Policy Approaches of South Asian Countries and their Impact on the Region

Introduction

Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) organized a two-day international conference on “Policy Approaches of South Asian Countries and their Impact on the Region” on June 2-3, 2015 at Serena Hotel Islamabad. Scholars, academicians, practitioners and policy makers from Pakistan, China, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Germany participated in the conference. Two scholars from India, Dr. Patricia Oberoi, Vice Chairperson Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi and Dr. Subha Chandran Director Institute of Conflict Studies, New Delhi were also to attend the conference but at the last moment regretted to participate in the conference.

The conference discussed the policy formulation and implementation challenges in South Asia; imperatives of non-traditional security, including counter-terrorism, climate change and energy cooperation. The conference tried to examine the policy approaches of regional countries in dealing with the prevalent challenges, in particular, the impact of political disputes on economic cooperation and regional connectivity. The purpose was to evolve recommendations for transforming policy approaches of South Asian countries from conflict or competitive mode to a cooperative endeavour. Former diplomats, academics and security analysts described terrorism, poverty, energy and water crises as the major problems being faced by South Asian countries and called for regional integration and better policy formulation to meet these challenges. India’s role in the region repeatedly came under discussion, whether in the context of regional security and the possibility of regional connectivity through completion of economic corridors. Academics and diplomats put the onus of the derailment of the India-Pakistan peace process squarely on India’s shoulders. Chinese experts were apprehensive of India’s plans with regards to regional projects – Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Another view expressed was that the CPEC could be an impetus to convince India of joining the trade route, which would be economically beneficial for the whole region.

Concept Note

South Asia is one of the most important regions of the world. It has one fifth population of the world, covers an area of 5.22 million square kilometres and is home to two nuclear weapon states: India and Pakistan. Other important South Asian countries include: Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives. The region’s economic growth has made it a big global market. Growth in South Asia rose to an estimated 5.5 percent in 2014 from a 10-year low of 4.9 percent in 2013. Regional growth is projected to rise to 6.8 percent by 2017. The political, economic and strategic importance of South Asia is increasing with every passing day.

South Asia is facing multi-dimensional security challenges both traditional and non-traditional. Notwithstanding these challenges, there exists an enormous untapped regional economic potential. Most of the challenges faced by the region are based on deep rooted historic differences. Consequently political issues and conflicts have not allowed economic and strategic interests to take precedence in matters of policy and development. Some other threats of common concern to most of the South Asian nations are non-traditional security threats such as, drug trafficking, terrorism, environment, climate change, food security, intra region migration, infrastructure and energy crisis.

Political will and political action will certainly play their part in breaking the vicious circle of conflict, insecurity and underdevelopment in South Asia. Economic policies should be geared not just to maximise growth, but also to address the distributional or political factors that lead to conflict. Regional states have an opportunity, through regional integration, to work together to manage their numerous common regional issues. Domestic as well as external factors have played their role in influencing the process of policy formulation in South Asia.

The most common approach of policymakers in South Asia to deal with insurgencies, terrorism, or internal violence is to use the security forces to establish law and order in the affected areas. Sheer use of force has not been a successful strategy. There is also a need to simultaneously use political and economic approaches to overcome the internal security threats. Further, cross-border cooperation between countries should be an integral part of any strategy to reduce conflict. Considerable potential exists for reducing conflicts through regional cooperation, but this strategy has not been given due attention in South Asia.

The role of Pakistan in countering terrorism has been very critical. Pakistan and Afghanistan believe that the menace of terrorism could only be countered through joint cross-border cooperation. Similarly, Pakistan and India should make sincere efforts to resolve their disputes by resuming composite dialogue.

Bangladesh is looking forward to furthering its own interests which include foreign investments, cooperative use of water resources, access to raw materials and development of infrastructure. India needs Bangladesh’s cooperation for its security as well as for transit to north east India and for countering terrorism. To ensure sustainable relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh, the political leadership on both sides needs to eliminate emotionalism with pragmatism. Sri Lanka is supportive of regional integration. It is interested in expanding trade and investment in South Asian region. Sri Lanka’s bilateral relationship with India is deeply linked to the sensitive domestic issue: reconciliation with the Tamil minority. Given its strategic location within South Asia, Sri Lanka stands to benefit from a more skillful foreign policy.

Nepal maintains cordial ties with all its neighbours. Since it is one of the less developed countries in the region, it is interested in seeking investment for its economic development. Kathmandu intends to diversify its economic interdependence and develop its reliance on all the South Asian countries for resources and development. Nepal and Bhutan can be a big source of hydropower for neighbours. Bhutan and Maldives view regional economic cooperation as a strategy to bring about economic self-reliance and mutual prosperity. Bhutan aims to improve air links and telecommunication between member states. Maldives on the other hand is interested in joint economic ventures, and in achieving greater liberalisation of its economy.

China’s observer status in SAARC was a product of the push from Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. China’s involvement in South Asia is critical in terms of regional connectivity. China is investing in several infrastructure projects such as, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (PCEC) and Bangladesh- China- India -Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor in South Asia. It is also investing in mega projects in Sri Lanka and Maldives and enjoys cordial relations with Nepal.

The withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan requires the regional countries to participate in its stability and development. The instability in Afghanistan will harm its neighbours, especially Pakistan. On the other hand, the dividends of peace in Afghanistan would be shared by all the South Asian nations. Afghanistan’s connectivity with Central Asia can make the country a trade and energy corridor for the entire South Asian region.

The region is facing challenges which are intra-regional in nature. Different policy perspectives and the existing political disputes prevent the neighbouring states from cooperation. Inter-connectivity and sharing best practices could be a better approach towards rooting out emerging security threats and promoting regional cooperation. The cooperative attitude among the South Asian countries can also effectively resolve their water disputes. The river networks have the potential to meet a portion of the energy needs of the region and also create economic opportunities. Proper cooperative management of the water resources would also contribute towards controlling floods, providing irrigation, generating electricity and improving water transport facilities. Another area where common approach is required is climate change. The exchange of data and joint research will help South Asian countries in mitigating the negative impacts of this phenomenon.

The South Asian countries can learn from best practices in regional cooperation. For instance, in the ASEAN region, the integration has been achieved by a multi-pronged process and by following a multilateral approach. Such an approach will encourage a shift towards stronger cooperation and will increase focus on regional objectives. Multilateral agreements take the existing bilateral/domestic issues to a regional level and may bind signatory countries to a timetable for implementation at a regional level.

To evolve recommendations for transforming the policy approaches of the South Asian countries from conflict or competitive mode to a cooperative endeavour, Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), in collaboration with Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), organized an international conference on “Policy Approaches of South Asian Countries and their Impact on the Region” on 2-3 June 2015.

Besides Pakistan, scholars from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Germany, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka were invited to present their views.

Conference Proceedings

The conference was held in six sessions (inaugural session, four working sessions and a concluding session). The salient aspects of the conference are as under:-

June 2, 2015

Inaugural Session

Welcome Address: Ambassador Sohail Amin, President IPRI in his opening address welcomed the speakers, guests and audience in the conference. While describing South Asia, he said the region located on the confluence of West, East and Central Asia, along the shores of the Indian Ocean and in the neighbourhood of China, holds significance for regional as well as global players. Towards the political side, he opined that elections were held in almost all the regional states and either new governments were in power or the incumbent governments have been re-elected for another term. Opposition parties were in power in Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, while, in Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal incumbent governments were re-elected. In Afghanistan, a new President and a Chief Executive Officer have been voted in. Thus, the political leadership in all the South Asian countries have passed through the initial settling down period. There existed long-term availability of political counterparts all over the region. This could be an opportunity for constructive engagement amidst the prevailing multifarious challenges.

Commenting on the socio-economic conditions, he said South Asia, home to about one fifth of humanity had enormous resources, but the lack of cooperation and conflicts among the regional states were a hindrance in the utilization of these resources. He further stated that the prevailing challenges of poverty, insecurity and under-development could be secured through unanimous political will and action. In this regard, regional connectivity, not just in terms of physical infrastructure but also in terms of systems and services along with cross border movement was the need of the hour. He viewed China’s economic prowess as a potential for the economies of South Asia. The Chinese led cooperative projects including China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-Myanmar-India (BCIM) corridor could unleash benefits for the region. He called upon the South Asian countries to grant China full membership of SAARC.

Opening Remarks: Mr. Kristof Duwaerts, Resident Representative, Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Pakistan Office. Kristof said over the years, HSF has been interacting with think tanks, government departments and the civil society of Pakistan. The current event is also another such endeavour, in which scholars from within and around the world have been invited to share their perspective on the regional policy approaches dynamics. He said that the policy approaches defined the outlook of the contemporary world. They touch every single aspect of life, social, financial as well as educational. Their impact could be on a local, national, transnational or global level. All approaches impact the bilateral relations as well as the external relations. However, some policy approaches had more impact, while some had lesser impact. This implies that in a globalized world, news and information travels faster. In the globalized world, the regions have been transformed into families. As families, the regions in one way or the other have started to organize themselves with focus to discuss, resolve issues and streamline approaches. European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and African Union (AU) were examples of such integrated families. In the EU, the shape of bananas to be sold in the regional countries was being discussed.

Unfortunately, SAARC, despite being home to a significant number of people has not been able to grow into an integrated region or family.

Inaugural Address by the Chief Guest: Ambassador M. Akram Zaki, former Secretary General and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Government of Pakistan. While describing the SAARC region, Ambassador Zaki said that the regional environment was tense, unstable and insecure; terrorism, drug trafficking, energy crisis and human development were the major issues. Region’s two nuclear powers had unresolved disputes. The region was also vulnerable to natural disasters, floods and earthquakes.

On Pakistan’s regional role, he reiterated that Pakistan supported a peaceful South Asia. Pakistan had taken steps to improve ties with both India and Afghanistan. The relations with Afghanistan had improved considerably; both the countries were cooperating against terrorism. Pakistan was also working with China for stabilizing Afghanistan. However, Pakistan’s efforts to resume dialogue with India were not being reciprocated in the spirit. Pakistan’s proposal for a Nuclear Restraint Regime was also rejected. In fact, Indian recent firing across the Line of Control (LoC) coupled with the provocative statements of Indian leadership were reflective of Indian hegemonic mindset. India seems to be pursuing a policy of offensive defence, trying to clandestinely destabilize Pakistan. In addition, Indian burgeoning defence expenditure (defence budget US $ 40 billion), building of blue water navy and nuclear arsenals were a source of concern for the regional states. It was underscored that the regional states should give up their past differences and opt for cooperative approaches. In this context, the example of Sri Lanka was cited that the country despite having fought the prolonged Tamil insurgency was making efforts to improve ties with India.

Commenting over the extra-regional powers role, he said that the drawdown of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan was a major development; it required revision of policies. He further said that the global players US, China and Russia (geo-strategic triangle) had influenced the regional politics, in particular their alliances with the regional countries. Chinese led regional projects, BCIM and CPEC were viewed optimistically and an opportunity for the SAARC region. China’s SAARC membership was also supported as an opportunity for the regional states to integrate with the second largest world economy.

Session-I: “Policy Formulation and Implementation Challenges in South Asia”

“Policy Formulation Processes in South Asian Countries” by Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, Director and Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quad-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He said: “the policy formulation is a complicated process in South Asian countries. The disharmony between political systems and political cultures cause a great challenge in these countries to the decision makers at both the policy formulation stage as well as during the policy execution sphere. The political system and political culture collectively contribute to the policy makers considerations, which develop policy.” Dr. Jaspal was of the opinion that “sub-national actors, legislatures, interest groups and public opinion express greater interest in domestic policy formulation and exhibit an apathetical attitude towards foreign policy making.”

While categorizing the forms of policy making process, Dr. Jaspal said: “there are many policies which are neither purely domestic nor purely foreign. Instead they have elements of both policy types and constitute a third type called ‘intermestic’ policy. Strategic and economic policies are the classic examples of an ‘intermestic’ policy because these policies affect both international relations and domestic environment in terms of jobs, trade, and numerous other factors. The issues that constitute ‘intermestic’ policy necessitated and also increased the role of media, public opinion, and civil society in the contemporary policy formulation processes in South Asian countries.” He said that in developed countries universities played their role in decision making process which improved the efficiency of decision making. Unfortunately, in Pakistan there was a wider gap between bureaucrats and academicians. He suggested that Pakistani universities should have some role in this process which would improve the efficiency of decision making process of the country.

“Policy Formulation and Implementation Process in South Asia: Domestic Challenges” by Dr. Rashid Ahmed Khan, Dean Department of International Relations (IR) and Political Science, University of Sargodha. He said that formulation of the foreign policy is not a job of a single individual. However, in South Asia individuals played their dominant role in formulation of foreign policy in their respective countries. He was of the opinion that often foreign policy of a country contains three characteristics including characteristics of global environment, domestic political compulsions and individuals. In the context of South Asia, second and third characteristics played as leading role particularly in the case of Pakistan.

Dr. Khan said that political culture of South Asia has been shaped over the year due to historical developments. Since British rule, political culture generally in South Asia and Pakistan in particular was non-participant. He identified some political trends which improved democratic norms in South Asia. Firstly, the rising expectations of common citizens from the ruling elite had created a frustration in the society. Secondly, the youth bulge in South Asian countries and its increased requirements such as jobs and education also affected the political culture. Thirdly, regional economic demands had also impacted the formulation of foreign policy process. Fourthly, political instability, terrorism and extremism had become a challenge for foreign policy makers and it had impacted the political culture of South Asia. He concluded that currently bureaucratic structure is more active in foreign policy formulation process. However, in future this role would be shrunk due to increased participatory political culture in the region.

“Policy Formulation and Implementation Process in South Asia: External Challenges” by Dr. Andrea Fleschenberg, DAAD long-term Guest Professor, Quad-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Dr. Andrea said that scholars have given various definitions regarding policy analysis and formulation process. She said “policy analysis is the process, through which problems requiring a solution are articulated, political objectives are formulated, alternatives are developed and finally a compulsory solution is chosen.” She identified three dimensions of policy analysis, i.e. polity, politics and policy, which were interlinked with policy formulation process. Form of constitution and governments affect the policy formulations process, while their legitimacy affects the implementation process of that policy.

Dr. Andrea highlighted some key challenges to policy formulation process including globalization and multi-level governance. Moreover, the identification and prioritization of the problems were also key challenges for policy makers. Likewise, local customary practices in various parts of South Asia challenged policy formulation process. She was of the opinion that transnational crisis, political legacy, climate change, economics, refugees, migrants and post conflict developments negatively affected the process in South Asian countries. Moreover, transnational movements as well as grassroots level micro movements either non-violent or violent in nature became hindrances in implementation process. While concluding her presentation, she suggested that consensus building between institutions and citizens regarding formulation and implementation of policies could bring positivity in political culture of the region.

Chairperson, Ambassador Masood Khan, Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). Ambassador Khan in his concluding remarks said that people to people contact among South Asian countries could improve existing situation of the region. Moreover, policy of using terrorism against any other country for short term interests was also negatively affecting the development and prosperity of the region. The statements from Indian officials were irresponsible which would aggravate extremism and terrorism in the region. Ambassador Khan suggested that there should be economic collaboration among SAARC countries. Moreover, there should be a conflict resolution forum within SAARC which would facilitate solving territorial disputes among the South Asian states.

Session – II: Imperative of Non-Traditional Security in South Asia

“Countering Extremism and Terrorism: Learning from Best Practices” by Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, Head of Department Government and Public Policy, National University of Science and Technology (NUST), Islamabad. He said that there was no universally agreed definition of terrorism however the most agreed was killing of civilians or non-combatants by violent non-state actors to generate fear in the society. He emphasized that terrorism must be dealt as an historically generative structure. Terrorists were constantly searching for “men, material, and money” to advance their agenda. Their command and control structures were remotely located and at times in another country.He said that the counter terrorism strategy was to prevent individuals from turning to terrorism, protect citizens and infrastructure by reducing vulnerability to attack, pursue investigate terrorists and disrupt support networks and manage, and minimize the consequences of an attack. He opined that finding the right combination between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ approaches was often regarded as the key to success.

There was almost always a process of radicalization and a network of like-minded people who become enablers. He suggested that threats of punitive action must be backed by adequate coercive power to enforce the rule of law. The military and law enforcement apparatus must work in unison to produce the desired results. The governments need to engage them, to isolate them from the larger society, and guard and offer protection to those who are willing to speak against the extremists.

“Climate Change: A Non-traditional Security Threat” by Sadia Ashfaq, Research Associate, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad. She said that elements of non-traditional security threats were; scarcity of resources, e.g. water, food, energy, etc. scarcity of opportunities, e.g. economic opportunities, access to basic needs, living standards, etc. and structural threats. She referred to Roberts M.N., who was of the point of view that in southern part of the world, security was more serious due to poverty. Moreover, ideology was also considered a potential non-traditional security threat. Non-state actors were more involved in wars and conflicts and caused more damage. The concept of rented armies for profit, e.g. as used in Iraq was such a phenomena. Some scholars also find climate change as a potential threat to global peace and security. She referred to a speech by R. K., Pachuari when in a Noble prize ceremony in 2007 he stated that “Climate change has raised the threat of dramatic population migration, conflict, and war over water and other resources as well as a realignment of power among nations.”

She said that the climate change was a major threat; it could lead to scarcity of water, food and energy. Disasters e.g. floods, droughts, cyclones, health issues could be further intensified. She further highlighted the climate change impact on Pakistan and related problems. She said that Pakistan was facing water scarcity; the country had also seen floods and droughts. The 2010-2011 floods led to widespread displacement of people throughout the country. Apart from these climatic problems, the trans-boundary water issues between India and Pakistan was also a major concern.

“Prospects for Energy Cooperation in South Asia” by Dr. Bishnu Hari, former Ambassador of Nepal to Japan and Country Director South Asia Policy Analysis Network SAPANA, Nepal. He said that China is world’s largest energy consumer country with 51 percent of energy consumption. India is the 3rd largest energy consumer country of the world and No. 1 from South Asia. Demand for energy by BRICS countries is +3.5 percent.” He stated that “South Asian states also rely on nuclear energy. Indian nuclear reactors in operation are 20 which produce 4.4 Gigawatt-electric (GWe). India is also a pioneer in developing thorium fuel. Pakistani reactors in operation are 3 while 2 are under construction. Its share in electricity generation is 4 percent.  Bangladesh also planned 2 power generation reactors. In China, reactors in operation are 17 which produce 13.8GWe, while 30 more are under construction.” He said that “China is much ahead of India and Pakistan on nuclear capacity building indeed.”

He said that almost all countries in South Asia, including India, depend on imported gas supply to power plants. For instance, India’s largest Thermal Power Generation Company NTPC won a new auction programme organized by the Indian government for the supply of 1.1 Multi-Chip Module Deposition  (mcm/d) of imported gas to the power sector on 18th May, 2015. He opined that South Asia could be the hub of Asia if water energy was planned well. He also discussed SAARC energy ring involving China, Pakistan and Nepal.

Chairperson, Dr. Gulfraz Ahmad, former Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Government of Pakistan said that “there is a need of realizing the negative implications of the non-traditional security threats and having a mutually inclusive approach to meet the threats.” In fact, non-traditional security threats need a cooperative approach to deal with. The cooperation among states for energy security has also become a game changer in global energy security politics. He added that non-traditional democracies would only work if the elected representatives had low vested interests. He said that in South Asia, there was a big neighbour syndrome who was always in active mode while smaller neighbours were in reactive mode.

June 3, 2015

Session – III: Regional Connectivity

“Political Disputes: Implications for Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation” by Dr. Kamal Monnoo, Member IPRI Board of Governors and Director, Samira Fabrics Private Limited, Lahore. He said that the South Asia was one of the least integrated regions of the world despite strong facilitating factors such as geographical proximity, a long open border and fairly similar value systems. Over the years there have been a number of notable initiatives undertaken by the South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) for greater economic integration, including implementation of preferential trade agreements by member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) followed by the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), under which customs duties on nearly all goods traded between countries in the region were to be phased out. Yet South Asia has low intra-regional trade compared with other such regions in the world, amounting to just 5 percent of the total world trade, whereas NAFTA is 52 percent, Asia Pacific region 32 percent, and ASEAN 22 percent.

He said that Pakistan and India were the two major economies of South Asia and ever since 1947 were involved in a number of political and geographical disputes that till today remained unresolved. There existed gross mistrust between the two countries and that naturally was hurting enhancement of trade not just between India and Pakistan but in the entire SAARC region. In other words SAARC just could not afford to lag behind in trade as otherwise the respective leaderships would be doing nothing but punishing their own people. He pointed out that the benefits of free and fair trade were limitless and manifested themselves in many other forms apart from economic, such as social, academic, progress of mankind, nature, wildlife, environment, and last but not the least, in promoting peace. South Asian economies still chose to trade with the more distant economies of the US and European Union (EU). And this phenomenon was common with all the leading economies of SAARC: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The evolving global trading trends were discouraging factors. There was significant segment of Pakistani experts on security, defence and foreign affairs who genuinely believed that unless the proposed Most Favoured Nation (MFN) or Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) status to be granted to India by Pakistan and a resultant liberalized trading regime arising from that, were both managed very closely cum prudently, the negatives would far outweigh the positives. Testing, certification, clearance and processing were particularly costly and time-consuming for consignments bound for export destinations within the region. Transport infrastructure and facilities at land custom stations which were predominantly used for cross-border trade within the region had significantly lower standards than for trade with the countries outside the region. Signals from the Modi Government on the way of approaching global and regional trade were not very encouraging. However, removal of trade issues between Pakistan and India, both tariff and non-tariff gradually worked towards equitable intra-regional trade in South Asia.

“Regional Benefits and Concerns of CPEC” by Mr. Ye Hailin, Chief Editor, South Asia Studies, National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (NIIS, CASS), Beijing. Mr. Hailin said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was an example of foreign policy shift of China towards South Asia. The two sides kept high-level exchanges as the strategic guidance to bilateral relations deepened practical cooperation in infrastructure, energy, transportation and other areas and made progress in the CPEC. Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) project was another initiative that would promote regional connectivity and trade.

He said that expectations of Pakistan from CPEC were enhancing infrastructure, encouraging trade and promoting industrialization. China expected improvement of the foreign exchange reserve structure, creating investment opportunity for Chinese firms and building new links between Inner land China and Indian Ocean, although, the US and India considered CPEC as a tool of military expansion by China and Pakistan. However, CPEC would contribute in power generation and management, transportation system, special economic zones, industrial complexes, educational complex, logistics and services.

CPEC would also contribute to the region. It would make China the member of South Asia, which would enhance the regional connectivity and would convince India to open its mind. He said that bigger country like India should have a bigger heart when it considered CPEC.

Chairperson Ambassador (R) Fauzia Nasreen, Member IPRI Board of Governors and Advisor, Centre for Policy Studies, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad, appreciated the fact that Pakistan had visualized its geo-strategic location as a regional asset that could transform the socio-economic conditions of the regional countries. South Asia region has enormous potential in terms of human resource, natural resources and raw material as well as resilient young population. However, the intra-regional trade was impacted by a number of factors that acted as a constraint including lack of connectivity and poor communication infrastructure. She emphasized that South Asian states must improve trade connectivity in the region.

Session-IV: Approach Towards Peace and Security in South Asia

“Regional Dividends of Peace in Afghanistan” by Dr. Nader Nadery, Director, Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), Kabul. The talk deliberated upon the geo-strategic significance of Afghanistan. It was stated that some scholars considered Afghanistan as part of South Asia, while some called it as a part of Central Asia, and there were some who viewed it as a greater Middle East. The speaker also referred to Allama Iqbal’s vision; the late poet described ‘Afghanistan as the heart of Asia’. Historically and culturally, Afghanistan had been home to varied civilizations.

Terrorism was viewed as a common challenge for the individual states and the region at large. It was mentioned that nearly 48000 civilians had died due to terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. It was argued that despite the non-traditional security threat prevalent in the region, there was no common definition of threat perception, and the absence of a forward looking approach on the part of regional actors was a major impediment to overcome the menace of terrorism. While referring to the present state of affairs within Afghanistan, it was reiterated that the lack of a visionary approach was the prime cause of poverty and radicalization. Empowerment of youth through education and employment should have been the priority of policy makers. The ongoing infrastructural projects were highlighted. It was mentioned that the railway link from Hairatan to Mazar-i-Sharif was complete and extension from Mazar to Hirat was also planned. Meanwhile, the study to connect Boldak to Hirat and with Pakistan was under consideration.

CPEC was portrayed as a milestone for the region’s uplift. In this economic corridor Afghanistan’s pivotal position as a transit to Central Asia was highlighted. Further, it was elaborated that through the corridor, cost of transport from Pakistan to Central Asia would be cheaper, and gas, coal, oil could easily be transported through the corridor. Other energy projects referred to were CASA (Central Asia South Asia) and TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India). CASA would produce 1300 megawatt and TAPI would bring forth 1.6 billion petroleum resources to Afghanistan. The presentation concluded that there was a need for a new paradigm with focus on economic cooperation and energy connectivity. Through economic diplomacy and cooperative policies, the regional divide could be bridged and the commercial route connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean via Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a network of pipelines, railways and highways could be materialized.

“India-Pakistan Peace Process” by Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Dean Faculty of Contemporary Studies, National Defence University, Islamabad. He said, India-Pakistan over the years have fought three major wars (1947, 1965, 1971), and a number of border skirmishes along the LoC. Besides, episodes like demolition of Babri mosque, Siachen front, Kargil crisis, Mumbai attacks coupled with Indian duplicity over Kashmir had time and again generated negative wipes.

During the Cold War era, India and Pakistan were parts of the opposite blocs. In the post-Cold War period, with globalization and economic imperatives as emerging trends called for regional integration. Regional organizations like European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) emerged on the world scene as economic blocs. This led to the realization that conflict and military approach was not the solution rather economic prowess was the order of the day. “Both the countries are nuclear powers, and with minimum deterrence in place, the possibility of a full scale war does not seem imminent.” Thus, both the sides had worked towards resumption of a peace dialogue, a number of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) had also been initiated.

As regards terrorism, both India and Pakistan considered it a threat to regional peace. But, the differing security perceptions were a major dividing factor between the two states. India under the garb of War on Terror (WoT) had not only tried to discredit Pakistan’s anti-terrorist moves but, had also campaigned to destabilize Pakistan. In the recent past, India had violated the LoC, infuriating Pakistan. US-India nuclear deal was also seen as a destabilizing factor and accelerating arms race in the region. He concluded that for the resumption of peace process between India and Pakistan, the Kashmir issue had to be resolved. Kashmiris should also be included in the peace process.

“Peace in South Asia: A Way Forward” by Mr. Shamindra Ferdinando, Senior Journalist Daily ‘The Island’ Colombo, Sri Lanka. While discussing peace in South Asia, the speaker referred to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealem (LTTE) insurgency in Sri Lanka. He said that the India sponsored insurgency in Sri Lanka was one of the bloodiest internal conflicts in South Asia. LTTE was as powerful as Al-Qaeda and Sri Lanka fought for nearly three decades. Among the regional states, Pakistan played an important role in restoring peace in Sri Lanka.

The growing interest of the US and China in the region and their regional alliances were highlighted. It was pointed out that the US tilt towards Pakistan was primarily to counter terrorism, while the US-India alliance was to undermine China’s regional influence. It was further reiterated that the US-China competition, emerging China-Russia ties and the frosty India-China relations had a direct bearing on the politics of South Asia. Meanwhile, in the backdrop of US and China regional alliances, the US-Japan defence alliance and the South China Sea disputes were also likely to impact South Asia. On terrorism, it was underscored that the regional stability was largely dependent on security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The India-Pakistan issues, especially Kashmir, was cited as a source of instability. It was stated that the India-Pakistan hostile relations had greatly marginalized SAARC’s regional role. Besides, Indian defence buildup (arms purchased worth US $ 5.5 billion from the US) and civilian nuclear deal with the US was also a source of concern for regional actors.

South Asia and foreign power influence was discussed. It was reiterated that the Western governments intervention on the plea of peace and stability was primarily to further their hidden agendas. In this endeavour, NGOs had also been employed to influence the decision making process. South Asia was a victim of foreign intervention and the Afghan wars were a testament to this reality.

Chairperson, Mr. Inam ul Haque, Chairman IPRI Board of Governors and former Foreign Minister of Pakistan said: “In the larger perspective, there is a strategic competition between the US and China, one being an established power and the other trying to gain the super power status. The US along with its allies namely Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, Philippines and South Korea is trying to contain China. The US led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement under which the US is negotiating with Pacific nations of Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam is a move in this direction. Remarkably, China is not a part of TPP that aims at strengthening US business opportunities in the region. In this strategic competition, both the US and China are trying to reinforce influence in South Asia. Both global players are trying to woo India.”

Over the prevailing turmoil in the Islamic world, it was stated that the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan was the result of US led policies. The event of 9/11 was neither planned nor executed from Afghanistan, but the people of Afghanistan and also Pakistan had turned out to be the worst sufferers. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the by-product of the US led War on Terror (WoT). The US invasion of Iraq was undertaken on the false plea of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Iraq was thrust into chaos and the situation gave rise to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Similarly, in Libya, the West intervened for so called humanitarian cause and subsequently, the country had been plunged into chaos. In Syria and Yemen also there was chaos; Arabs were fighting against each other.

Unconventional security threats, including climate change, global warming, ozone depletion, chemical pollution, water scarcity, population explosion were highlighted. It was urged that through regional cooperation these security threats could be countered.

Concluding Session

Ambassador Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs in his concluding remarks commended the IPRI for convening two-day international conference on “Policy Approaches of South Asian Countries and their Impact on the Region.” He said: “each country has its own priorities, dictated by the unique contours of its geography, demography, power projection capability and natural endowments. South Asia is an important sub-region of the Asian continent with rich culture, history and heritage, yet relations among the countries of the region have remained incoherent and antagonistic, admittedly much of it on account of historical reasons. Consequently, intra-regional cooperation as a group has not been as vibrant, as is the potential.

Mr. Fatemi said that South Asian region was confronted with numerous challenges which presented formidable policy making difficulties to the decision-makers. Aftershocks of global economic crisis affected the economic development of the region. Terrorist outfits with regional and global footprints had already wreaked havoc in the region. Climate change and natural disasters pose serious risk to poverty alleviation efforts of regional countries. Increasing populations continued to strain food security. Rapid and sustainable growth was the need of the hour to provide education, healthcare, and adequate employment opportunities to young population of South Asian region. Despite numerous bilateral efforts and existence of SAARC for almost three decades, South Asia remained the least integrated region in the world, denying the fruits of prosperity to its teeming billions. Mr. Fatemi said that in order to meet these challenges all regional countries need to work together in an atmosphere that would be free of mistrust and hostility. According to Mr. Fatemi, this region had not embarked upon the road to prosperity due to lingering political and territorial disputes. Therefore, collective work for resolving differences could exploit the vast potential of the region.

While talking about relations with India, Mr. Fatemi said that after the 2014 elections in India, in which the BJP secured an overwhelming majority, Pakistan again made positive overtures. It was encouraging for Pakistan that the common emphasis of the leadership of the two countries on development agenda presented solid basis for mutually beneficial engagement. In this backdrop, the Prime Minister took the decision to visit New Delhi last May, to convey his good wishes to the newly elected Prime Minister Modi and to express his earnest desire for turning a new page. In his interactions in New Delhi, the Prime Minister repeatedly emphasized that cooperation, not confrontation, should be the main dynamic in South Asia. Though his vision appeared to have found resonance in India, the positive trajectory was never translated into concrete actions. The Foreign Secretary level talks were called off by India on a flimsy pretext; the LoC and Working Boundary got heated up and remained so through the best part of 2014 and early 2015. While the Indian leadership indulged in counterproductive and hostile rhetoric, thus vitiating the atmosphere further. That all this was going on, while Pakistan was carrying out Operation Zarb-e-Azab, a massive operation in North Waziristan against the terrorists, was deeply disappointing.

He reiterated that “in the interest of regional peace, stability and sustainable development, improved ties between Pakistan and India remain a necessary condition. Meaningful dialogue to settle all issues, in a just manner, remain a sine qua non for the establishment of mutually beneficial ties between the two South Asian neighbours. India’s massive military build-up, both conventional and nuclear, adds to Pakistan concerns, as it adversely impacts upon the strategic stability in the region. Recent statements from the Indian capital have been irresponsible and inflammatory.” He said that India needed to recognize that an enduring Pakistan-India relationship had to be built on the basis of mutual respect and sovereign equality.

Mr. Fatemi informed that Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan were improving rapidly. Since the new government came into power in Kabul, the leadership of the two countries embarked upon an ambitious and sustainable programme of mutual cooperation in counter-terrorism, border security, beefing trade and economic ties and bringing upon peace and reconciliation within the country. The visit of President Ghani to Pakistan, last November, opened a new phase in Pakistan-India bilateral relations.

Mr. Fatemi remarked that Pakistan’s relations with China were excellent. The cordial relationship between the two countries had been a factor for stability in the region. The Chinese leadership’s vision of “peaceful co-existence” and its reach-out to the neighbourhood on the basis of “win-win cooperation” for realizing the “Chinese Dream of National Rejuvenation” complemented Pakistan’s own policies towards its neighbouring countries. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was destined to be a game-changer in not only bilateral ties, but for the entire region, as it would enhance regional connectivity in all sectors. However, the Indian opposition to the Corridor was surprising and inappropriate. He assured that CPEC project would focus on regional connectivity for economic development and prosperity of the common people of not only Pakistan, but the entire region. Moreover, Pakistan continued to enjoy exemplary relations with Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal. The recent visits of the Presidents of Sri Lanka and the Maldives contributed towards enhancing the scope of cooperative ties with those countries. Mr. Fatemi suggested that South Asian countries needed to accelerate efforts towards regional integration and economic growth as, South Asian region was witnessing the emergence of new economic blocs leading to a scramble by major powers to assert themselves in Asia and the Pacific.

Mr. Fatemi told that “terrorism afflicts the entire region, and requires collective endeavours for its eradication.  Development of regional mechanisms could help in countering this menace.” He stressed upon the need of strengthening regional organization of South Asia, i.e. SAARC, in order to meet the multifarious challenges. Strengthening SAARC would enable the regional countries to effectively identify the areas of convergence and cooperation. It would also help in addressing common issues of the region.

Mr. Fatemi opined that more coherent South Asia with an appreciation of the global and regional challenges could tackle effectively the impediments and obstacles confronting this region. If South Asian countries remained at peace with each other by settling the core intra-regional issues, the region could also contribute to global efforts for peace and development. He concluded that efforts of individual country would not be as meaningful as collective endeavour of whole regional states.

Mr. Fatemi highlighted government’s commitment and efforts for peace and stability in the region. He said that Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s vision of peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with all countries of the region and his policy of “Peace for development” was the cornerstone of the Government’s domestic and regional agenda. Mr. Fatemi assured that in order to proactively advance Pakistan’s core national objective of economic development, creating a peaceful external environment was a prerequisite. Therefore, the present government’s foremost priority was building a “peaceful neighbourhood”.

Mr. Kristof Duwearts, Resident Representative, Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Pakistan Office, Islamabad in his concluding remarks appreciated Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) for successfully conducting two days’ conference on this important subject. He hoped that the deliberations of the conference would have educated the students and scholars. Mr. Duwearts hoped that the conference recommendations would be useful for bureaucrats and policy makers, in South Asia.

Ambassador Sohail Amin, President, IPRI, in his vote of thanks thanked all participants who attended the conference for their valuable contribution and gracious presence. He appreciated the scholars who presented their papers and the audience who participated in lively discussion sessions that resulted into better understanding of policy approaches of South Asian countries. He informed the audience that contributions of the speakers would be compiled as a book in next few months.

Recommendations

  • The regional connectivity should be increased in South Asia for exploitation of untapped economic opportunities.
  • For better connectivity in South Asia, China should be made a full member of SAARC.
  • Construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor should be materialized to strengthen inter-regional connectivity among South Asian countries and their intra-regional association.
  • To ensure human security, resources are needed. South Asian states need to get together to pursue the foremost common goal of protecting human security.
  • Pakistan should make use of its youth bulge for national development.
  • Think tanks within political parties should be established for smooth and tangible policy formulation processes.
  • Role of bureaucracy is to provide input in the policy making and the political elites should be the real formulators of policies.
  • South Asia lacks common decision making platform. It needs regional and multi-lateral forums for policy implementation about regional cooperation.
  • The implementation process of policy making in South Asian states should be de-politicized.
  • Only one state should not take strategic decisions. This may be detrimental to other states of South Asia.
  • All SAARC states should strive for peace and stability in Afghanistan since it will be of benefit to all.
  • There is a need for capacity-building and to avoid paper tiger policies that remain dormant as they are not backed up by political will.
  • There is a need for more participatory policy consultations and to avoid political alienation and contentions policies.
  • In South Asia, policy-making process should be democratized.
  • In the wake of the US and NATO drawdown from Afghanistan, South Asian states should revisit their policies to encourage regional cooperation.
  • Anti-war and pro-peace consensus among the South Asian states should be achieved.
  • In policy formulation phase, discourses should be discussed and scholars from multiple areas of expertise should be engaged.
  • Inter-ministerial collaboration should be enhanced in order to reap greater benefits.
  • There is a need to take account of inherent societal weaknesses while formulating policies.
  • The resolution of inter-state conflicts is necessary to meet challenges of non-traditional security threats such as climate change, etc. that impact all regional countries.
  • There is a need to ensure that trade within SAARC is fair and equitable for all and not skewed in just one country’s favour.
  • Trade facilitation is an important element of current trade and development agendas. It can contribute to a reliable, transparent and predictable environment for the movement of goods and services across borders.
  • To facilitate trade, single window system for clearance of goods should be introduced with online documentation.
  • Existing infrastructure at the Integrated Check Posts at Land Corridors should be put to optimal use and vehicle scanners should be installed for speedy clearance.
  • A financial agreement covering all countries should be reached for permitting more banks to operate across borders and set-up branches in each other’s territory.
  • There is a need of innovative, participatory, non-elite biased multi-level policy networks and alliances to address issues of transnational relevance and ramifications.
  • The ongoing Kashmir dispute has to be resolved. To ignore it or to undermine its centrality would strengthen adversarial relationships.
  • The major world powers should be regularly made aware of ongoing human rights violations in Kashmir.
  • More and more confidence building measures (CBMs) should be introduced between India and Pakistan to eliminate distrust.
  • Both electronic and print media in India and Pakistan should focus on how to minimize friction and maximize goodwill with a view to influence the political leaders to make efforts towards the resolution of mutual disputes.
  • The future of peace in South Asia rests heavily upon the Indo-Pak equation. India should welcome Pakistan’s efforts for resolution of disputes by resuming the stalled composite dialogue process.
  • SAARC charter should be amended so as to revisit the prospects of peace, stability and economic development in the region.
  • The governments of South Asia should work together for regional peace, cooperation and connectivity.
  • India should stop employing its intelligence assets to destabilize Pakistan.
  • To end poverty in South Asia, it is vital to implement people-centric approach, invest in education and development, and defuse sources of hatred and violence in the region.
  • Climate change has raised the threat of population migration, conflict over water and realignment of power among nations. It is essential to address these issues to reduce possibility of rising tensions between nations.
  • We need to ensure that trade in SAARC is fair and equitable for all and not skewed in just one country’s favour.
  • For sustainable peace in South Asia, SAARC countries should focus their policies on social-economic, political, cultural transformation to uplift the standard of life.
  • South Asia needs to focus on hydropower generation to reduce the cost of fuel from abroad.
  • To tap the potential of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it is vital to enhance the regional connectivity, build confidence in Afghanistan and assure India of mutual benefits from CPEC and BCIM corridors.
  • The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) is an important initiative that needs to be put on immediate implementation.

Conclusion

South Asia as a region has failed to grow in comparison to other regional blocs like ASEAN, EU etc. The relations among the regional countries are incoherent due to lingering political and territorial disputes. Due to the perception biases, the regional states have failed to bridge their differences. To move forward in this era of globalization, cross border connectivity and regional integration is required. The need is to think from a regional perspective, and together emerge on the world stage as a regional bloc. Regional states will have to come forth, open up towards each other and grow as a region. The regional actors opposing the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor are in actual sense against the region’s progress. Apart from CPEC regional connectivity, integration projects including BCIM, CASA and TAPI should also be pursued.

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

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About the Author

Mr. Khurram Abbas is Assistant Research Officer (ARO) at Islamabad Policy Research Institute. He holds MPhil degree in International Relations from National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad. He is doing his PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) from Centre for International Peace and Stability (CIPS), NUST, Islamabad and his thesis is “Role of Social Media in Radicalization Process: Analysis of Muslim World with Particular Reference to Pakistan". His area of interest includes, Perception Management, Role of Social Media, De-Radicalization Strategies, Counter Violent Extremism, Religious Extremism in South Asian region with particular emphasis on India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Abbas regularly participates in National and International Conferences. He undertakes extensive research and regularly contributes in academic research journals and national/international dailies. Email: khurram306pcips@nipcons.nust.edu.pk

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