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