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India Pakistan
The Gains From Peace
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, March 13, 2003
 

Underlying the persistent tension between India and Pakistan is the misconceived notion that relations between the two countries can only be conducted within the framework of a zero sum game: Where Pakistan's gain constitutes a loss for India and vice-versa. This misperception is rooted in the mindset of bureaucracies and some members of the ruling elite in both countries. It is the basis of the view that patriotism requires maintaining a combative posture towards the neighboring country. Yet an objective assessment of the imperatives of state security and nation building in India and Pakistan requires a more enlightened view: Patriotism can be better expressed through seeking cooperation which can enable an improvement of the material well-being and flowering of the creative potential of their respective peoples. This becomes apparent when we focus on the human condition and the physical environment of South Asia. Consider, because of inadequate diet of lactating mothers and poor health facilities, millions of children are born stunted in body and mind. Similarly millions of people die from water borne diseases, due to the fact that the majority of the population in South Asia does not have access over hygienic drinking water. A large proportion of the population that manages to survive, lives in a state of malnutrition due to inadequate food and is subjected to life long suffering because of lack of health facilities. Of those who manage to survive these hazards only a few succeed in acquiring an education and many of those who do, face unemployment. Continuing conflict between India and Pakistan will only mean continuing suffering for their people. Peace and cooperation will help to overcome this suffering. Therefore it is not a zero sum game. Not only the present life of the people of South Asia but their physical life support systems in the future depend upon cooperation.

Inspite of the great variety of culture, language and perception amongst the sovereign states of South Asia, it is an undeniable fact that the geographical entity of South Asia constitutes an integrated eco-system. This is dominated by two sub-systems, namely the Himalayan mountain system and the seas in the south, which influence the entire region in terms of climate, the rivers, the state of soils and other vital resources. The consequence of a common ecology is that human intervention in one country affects human existence in another. For example rapid depletion of forests in the water-shed areas of Nepal results in devastating flash floods in Bangladesh. Similarly deforestation in water-shed areas in India results in increased soil erosion, more muddy rivers and hence premature clogging up of the dams downriver in Pakistan. Again if neighboring countries set up thermal plants without treating the poisonous sulphur exhaust, wind currents in summer will carry the pollutants from West to East and in winter from East to West across international borders. Finally throwing untreated industrial waste into a river upstream by one country, can cause toxicity and the consequent elimination of fish species and mangrove forests downstream for another country.

To the extent that the people of South Asia share the same air and in some cases the same rivers, it means that the lungs and intestines of people in one country are being affected by the way people of the neighboring country dispose of their industrial effluents. In this sense the relationship between our peoples even where it is not visible, is truly organic! Therefore, as in the case of society, the environment provides a dimension for reaching out across national frontiers in South Asia for collective well-being.

What are the specific areas in which Regional Cooperation could be pursued in South Asia? Some of the more urgent ones are as follows:

i) Cooperation to build economic infrastructure to enhance investment, growth and employment in the two countries.

ii) Sharing of knowledge on institution building and low cost technologies for improving health, sanitation, provision of clean drinking water and education.

iii) Joint efforts at re-forestation of water sheds, and the treatment of industrial and urban effluent waste could help reduce soil erosion, devastating flash floods and toxicity of rivers.

iv) Sharing of bio-saline research and technical know-how on controlling desertification of soils. (For example use of plants such as Halogenic Phradophytes for controlling salinity).

v) Sharing of know-how on ecologically sound industrial technologies and cost effective and safe methods of effluent disposal.

vi) Sharing of information on water-flow of rivers, especially flood forecasting.

vii) Engaging in joint projects for the development of Himalayan resources, especially the prevention of deforestation and soil erosion on the mountain slopes.

viii) To collect, systematize and subject to scientific evaluation the traditional knowledge systems of South Asian communities, which have experience of innovative techniques of conducting their economic existence in a harmonious relationship with nature.

India and Pakistan can increase their individual gains through peace and cooperation. It is not a zero sum game. The attempt to improve the conditions of human life and to conserve the natural environment can be a powerful cohesive force in the region. There is nothing to lose but our misconceptions and our lives to win!

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