-e-Azb has increased Pakistan’s reliance on nuclear deterrent to counter external security threats. He highlighted salient features of Pakistan’s nuclear policy such as policy of credible minimum deterrence, preference for balance rather than parity, commitments to non-proliferation, stringent export control measures, nuclear safety and security. He proposed to enhance strategic stability in the region by granting simultaneous NSG membership to India and Pakistan. He suggested initiating nuclear CBMs between two states such as pre-notification of   cruise missile launches, South Asian PAROS and South Asian ABM treaty. He said that conflict management is not a substitute for conflict resolution. He emphasized the need for a balanced US approach to maintain strategic stability in the region. He said that the level of Pak-US counter-terrorism cooperation and Indo-US conventional and strategic cooperation should be reviewed and rationalized.

Second speaker, Dr. Huang Ying, Associate Researcher, the Institute of World Economic Relations, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Beijing, spoke on “OBOR and AIIB: Opportunities for Enhancing FDI in South Asia.” She said that OBOR is considered as a response to pivot to Asia but in fact it has been a policy reaction to international financial crisis. In the wake of economic meltdown in 2008, Chinese government realized the importance of neighboring countries. She highlighted that OBOR is the initiative that includes a network of six corridors and Pakistan-China Economic Corridor is one of these corridors. She said that China alone cannot complete the OBOR but needs collaboration with neighboring states. She said that AIIB would focus on the development of infrastructure, energy and power, transportation and tele-communications, agriculture development, water supply and sanitation. She said that out of six recently launched projects AIIB has invested in two projects in Pakistan. She said that OBOR offers opportunities for South Asia as it would not just enhance bilateral cooperation but would diversify their sources of financing as AIIB would help them in completing the infrastructure development projects.

Third speaker, Dr. Khalida Ghaus, Managing Director, Social Policy and Development Centre, Karachi, spoke on “Human Security and Socioeconomic Development” and said that whenever we talk about human security we also talk about national security and regional security because in developing regions like South Asia that is marred with inter-state conflicts and violence, states utilize their resources on preserving traditional security. She said that the new emerging challenges are attracting the attention of governments that were not paying attention to pressing socio-economic issues. She said that South Asia contributes less than 2 percent in global income. She identified that SAARC has not been able to provide non-traditional regional security architecture. She highlighted that South Asian countries need to develop a sustainable development strategy. She said that people have distrust about their governments regarding human security but it is the absence of effective mechanism, finances and institutional framework that create problems. She said that despite low social indicators, poverty, bad governance and unemployment there has been talk of interdependence and regional connectivity.

Chair of the second session Dr. M. Bilal Khan, Principal, US-Pakistan Centre for Advance Studies, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad said that there is a consensus that environment is important whether it is political environment or ecological environment. He said that human resource development comes from education and qualifying humans becomes the first step in creating congenial environment. He suggested that we should revisit our priorities and should empower people.

Session III

Imperatives of Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia

Dr. Muhammad Khan, former Head of Department of International Relations, NDU spoke on “Resolving Kashmir Issue: Bilateral & Multilateral Approaches” and said that the Kashmir dispute holds the key to peace and stability in South Asia. Seven decades of post-colonial history of both countries reveal that efforts for bringing peace in Kashmir have centered around a fragile peace: a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC). Resultantly, resolution of Kashmir dispute has largely remained unaddressed or only superficial attention has been given to it. He explained that Pak-India relations are marred with acute distrust and Kashmir dispute was the main cause of it. This trust deficit in bilateral relations has led to a ‘one-step forward and two steps backward’ situation. The situation has been compounded with the addition of some other issues such as Siachen Glacier, water issues, huge defence expenditures amongst others. Series of bilateral talks took place between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir dispute but failed to yield any positive results. Indian obduracy has been the major cause behind the Kashmir issue remaining unresolved. Despite the presence of UN resolutions and international commitments, India has been reluctant to normalize relations with Pakistan. He suggested that resolution of Kashmir dispute calls for visionary statesmanship both in India and Pakistan and consistent efforts of the International community.

Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar, Senior Policy Programme Advisor and General Director (Communication and Publications), Ministry of Education, Kabul, Afghanistan spoke on  “Peace Building in Afghanistan”. From his perspective, Afghanistan is the heart of Asia and sustainable peace in South Asia was not possible without peace in Afghanistan. Afghanistan could pave way for regional connectivity to Central Asia, East Asia and West Asia. Afghanistan has immense mineral resources. So far 33% of its natural resources have been mapped and their estimated worth is $1 to $3 trillion. Afghanistan could also offer immense opportunities for headwaters as it only uses 10% of its available water. Afghanistan also has a lot of private money that needs to be converted into capital. For peace in Afghanistan, the regional states’ leadership will have to create political space by putting an end to the blame-game. All countries should stop supporting proxies. All countries should also deny space for propaganda against each other as it would create a conducive environment for talks to take place. He was of the view that all countries needed to develop areas of common interest such as economic activities that would benefit the masses in this region. Cooperation should be strategic and not tactical, whereby, the immediate needs of our people guide our national interest rather than vice versa. All stakeholders will have to look into the problems regionally and not nationally as the former clearly shows that the needs of the individuals in the region are far more pressing than the so-called state defined national interests.

The third speaker, Dr. Tauqir Hussain Sargana, Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and IR, International Islamic University, Islamabad presented Dr. Manzoor Ahmad Naazer’s paper on “Economic and Trade Cooperation: An Imperative for Peace and Progress”. He stressed that economic cooperation, trade liberalization and market integration is desirable because it can yield many economic and political benefits. Economically, it would ensure general prosperity, promote competition and efficiency, help avoid adverse effects of protectionism and contribute to conflict inhibition. Politically, it is believed that free trade would promote interdependence and peace amongst states.  However, in case of South Asia in general and India-Pakistan in particular, trade cooperation has been a controversial issue. Although immediately after independence, India and Pakistan were highly integrated in terms of their economic and trade relations but political disputes, economic conflicts, mutual distrust and bilateral wars adversely disrupted trade links of the two states, which could never be restored to their fullest potential. He explained that many studies have discussed the huge potential of Pak-India trade with some reports claiming a potential trade of $10 to $15 billion per annum while other studies suggesting that Pak-India trade could rise upto $20 billion. Pakistan has been generally apprehensive of free trade with India due to many reasons such as prevalence of trade barriers that impede access to India, concerns over lack of level playing field and presence of subsidies amongst others. He opined that despite all the concerns, there has been a general consensus over trade liberalization with India. According to Pakistan Business Council, increased trade with India could raise Pakistan’s growth rate by 1-2 percent. Some experts have also claimed that Pakistan could save $1.5 to $2 billion through directly exporting to India. Nonetheless, while increased trade with India could help reduce Pakistan’s overall trade deficit but it would enhance its trade imbalance with India. It could also drain existing industrial and investment resources from Pakistan as Multinational Corporations would be tempted to close down their productive facilities in Pakistan and start their production capabilities in India which is far more attractive for foreign investment. Also, India could use trade dependence to coerce Pakistan to change its policies or course of action on different issues.

Chair of the third session, Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, Professor, Government and Public Policy, School of Social Science and Humanities, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, said South Asia is a long way off, particularly given that there is unprecendented level of tensions between India and Pakistan. At the same time, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are far from stable. Due to India-Pakistan hostility, the South Asian region remains hostage until these tensions are resolved. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain said South Asia is experiencing negative peace, whereby, there is no overt conflict but that does not necessarily translate into positive peace. The South Asian power structure is dominated by India by virtue of its size, geography, military capability and the fact that none of the South Asian countries have borders with each other but all of them have land and maritime borders with India. This has given India undue and unfair advantage. If India wants to be accepted as a global player, it has to treat its’ smaller South Asian neighbours with a certain degree of respect, equality and no hegemonic designs vis-à-vis Pakistan. India has closed its mind for peace and conflict resolution in South Asia. 

Session IV

Strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia: A Way Forward

The first speaker, Mr. Muhammad Nafees Zakaria, Spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad, Pakistan spoke on “Strengthening Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) for Durable Peace in South Asia”. He said that as a result of various trends and drivers such as the rise in economic and strategic significance of Asia, emergence of new power players in this region, convergence of Indo-US interests, the coming years will be fraught with intense competition and rivalries in the Asia-Pacific theatre. He explained that Pakistan-India rivalry has remained the main obstacle in exploiting the potential of this resource rich region. Pakistan-India ties have been characterized by sticking disputes, punctuated by full-blown wars and periodic border skirmishes, with varying degree of intensity. This has been in part due to the deep mistrust, with its roots in the pre-independence era has only deepened as the state of relations has gotten more complicated over time. The Kashmir dispute – a legacy of British colonial rule and a root cause of adversity in Pakistan-India relations, has had a lasting bearing on how we would perceive each other. Amidst the complications, over decades the two countries had also been taking confidence building measures to check escalation of tensions in their bilateral relations, especially in the context of Kashmir. These included trade across LoC and Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, religious tourism with visa facilitation and preservation of religious sites, cooperation in trade, advance notification of ballistic missile testing, prevention of airspace violations & flight clearances, and so on. He concluded by explaining that probability of CBM’s yielding results towards betterment in relations is subject more to the political will than its implementation. He was of the opinion that bilateral mechanism had not produced any positive results, hence, it is International Community’s responsibility, more so of the UN and UNSC members, to counsel India for an immediate halt to the bloodshed in Indian Occupied Kashmir and resolving all outstanding issues with Pakistan.

The second speaker, Dr. Severine Minot, Assistant Professor, Social Development and Policy School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Habib University, Karachi, Pakistan spoke on “Role of Major Powers in Harnessing Peace and Cooperation in South Asia”. She started off by clarifying the generally accepted idea that major powers constitute exclusively other nation states. She believed that major powers are more precisely the stakeholders in governing the global finance and military-industrial apparatus among other major industries. These stakeholders exert tremendous pressure on all nation states, and in turn on the articulation of international policy, the establishment of development priorities and the configuration of international tensions and conflicts. She explained that war is profitable for these major powers. Hence, the constant threat of war between India and Pakistan (over the perpetually unresolved issue of Kashmir among others) can now easily be “constructed” as a justification for foreign invasion and intervention, as such tensions between Nuclear Powers represent a threat to global security. She argued that both, Pakistan and India need to put their houses in order and move past the legacy of antagonism. Pakistan recorded a Government debt to GDP of 64.80 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2015. On the other hand, India recorded a Government Debt of GDP of 66.40 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2014. Both countries cannot afford to continue the current tense bilateral relations. Peace and cooperation can either be achieved through dialogue and compromise between the countries, or it can be achieved through enormous financial pressures or even by force at the hands of Western powers. She recommended that Pakistan should review and seek to minimize its dependence on US financial capital institutions, and military industrial complex. The imperative of increasing trade and business with its South Asian neighbours is now urgent. The creation of free trade zone across South and South East Asia represents a crucial opportunity to generate additional revenues and work toward getting out of debt. South Asia needs to invest in its human capital in order to produce long term sustainable wellbeing and prosperity.

The third speaker, Dr Shabir Ahmed, Associate Professor, Area Study Centre, Peshawar University, Peshawar, Pakistan spoke on “Prospective Role of Regional Organizations (SAARC and SCO)”. He was of the view that de-globalization is sweeping the world while regionalism seems to be the ultimate replacement. He emphasized that regionalism develops inter-dependence and increases cost of disengagement of all states. Hence, regional cooperation is the best way for the peripheral regions including South Asia to address the issues of under-development, security and marginalization. He explained that regional arrangements in the form of regional orgaisations serve as basis for regionalism due to the fact that institutional organizational structure can act better than coalitions or alliances. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in particular provides enormous opportunities for the region of South Asia to be regionalized. The presence of China and Russia in SCO can be an integral factor for Pakistan and India in resolving their disputes under the various fora of SCO. There is a fertile ground for optimism as both Russia and China have high stakes in promoting and transforming security cooperation in the region. Pakistan and India lack capacity to resolve disputes bilaterally and a multilateral approach through SCO may work. On the other hand, SAARC since its inception has failed in stimulating regional security cooperation. SAARC is dominated by India as there is no real balancer to it within the Organization. Keeping this in mind, an expanded and balanced SAARC can move from mere agreements to actions and implementation.

The Chair of the fourth session, Ms. Dayani Panagoda, Policy Specialist, German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Colombo, Sri Lanka said that while the previous sessions have focused on the varying regional perspectives and imperatives of peace and cooperation in South Asia, it is very important that we look into the way forward in this endeavor. For this, it is important that we discuss the role of Confidence Building Measures (CMSs), Major Powers and Regional Organizations can play in strengthening Peace and Cooperation in South Asia.

Conference Recommendations

  1. The challenges to peace and security in South Asia are multifaceted and transnational in nature. However, SAARC charter does not allow discussion on political issues. SAARC is a body to enhance economic and social cooperation among the regional states. For the greater good of the region, political issues should not be allowed to derail the SAARC summits. SAARC should not be held hostage to the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. The challenges in South Asia can only be met through cooperation amongst the regional countries with special emphasis on issues of core concern. The region needs a sustainable conflict resolution mechanism based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.
  2. South Asia is amongst world’s most backward regions in terms of socio-economic indicators and human security. About one fifth of humanity i.e. more than 1 billion people reside in South Asia in the midst of most precarious conditions, without having access to basic human needs like food, quality education, health, housing, transport facilities etc. Human and social development should be the primary focus of all the South Asian states. There should also be a regional sustainable development strategy under the framework of SAARC.
  3. The nature of security issues in South Asia requires focusing on institution building, structural reforms and establishment of processes for promoting regional cooperation. All regional states must come forward and work towards regional peace and common security. Security issues such as piracy, human and narcotic trafficking, arms proliferation and terrorism must be tackled through cooperation, information sharing and developing a common understanding on these issues.
  4. Unfair distribution of resources, opportunities and intolerance against different ethnic groups and minorities encourage conflict at various levels, affecting threat perception of states. Deep rooted poverty and social backwardness provides a fertile ground for the growth of extremism and radicalization. With transnational terrorism on the surge, South Asian neighbors should actively support each other to alleviate poverty and improve social conditions of their people.
  5. India and Pakistan have huge untapped potential for generating energy. Collaboration on energy could give impetus to economic growth and development in both countries and the region. Energy diplomacy can stimulate confidence building among the South Asian nations particularly between India and Pakistan, which in turn, would facilitate the multidimensional cooperation in the region.
  6. Indian defense related partnership with US and its allies is causing strategic imbalance in South Asia. A strategic asymmetry between India and Pakistan is increasing Pakistan’s sense of insecurity and increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons for defense. This situation makes the efforts towards arms control and crisis stability even more difficult. Revival of Indo-Pak bilateral dialogue, without any preconditions, on arms control and crisis management is urgently needed.
  7. Acts of terrorism should not be allowed to derail the bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan should jointly develop mechanisms that could help to enhance cooperation and communication during a crisis so that the political leadership has options available to them during a crisis situation to discuss and redress each other’s concerns rather than to cut off the dialogue process for political expediency.
  8. People to people dialogue between South Asian neighbors needs to be enhanced and notions of cooperation at different levels should be instilled in the people through cultural and academic exchanges and cooperation.
  9. Most South Asian states are linked through the sea with each other and there is a realization that development of coastal areas and establishment of sea ports can help South Asian economies. The Indian Ocean is yet another area for connectivity and engagement for SAARC countries. South Asian states must devise strategies to increase trade activities through the Indian Ocean, including shipping, financing, and banking.
  10. South Asian agenda for inter-connectivity must be based on, a) economic growth through trade facilitation, regional transportation and energy corridors development, and b) enhanced cooperation to resolve issues such as compliance with product standards, visas for business community and technical staff, harmonization of licenses and permits.
  11. Cultural diplomacy and tourism are essential tenets of regional cooperation. Entire South Asia is gifted with seasonal variation, scenic and natural beauty. The South Asian states must develop their tourist sites through infrastructure development such as by building resorts, off-shore financial centers etc.
  12. Kashmir dispute is central to Indo-Pak relations. It is a collective failure of the UN, major powers and Indo-Pak leadership that Kashmir issue after more than seven decades has not been resolved and continues obstructing regional cooperation and development. The apathy of international community towards the high handedness and gross human rights violations by the Indian security forces in Kashmir is regrettable. There is a need to prick the conscience of the international community on the issue of human rights violations. There should be a Kashmir Project for highlighting the suffering of the Kashmiri people throughout the world.
  13. Although Pakistan has been modestly supporting development projects in Afghanistan, the Afghans feel that Pakistan needs to support them in public private partnerships in education sector by constructing school, colleges and universities across Afghanistan. This will create immense goodwill between the two countries.
  14. Role of any organization or a country as mediator or facilitator should be accepted by India and Pakistan for the resolution of contentious issues such as Kashmir and water issue. SCO or China and Russia together have the potential to play a mediatory role for peace and stability in South Asia.
  15. The significance of construction of economic corridors in South Asia should be duly acknowledged by all the South Asian states as these are important initiatives for regional integration and economic development. According to some studies South Asia has the potential of USD 65 billion interregional trade, which can only be realized through trade liberalization and economic connectivity through various corridors.3192017

Concluding Session

Sardar Masood Khan, President Azad Jammu and Kashmir, said that Pakistan has always worked for adopting a collective and collaborative approach for regional peace but India has remained reluctant in this regard. India’s deteriorated relations with its neighboring states have remained a hindrance for establishing any mechanism for durable peace.  To achieve regional peace, Kashmir should be put at the center of regional peace agenda.

At the moment, two important regional issues – situation in Afghanistan and Kashmir makes the task of regional economic cooperation difficult. He identified that Pakistan is keen to bring about peace in the region and Pakistan should continue to be associated with SAARC and should continue its efforts but the real opportunities i.e. economic opportunities lie elsewhere – westward, southward, towards East Asia and Africa.

Regarding issue of Jammu and Kashmir, he said that India has been pursuing the policy of ‘mass blinding’ that is being used first time in history. He said that UN has been reluctant to hold plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir and even Security Council has not been able to initiate a debate over Kashmir issue. He said that the people of Pakistan and Kashmir are helpless to do anything as India has been beating us in the field of communications and international community has believed on their falsehood but not on our truth. He suggested that social media is one of the effective tools that young people can use to highlight the cause of Kashmiris. He concluded that peace in South Asia would remain elusive unless issue of Kashmir is resolved.

Ambassador Sohail Amin, President IPRI, thanked the guests and said that due to longstanding unresolved political and territorial disputes, the prospects of strengthening regional peace and cooperation remains gloomy. He said that it is in the interest of all South Asian states to resolve their conflicts by using bilateral and multilateral institutional frameworks.


The conference highlighted changes in global as well as regional strategic environment. Situation in Afghanistan, human rights violations in Kashmir, Indian policies towards smaller South Asian states were identified as important impediments to achieve regional peace and stability. The resolution of Kashmir issue was recognized as the center of regional peace agenda. SAARC has been a dormant organization and Pakistan should continue to associate with it but should diversify its options to achieve economic interdependence and regional connectivity.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the speakers and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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