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Two-Day International Conference “Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia”

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Two-Day International Conference

“Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia”

Organized by

Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

In collaboration with

Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad


Serena Hotel, Islamabad

     November 14-15, 2017


Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) in collaboration with the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad organized a two day International Conference on “Regional Dynamics and Strategic Concerns in South Asia” on November 14-15, 2017 at Serena Hotel, Islamabad. Speakers from Afghanistan, China, Germany, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka and the US and the Shanghai cooperation organisation (SCO) Secretariat participated in the conference and presented their papers. The conference was aimed to analyse the regional dynamics and strategic stability concerns in South Asia are affecting the overall strategic outlook for Pakistan. Further, it was intended to find plausible recommendations for policy makers in Pakistan and Proceedings of the Conference.

Concept Note

Geographically, South Asia comprises of the states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It is located contiguously to the Middle East, Central Asia, China and the Indian Ocean. Apart from geography and shared history, there is little that encourages or compels the South Asia region to cohere. Quite on the contrary, South Asia today is counted as one of the least integrated regions of the world with the intra-regional trade merely accounting for 5 per cent as compared to 58 percent of the European Union (EU), 52 percent of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) region and 26 percent of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) zone. These challenges over the years have been compounded by harsh natural calamities, human and food security, mounting economic crunches, changing security paradigms and above all, the birth of transnational terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.

            Socially, the region is diverse and unique as it holds people from different backgrounds and ethnicities together. However, the region’s political dimension is cluttered as a spirit of nationalism among states prevails stronger, which more often than not overshadows the prospects of regionalism. The ambitions of economic interaction and interdependence have largely remained unaddressed due to polarization among regional states. The assessment of social-political trends in South Asia reflects that the region is facing multi-dimensional challenges of socioeconomic and political-military nature. The 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, comprising of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is especially relevant for South Asian countries as the region accounts for 37 per cent of the world’s poor, nearly half of the world’s malnourished children, and suffers from a number of development and infrastructure gaps.

In spite of having geographical contiguity, many believe that South Asia will continue to be a major conflict prone area on the globe. The two major countries of South Asia, i.e. Pakistan and India have mostly inherited their core issues, especially the Jammu And Kashmir dispute,  from the times of partition in 1947. Geographically, Pakistan only shares borders with India and Afghanistan, while India shares borders with other states of the region, while a majority of bilateral issues between the two countries is rationalized to a certain extent. In the given environment, the region cannot capitalize upon the economic benefits related to regional integration of South Asia and its connectivity with neighbouring regions.

Despite the presence of a unity government in Afghanistan, the security situation has further deteriorated. In order to build peace in Afghanistan, various consulting groups have been established to facilitate negotiations between the Afghan government and all ethnic groups but so far no major success could be achieved. The looming terrorism threat continues to be one of the prime concerns of the United States of America. The situation is further complicated by the rising presence of Daesh in the region. Donald Trump in his speech on South Asia on August 21, 2017 hascommitted the US engagement in Afghanistan by sending more troops. He announced to further develop US strategic partnership with India and giving it a bigger role in Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan has the potential to undermine the prospects of inter-regional connectivity of Central Asia to South Asia and West Asia upto Europe. In this context, security in Afghanistan is paramount for security in South Asia.

The long and persistent influence of external powers in decision making in South Asia has partly impacted the political evolution of these states. Since the end of the Cold War, the US is aiming to maintain its influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean for strategic reasons. This strategic interest of the US is visible from its strategic partnership agreements with India and Afghanistan, and its longstanding engagement in Pakistan. 

From a Pakistani perspective, the engagement of Russia in South Asia seems to be more pragmatic in the context of its relations with India and Pakistan and its efforts towards bringing peace in Afghanistan. Besides maintaining good relations with India, Russia is also reaching out to Pakistan. Furthermore, Russia is engaged in Afghanistan to fight Daesh and resolve the Afghan issue through reconciliation. In another development, the SCO has extended its membership to Pakistan and India in June 2017. SCO, with its commitment to principles of conflict resolution may help both the rival countries to resolve their political issues peacefully. It can also play a positive role towards the regional integration.

The rise of China as an economic power may be an opportunity for South Asia to reap economic benefits from its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in general and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in particular. With the exception of India, South Asian countries view China as a reliable partner that helps countries in their economic development in a tangible manner while respecting the countries’ sovereignty. On the other hand, Washington’s tilt towards New Delhi and the Indo-US Strategic partnership seems to be largely driven by China’s growing economic engagement in South Asia, West Asia and Asia Pacific. As the inter-regional re-alignments continue to evolve, the regional dynamics and aspects of strategic stability in South Asia would remain to be a matter of concern. The academic community partly believes that given the emergence of China as a global economic power, the US is assisting India in balancing the influence of China in Asia. The argument therefore may go that this geopolitical alignment would make India a hegemonic power in South Asia.

Balance of power in South Asia revolves around the maintenance of the nuclear and conventional military equation between India and Pakistan on one hand and interplay of politics among the United States, China and Russia in the region, on the other hand. Bilateral strategic partnerships in the context of defence cooperation may well be hindering strategic stability in the region. These developments are definitely disturbing the existing conventional and strategic balance in the region. Pakistan’s Strategic Restraint Regime proposal seeks to address the fundamental security challenges once and for all.

The above discussed complex politico-strategic situation in South Asia in general, and the Indo-Pakistan relationship in particular gets further aggravated because of the unresolved Jammu and Kashmir dispute. The ongoing quest by Kashmiris for their right to self-determination is creating a deep rift, which may only be solved through multilateral efforts, while at the same time hindering rapprochement between the two major stakeholders in South Asia. Moreover, the lack of resolution of the Afghan conflict and other outstanding issues between Pakistan and India adds to the complexities. It is disturbing that heavy expenditure on defence in South Asia is being made at the cost of South Asia’s economic progress and regional integration. Major Powers must help to maintain South Asian strategic stability and also help South Asia in resolving the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and the Afghanistan conflict. The South Asian countries, too, need to work seriously in resolving their disputes to avoid an arms race and focus on the CPEC related regional connectivity and their economic development.

The regional and global political landscape in recent years since the announcement of China’s one Belt and One Road initiative in 2014 has been transformed rapidly. The recent years have seen several developments-ranging from ‘Donald Trump’s assumption of power’ to ‘Britain’s slow exit from the EU and resulting policy shifts’, from ‘the possible end of ISIS’s self-styled caliphate in the Middle East’ to ‘Saudi-Qatar rift’, from ‘deteriorating situation in Afghanistan’ to ‘Pakistan and India’s inclusion in SCO’ and from ‘Indo-US strategic partnership’ to ‘the current relationship between Pakistan and India’. All these developments will have implications for emerging dynamics and strategic concerns in South Asia. In the light of the foregoing, IPRI organized a Two-Day International Conference in collaboration with Hans Seidel Foundation (HSF), in which eminent scholars from Afghanistan, China, Germany, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka and the US participated in the conference and presented their papers.

Inaugural Session

Ambassador Abdul Basit, President Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), in his welcome address, greeted the chief guest, chairs of the sessions, speakers and the audience. He identified that one of the primary objectives of Pakistan’s foreign policy is to have peace in the region and beyond. Rather, the country fully realizes that unless it has normal and mutually beneficial relations with all its neighbours, Pakistan cannot fully realize its economic potential and development agenda. Therefore, it is trying its best to help achieve reconciliation in Afghanistan. Elaborating further he said that Pakistan is also open to a sustained and meaningful dialogue with India with a view to resolving all the bilateral issues, especially the Jammu and Kashmir Dispute. He observed that Pakistan is fully aware of its responsibilities as a nuclear power. The country is not interested in an arms race with India. However, Pakistan will take any step that is necessary to maintain the credibility of its deterrence. This is absolutely necessary to maintain the strategic balance in the region lest India be tempted to resort to any misadventure, he added. To conclude, he suggested that the international community, especially the major powers, needs to appreciate Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and interests in the region because Pakistan’s struggle is for establishing peace in the region and it will continue striving for peace. 

Dr. Jens Jakisch, Charge d’affaires, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Islamabad, in his opening remarks pointed out that the conference is a testimony of Pakistan and Germany’s strong commitment to promoting frank and focused discussions on topical issues. He stressed on the need for the constant pursuit of peace and stability in SA through the dialogue process. While giving an example from German history, he said that Germany had learned that sustained dialogue is the only way out of conflict and confrontation. He added that during the cold war era, when the world was very unstable, the large-scale confrontation had only been averted because of sustained dialogue and restraint, and that South Asia could draw certain conclusions from the European experience in that regard. He was of the view that confrontation in SA could be avoided through mutual engagement and constant dialogue. Elaborating further, he said the South Asian region needs confidence-building measures that would facilitate in creating a win-win situation for the region. He hoped that the deliberations would help put things in their correct perspectives and come up with tenable solutions to the many complex challenges, which South Asia is facing. To conclude, he suggested that SA should proactively seek to end the zero-sum game, which had been around for too long already.

The Chief Guest, his Excellency General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, NI (M), Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CICSC), Joint Staff Headquarters, in his inaugural address pointed out the importance of understanding South Asian construct as the region’s stability is pivotal in determining global peace and prosperity in which the United States (US) and China have a central role to play in influencing the geostrategic direction of the region. Expounding upon the India’s nefarious role he observed that India is stoking up chaos and anarchy in the region, especially Indian involvement in anti-Pakistan activities. Besides, Delhi is creating trouble inside Pakistan by sponsoring groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and sub-nationalist groups in Balochistan, he added. Elaborating further, he identified that India has set up a Balochistan operational cell under the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to devise a radical force for subversion and terrorist activities in the province. In fact, it is playing with fire as it is intensifying up the threat perceptions in SA. He believed that India continues to engage Pakistan through an asymmetric strategy and manoeuvres. It is even making an endeavour to subsume conventional methods, such as surgical strikes — phantom or otherwise — into the realm of sub-conventional war. He warned that India’s growing military force (80 percent Pakistan-centric force potential) has raised chances of destruction and the ceasefire violations of the Line of Control (LOC) could turn into a war like situation in South Asia. He emphasised that enduring peace could be achieved in SA only through the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He cautioned that India’s wishful thinking of escalating the tension into a greater conflict will be dealt accordingly. Shedding light on the Afghanistan’s instability, he observed that instability in Afghanistan is hampering the path to regional economic integration. Taking about the China, Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said that the project has come into direct conflict with India’s interests. Explaining further, he said that Indian intelligence agency RAW has established a special cell at a cost of 500 million dollars to sabotage the CPEC.

Session 1: Regional Dynamics of South Asia 

Admiral Dr. Jayanath Colombage, Former Chief of Sri Lankan Navy and Director, Pathfinder Foundation, Sri Lanka gave a talk on “Assessment of Socio-Political Trends in South Asia.” He defined the South Asian maritime domain as a region of three ‘S’- Strategic Competition; Strategic Convergence; and Strategic Dilemma. He observed that the major conflicting situation in the region is the mistrust between India and Pakistan. Shedding light on competition for power and influence in SA he stated that the rise of China as a world economic and military power and its focus in this region has resulted in creating a strategic convergence between India, USA, and Japan, i.e. the maritime trinity mainly to counter growing Chinese influence and power in the region. This has led to an undeclared ‘Maritime Cold War’ in SA region. Besides, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and maritime infrastructure investments in the region are also seen with suspicion by these major players. To conclude, he warned that this competition for power and influence in SA has put smaller, less powerful states of the region in a strategic dilemma and would hinder future social, political and economic development.

Dr. Boris Volkhonsky, Associate Professor, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University, Russia presented his views on “Pakistan and India’s SCO Membership and its Impact on their Future Relations.” He pointed out that with the accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) of India and Pakistan in 2017, the total population of the SCO reaches 45 percent of the global total, with the collective GDP exceeding one-third of the global one. Elaborating further, he observed that this fact makes the SCO a game changer and an important factor in the new emerging multi-polar world order. He identified four challenges to the SCO, such as First, instability in Afghanistan, which presents the biggest threat to the security of the whole region. Second, the BRI including its flagship project the CPEC and International North–South Transport (INSTC) corridor (its main participants being Russia, India, Iran, and Azerbaijan) are facing challenges in complement to each other. For instance, the integration of the Eurasia does not suit the interest of the outside forces, which see in it a threat to their global dominance. Therefore, the world has witnessed the attempts to undermine these projects such as a separatist movement in Balochistan supported from outside. Similarly, the first trilateral Russian–Iranian–Azerbaijani summit in August 2016 strangely “coincided” with a new aggravation of the situation in Nagorno (Mountainous) Karabakh. Third, one of the risks regarding India and Pakistan simultaneously joining the SCO lies in a possibility of their bilateral differences and conflicts being brought to the table of the SCO. He highlighted that until now, Pakistan and India as well as “older” SCO members have been cautious enough not to threaten the integrity of the SCO by including the conflicting bilateral issue into the agenda. But that does not mean that such issues can be totally excluded, he added. Fourth, water scarcity is posing a security threat to the region, as many experts believe it would be a main reason for the 21st-century wars.

Mr. Biswas Baral, Op-Ed Editor, Republica National Daily, Kathmandu, while presenting his views on “Nepal, Nontraditional Security Challenges in South Asia,” he stated that in preceding centuries, the gravest security threats a nation-state faced were armies of other states. On the contrary, in the 21st century, this is no longer the case. But, increasingly, the threats to modern nation-states come from non-traditional security threats. These include changing demography, terrorism, non-state actors, such as terrorist networks, drug cartels, maritime piracy networks, intrastate conflict actors, cross-border crimes, refugees, food and water shortage, growing energy needs, cyber-hacking, those engaged cyber-warfare, etc., these threats have assumed importance as threats to national security. Discussing the challenge of climate change, he warned that it is increasingly leading to unpredictable weather patterns, including floods and landslides, which in turn have caused large-scale migrations (climate refugees), resultantly putting grave security challenges. He predicted that a warming climate is also contributing to an acute shortage of water, particularly in densely populated Indus and Ganges basins. There is now a distinct possibility of ‘water wars’ between South Asian countries in the near future. He stressed that as climate change contributes to the fragility of nation-states, by undercutting state legitimacy and undermining the state sovereignty, it is important that all our national and regional plans and policies incorporate climate change. To conclude, he emphasized that there is a need for a collective response in tackling the ill effects of climate change, which should be a top priority of the SAARC agenda. That is why; the time has come to mainstream climate change into the SAARC process and to work out regional and sub-regional cooperation frameworks to deal with the transnational effects of climate change.

Mr. Didier Chaudet, Independent Consultant on Eurasia and South Asia, Non-Resident Scholar, IPRI, and Editing Director, Center for the Analysis of Foreign Policy, France spoke on “The Rise of China – Shift from Geo-strategic to Geo-economics: Impact on South Asia.” He identified geopolitical and geo-economics as the two important regional dynamics in the current scenario. Elaborating further he said that the classical analysis of foreign affairs has often been influenced by geopolitics and to defend the geopolitical goals, the international affairs and European History have given the tools such as the use of force, or diplomacy. But he observed that the rise of China reminds of the international community that there is another way for a state, in particular, a great power, to achieve the geopolitical goals through geo-economics such as BRI including CPEC. He maintained that the geo-economics are the use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests and to produce beneficial geopolitical results. Such a new tool for power projection has the advantage to offer a potential win-win situation between states, and to create better relations between countries, rather than to nurture tensions, he added.

He argued that no matter how positive geoeconomics can be in theory, great power politics and rivalry always dominates international affairs. It is very clear in China’s policy of geoeconomics towards South Asia, where China does not use only classical tools to gain geopolitical advantages, but has been a forerunner of using geoeconomics policy to succeed as a great power, which necessarily has an impact on its regional environment. He emphasized that the influence of a strong China in SA could be positive for the region as a whole. But it cannot dissipate India’s fears and rivalry toward China. He opined that geoeconomics here can even feed the rivalry between the two powers, where weaker powers like India is  refusing to see China having an influence in the South Asian regional environment. To conclude, he argued that geoeconomics can help in power projection of the state in a different way. But it is not yet the time for a real shift from classical/realist geopolitics to win-win geoeconomics.

Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, Parliamentary Committee on CPEC and the Chair of the Session remarked that geopolitical dynamics of power politics are rapidly changing in the world. In fact, there are three broader trends of such changing dynamic, which are impacting the regional politics, such as the resurgence of Asia in defining the world politics (rise of Asian Century), the rise of China (through new regionalism, e.g. BRI including the CPEC) and the emergence of the greater SA (which includes  Iran, Afghanistan, and CAR’s). Explaining the Pakistan’s role in the world affairs, he said that the country has been in the eye of the storm for past several decades, whether it has been a host to the world’s largest refugee population for the longest time or as a partner in fighting the global War on Terror. Elaborating further, he highlighted that Pakistan has fought the longest and most successful inland war against terrorism. It is a country with the highest soldier to officer ratio of casualties in the world, he added. He pointed out that the people of SA have collectively stood against Indian hegemony in the region, which the latter has been trying to enforce on all its smaller neighbours. Rather, India has failed miserably in isolating and demonising Pakistan in the region, which is now the hub of the new wave of regionalism of which CPEC is the centrepiece, he concluded.

Session II: Strategic Concerns in South Asia

Dr. Wei Zongyou, Professor, Center for American Studies, Fudan University, China, in his paper on “US-China Relations: Prospects and Challenges”, explained that with Donald Trump elected as the US president and his America First foreign policy mantle, and President Xi Jinping emerging from the newly-ended 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China even more powerful and vowing to rejuvenate his country, Sino-US relations had entered a period of turbulence and uncertainty. He said as no-apology preachers of China Dream and America First, both President Xi and Trump vowed to see their policies and agendas set in motion under their watch. He said that how these two different versions with a heavy dose of nationalist flavours can proceed smoothly against each other, especially in the backdrop of an emerging power transition, is an open question. He further added that for all the challenges and alarms, there’s still room for optimism about the future of China-US relations. First, President Xi’s China Dream does not necessarily collide with Trump’s America First. He explained that Xi’s China Dream is fundamentally based on domestic development and modernization, to make the Chinese economy more domestic-driven and consumption oriented. He concluded his speech by saying that the China-US economic relations are not zero-sum, but a win-win set.

Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States (Asia Programme), Washington, DC, while discussing “US Strategic Interests and Priorities in South Asia”, said that the US and China had a multidimensional relationship that cut across increasingly large swathes of each other’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests. He further added that the relationship between the US and China is characterized by a mix of competition and cooperation, with the balance of those elements varying by issue and region, and fluctuating according to broader trends in the bilateral relationship. He said that the two sides are deeply embedded in a global economic order that requires the free movement of commerce and capital, providing a significant shared interest in the fundamental stability of the international system, from energy supplies to global finance. According to the speaker, however, translating these higher-order interests in practical cooperation has proved difficult, given the other ideological and strategic differences between the two sides. Mr. Small opined that China’s primary regional focus was its immediate neighbourhood in East Asia, and recent years had seen intensification in the competitive elements of the US-China relationship there. He pointed out that Sino-US competition was less acute in other regions, where Beijing’s military reach was more modest and its economic activities were often beneficial. He said that South Asia largely falls under this umbrella, and, except during times of exceptional crisis, has been a second order issue in the relationship.

Professor Dr. Syed Rifaat Hussain, Head, Government and Public Policy, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), in his paper, titled, “Strategic Stability in South Asia: Disturbing Factors,” talked about the risks to strategic stability in South Asia. According to his analysis, offence-dominant thinking and aggressive Indian-mindset is one of the biggest threats facing the region. He pointed out that Indian commitment to pursue extremist, exclusionary Hindutva ideology posed a threat to strategic stability. He said that by propounding and practicing extremist Hindu beliefs, BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party) under Modi is cultivating a hostile Indian mindset against Muslims everywhere. He opined that this behaviour by Indian government not only bodes ill for the rational handling of future crises between India and Pakistan, but also allows free rein to the forces of death and destruction. He further said that another source of threat in South Asia is Indian arms conventional build-up along with the expansion of its nuclear and missile programme. According to him the other disturbing factors in South Asia are growing population, increasing poverty, power transition dynamics with the rise of India and China, arms proliferation, the prolonged legacy of unresolved disputes, pipelines for transporting oil and gas as TAPI and IP, Proxy wars faltering peace processes and absence of peace dialogues. He recommended to strengthen and advance the political dialogue seeking resolution of the Kashmir situation for a stable South Asia.

Dr. Shabir Ahmed Khan, Associate Professor, Area Study Center, University of Peshawar, presented his views on “Russian Engagement in South Asia- Policy Options for Pakistan.” He said that recent deeds and agreements between Russia and Pakistan confirmed that there was an obvious change in Russia’s South Asia policy in favour of Pakistan. He highlighted that Russia has stopped viewing India as a counterweight to China in the region. He said that there is a clear shift in Russia’s policy in South Asia, where Pakistan assumes greater importance for Russia due to Afghanistan factor as well as to have access to the Arabian Sea and beyond via China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He said that in the contemporary regional geopolitical environment, Pakistan needed to take a positive and correct course of action through diversification of foreign relations, importantly, by having close relations with the Russian Federation to enhance its bargaining power in international dealings. In the rapidly changing global and regional geopolitical circumstances, Pakistan needs to diversify its foreign relations, importantly, by having close relations with the Russian Federation as a response to Russia’s shifting policy and tilt towards Pakistan.

Russia has tilted towards Pakistan and Pakistan needs to capitalize on the opportunity for having close strategic, political and economic relations with Russia. Pakistan, due to its geographical location can balance the interests of major powers in this region, by having close relations with Russia. He concluded his presentation by saying that Pakistan’s relations with Russia are mutually beneficial while Pakistan’s close cooperation with Russia does not stop it from having cooperative relations with other powers.

Session III: Strategic Situation in Afghanistan and its Regional Implications

Ambassador (R) Rustam Shah Mohmand, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan, spoke about “Pakistan’s Concerns on India’s Influence in Afghanistan”. He said that the ongoing conflict has multidimensional implications for Pakistan. They range from a stabilized border to acts of terrorism; decrease in the volume of bilateral trade to the plight of both refugees and returnees. He opined that ignoring the cost of not inviting attention to the root cause of the insurgency and the continuance of a conflict that has robbed the region of huge economic opportunities, Pakistan has instead remained preoccupied with India’s role in the West Asian country, and not formulated a robust approach for peace-making in Afghanistan, though it has made commendable contributions in stabilizing Afghanistan. Pakistan must seek support from China, Iran, and Turkey for Afghan reconciliation process and mainstream Taliban. He said that while Pakistan’s apprehensions about India’s increasing role in Kabul are natural, there can be no compromise on Islamabad insisting that Afghan soil should not be used covertly or overtly against its territory or people. He stressed that at the same time, Afghanistan’s right to formulate its own policies, both internal and external must also be acknowledged and respected. But no such policy that creates space for any force or country to operate against Pakistan’s interest should be allowed to practice.

Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar, Senior Advisor from the Ministry of Education, Kabul presented his views on “Countering Ingress of Daesh in Afghanistan: Regional and Global Perspective.” He was of the view that Daesh, Islamic State or ISIS are all part of the same terrorism industry. However, he said that while the entire globe hosts such agar plates like the Islamic State of Iraq, Asia in general and central Asia, specifically seems to be more generous where ISIS has over 8000 recruits.

He added that IS’s focus on conquering weak states is weakening strong states and to address this challenge a two-dimensional approach is needed. The first thing is to reform in social architecture of societies and secondly, popular Muslim scholarship needs to come forward and reinforce the true message of Islam by clarifying the true meaning of Jihad. He said that countries as nation states need to recognize that shared security is more secure than ensured security. He clarified that Pakistan should not be concerned about Indo-Afghan relations. He said that while Kabul welcomes economic assistance from any side, these relations with India will never be at the cost of Pakistan’s security.

Mr. Vladimir Potapenko, Deputy Secretary-General, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) presented his views on “Reconciliation Process in Afghanistan and Role of SCO.” He said that the armed confrontation in Afghanistan, which, despite the efforts of the country’s central government and external forces supporting it (including the SCO members) remains the main destabilizing factor in South Asia. He said that the SCO member states are interested in Afghanistan as a peaceful and neutral country that respects and observes human rights and freedoms and maintaining friendly relations with its neighbours. Outlining SCO’s vision, Mr Potapenko, highlighted that the Astana declaration resolutely supported the efforts of the Government and the people of Afghanistan aimed at asserting a peaceful and stable state free of terrorism, extremism and illegal drug trafficking based on the United Nations’ central coordinating role in international efforts to stabilize the country and ensure its development.

He observed that Kabul was being provided wide-scale assistance in the areas such as defence, law enforcement, transport development, energy, anti-drug operations, training national experts, etc., both on bilateral and multilateral basis. The SCO members take an active part in a number of important international, regional projects that also involve Afghanistan. However, the presence of the Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Afghanistan, many of whom are originally rooted from SCO member states, causes additional concern. He said that the return of militants, who fought on the side of international terrorist organizations, to their home countries can add to regional instability.

Ambassador (R) Mohammad Sadiq, Former National Security Secretary and Ambassador of Pakistan to Afghanistan, said that while the stalemate in Afghanistan is not going to end soon, there are clear ethnic fault-lines which the Taliban cannot cross. He said that no one knows what the US policy in Afghanistan will be under the Trump administration, but there is no likelihood of a permanent pullout of America from the region.

Session IV:Addressing Security Concerns in South Asia: A Way Forward

Professor Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Dean, Faculty of Contemporary Sciences, National Defence University, Islamabad, articulated his views on Resolving the Jammu and Kashmir Dispute: An Imperative for Regional Peace”. The presentation of Dr. Cheema began by tracing the brief historical background in addition to exploring the nature of the dispute. The second part concerned with the perceptions of various regions in the Kashmir. In the third part, the internationalization of the dispute was dissected. The fourth part underscored the human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) by Indian forces followed by the attempts to resolve the dispute. And the last part concluded with options for regional peace.

Before understanding the impact of the conflict, Dr. Cheema was of the opinion that it is imperative to understand the background of the conflict in order to move forward.  He asserted that since the martyrdom of BurhanWani in a typical murky operation of the Indian forces, the consequent intensification of the young Kashmiris’ movement has increased. Unfortunately, the Modi government has abandoned the policy of engagement in addition to emboldening the reign of terror in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). It was emphasised that for the last seventy years, the people of IOK have been inflicted with mass atrocities, devastation in the region and violation of human rights. Therefore, all the human toll and violation of human rights is the reflection of United Nations helplessness as well.

While defining the nature of the dispute, Dr. Cheema mentioned that while Kashmir is a majority Muslim state, however, the ruler of Kashmir opted to accede to India. Interestingly, the instrument of the accession in the original form is yet to be authenticated. Similarly, India does not apply the ‘principle of majority’ to Junagarh whose ruler opted for accession to Pakistan. He added that the current wave of the freedom struggle in Kashmir is dubbed as the Pakistan-backed pursuit rather than acknowledging it as the genuine interest of discontentment and desire for the self-determination. For Pakistan, Kashmir is the symbol of Indian high handedness and broken pledges. Pakistan argues that Kashmiris’ should be able to exercise the right of the self-determination under an UN-supervised plebiscite.

To conclude, the slow progress of the composite dialogue and backdoor diplomacy between Pakistan and India reflects the intractable nature of the dispute. Nevertheless, revitalising South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an involvement of the Kashmiris in addition to Pakistan and India, proactive approach, governmental as well as nongovernmental engagement are a few of the options to address the Kashmir dispute.

Dr. Christian Wagner, Senior Fellow, Asia Division, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), Germany focused on discussing “The Role of Global Powers in Building Cooperative Security Order in South Asia”.Dr. Wagner’s presentation comprised five main parts: the first part concerned with the definition of the security architecture followed by the comprehensive scope of the security. The second part emphasised the role of global powers that are active in the regional cooperative security order. The third part explored the main concern of the global powers in South Asia. The fourth part provided insights into the global powers’ contribution to building the cooperative security order. And the last part highlighted the future prospects of cooperative security order in South Asia.

The presentation of Dr. Wagner began with defining the broad contours of the security architecture. An excerpt from the book of William Tow, Brendan Taylor was highlighted to make the definitional aspect clear: “An overarching, coherent and comprehensive security structure for a geographically-defined area, which facilitates the resolution of that region’s policy concerns and achieves its security objectives.” While speaking on the comprehensive approaches, the security concerns of non-proliferation especially on NPT was underscored. For instance, there are 188 members of the treaty, as far as the viewpoints of the India and Pakistan are concerned. Dr. Wagner was of the opinion while global powers have played a role in the bilateral, Track II, and CBM’s capacities; however, the threats of terrorism, an absence of consensus in South Asia and slow progress of SAARC continue to embroil the region in conflict.

Speaking of the prospects of the regional cooperation, Dr. Wagner underlined that global powers will have the limited role, as they are likely to pursue their national interests in addition to the lack of the consensus. For example, Kashmir dispute is one of the classic examples that underline the problems. To sum up, Dr. Wagner opined that South Asian countries will have to rely on themselves, for example, an issue-specific order can be developed to mitigate the regional differences. However, in the long-term, states that have points of convergence shouldincrease focus on their cooperation, as global powers interest and presence may change in the region.

Lt. General (R) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, HI (M) Former Secretary Defence and Member, Advisory Board of the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad and Session Chair, emphasised the significance of economic cooperation in managing the regional conflicts. He was of the view that prolonging the regional conflicts is not in the interest of any state. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, stability in Afghanistan, and dialogue on Kashmir are few of the most important factors which offer the regional actors a way forward. The role of a third mediating party between Pakistan and India can facilitate in addressing the Kashmir dispute. Additionally, focus on the logic rather than sentiments, historical mistrust and narrow-interests are the keys to regional cooperation.Therefore, it is important to resolve the conflicts with the focus on improving the relations among South Asian states and ascertain out the direction ahead.

Concluding Session

On the behalf of Mr. Kristof W. Duwaerts, the Resident Representative of HSF, Mr. Omar Ali, the Program Coordinator at Hans Seidel Foundation (HSF), Islamabad,thanked the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) team for arranging the conference, given the significance of the sessions in shaping the future of Pakistan’s foreign policy and regional dynamics. He underlined the value of diverse aspects covered in the two-day discussions as well as formulating a balanced overview of the South Asian regional and strategic interplay.

In a vote of thanks, Ambassador (R) Abdul Basit, President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) appreciated the participants and speakers for raising pertinent questions and valuable discussions. He emphasised the significance of the Kashmir dispute in the regional dynamics in addition to accentuating effort to promote dialogue as well as regional cooperation.


  • To address the regional challenges, such as the instability in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Pakistan-India tensions, including nuclear issues, security of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Climate change and terrorism, it is important to achieve regional cooperation.
  • In the wake of the myriad of changes in the global politics and regional dynamics of South Asia and challenges being faced, the significance of strengthening regional cooperation has gained further primacy. However, divergence of interests in Afghanistan among the regional actors is the main impediment to regional cooperation.
  • In the context of regional cooperation, it is important to note that global powers will have the limited role, as they are likely to pursue their national interests in addition to the lack of consensus. Therefore, it is imperative for the regional actors of South Asia to find common grounds and engage in a dialogue process rather than relying on the extra-regional powers to quell the regional conflicts.
  • Fighting terrorism with the cooperation of Afghanistan and resolving disputes with India through dialogue need no emphasis, to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan, it is important to seek the cooperation of China, Turkey and Iran.
  • As compared to geopolitics, geoeconomics has the advantage to offer a potential win-win situation between states, and to create better relations between countries, rather than to nurture tensions.
  • Russia now seems open to suggestions towards improving Pakistan-Russia relations. Pakistan must come up with innovative approaches to respond more effectively to Russian overtures. Also, due to its geographical significance, Pakistan can balance the interests of major powers in this region, by having close relations with Russia. Pakistan’s close cooperation with Russia does not stop it from having cooperative relations with other major powers. .
  • The Afghan soil should not be used covertly or overtly against Pakistan. While it is Afghanistan’s prerogative to formulate its own policies, both internal and external, it should not ride roughshod over Pakistan’s legitimate interests. Pakistan cannot be oblivious to its security concerns emanating from Afghanistan.
  • IS’s focus on conquering weak states is weakening strong states and to address this challenge a two-dimensional approach is needed. The first thing is to reform in social architecture of societies and secondly, popular Muslim scholarship needs to come forward and reinforce the true message of Islam by clarifying the true meaning of Jihad. Countries need to recognize that shared security is more secure than ensured security..
  • External challenges and risks to Pakistan require a deeper understanding of foreign policy alignments and how that would impact regional stability. Policy makers in Pakistan should focus on how its foreign policy is required to be harmonized with the foreign policy of great powers to avoid risks threatening the stability with blow backs in the form of deteriorating relations, greater threats in the form of cross border terrorism and economic isolation.
  • There is a need for a collective response in tackling the ill effects of climate change, which should be a top priority of the SAARC agenda. It is required to mainstream climate change into the SAARC process and to work out regional and sub-regional cooperation frameworks to deal with the transnational effects of climate change. A collective response on effects of climate change at SAARC platform is very important, considering that the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in the region are at stake.
  • The role of a third mediating party between Pakistan and India can facilitate in addressing the Kashmir dispute. Additionally, focus on the logic rather than sentiments, historical mistrust and narrow-interests are the keys to regional cooperation.
  • Economics and security are highly interlinked with each other. In this regard, the Chinese citizens working in CPEC related projects should be provided security at all cost to enhance their confidence and facilitate their duty to work on the CPEC.
  • There are fundamental differences among regional states over regional security, which limit their role in the regional politics. Hence, regional states should establish new forms of cooperative security mechanisms in order to tackle common security challenges in the region.
  • The Indian Ocean order is needed for maintaining stability, freedom and security of seaborne commerce in the Indian Ocean region, which can be achieved through peaceful resolution of outstanding disputes, confidence building measures and win-win scenarios.
  • The United Nations should also play its role in resolving the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as also suggested by the Pakistan Prime Minister; saying that a UN initiative is necessary not only in terms of demonstrating its new assertive role but also to make the parties involved realize the urgency of peace in South Asia.
  • India’s asymmetric military build up and hostility towards Pakistan has increased under the leadership of Narendra Modi. In this context, Pakistan needs to maintain balance in wider geostrategic constructs and maintain a credible deterrence.
  • Pakistan should focus on the media projection of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, cantering on highlighting the indigenous nature of the Kashmiris’ freedom struggle, and human rights violations by the Indian security forces.
  • With Daesh attempting to gain foothold in Afghanistan, the role of the SCO in resolving Afghanistan crises is important. For that purpose, there is an urgent need to adopt a collective approach at the SCO level to achieve peace in Afghanistan on the win-win basis.
  • As Pakistan has bravely fought terrorism, corruption and mismanagement at home also need to be eradicated. To strengthen Pakistan’s economy, Pakistan should do everything to make the CPEC a success story.

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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