The South Asia Centre for Policy Studies (SACEPS)
held its Lahore Symposium at LUMS last week. Some of the leading scholars,
statesmen and businessmen of South Asia discussed the policy conclusions
that arose from a two-year research effort conducted by SACEPS on key
issues of regional cooperation in South Asia. The policy analysis may
have been particularly relevant in the current thaw in India Pakistan
relations and the prospects of a structured and composite dialogue between
these two countries. In this article we will briefly indicate the perspective
and some of the specific proposals that emerged during the Symposium.
This is the moment of reckoning in South Asia. The
research of the SACEPS task forces has shown the tremendous human and
natural resource potential of South Asia that can be harnessed for the
welfare of its peoples. What SACEPS did not address however is the equally
important fact that there is an unacceptably high risk of an India-Pakistan
conflict and a nuclear holocaust that could result from either a conventional
war escalating to a nuclear exchange or an accidental nuclear war.
After five decades of independence over 45 percent
population of South Asia does not have adequate food and a majority is
deprived of basic services such as clean drinking water, health and education.
At the same time there is an increasing degradation of the human and natural
resources on the basis of which a better future could be constructed for
the peoples of South Asia: The health of citizens is being undermined,
the social fabric is being ruptured by extremist forces, millions of acres
of farmland are being rendered infertile, and the life support systems
constituted by water, land and air ecology are being degraded.
Never before in history was the choice between life
and comprehensive destruction in South Asia so stark as it is today. The
question is, can we grasp this moment and together devise a new path towards
peace, sustainable development and regional cooperation?
There is an urgent need today of moving out of a mindset
that regards an adversarial relationship with a neighbouring country as
the emblem of patriotism, affluence of the few at the expense of the many,
as the hallmark of development, individual greed as the basis of public
action, and mutual demonization as the basis of inter state relations.
We have arrived at the end of the epoch when we could hope to conduct
our social, economic and political life on the basis of such a mindset.
It is now clear that if the peoples of South Asia
as a whole are to actualize their potential for development, a sustainable
peace between India and Pakistan is the need of the hour. More particularly
it can be argued that neither India nor Pakistan can pursue their respective
goals of national security and nation building without such a peace. National
security requires establishing law and order, preventing extremist religious
violence from destabilizing society and state, and reducing the risk to
the citizens of nuclear annihilation.
The question is, how can the peace process be undertaken?
For this a structured and comprehensive dialogue needs to be conducted
on a number of different fronts simultaneously. As has been suggested,
this could be institutionalized during India Pakistan peace talks by establishing
high level Commissions to address the major issues of sustainable peace.
This would involve firstly a Commission for addressing all outstanding
territorial disputes including the core issue of Kashmir. A second Commission
could systematically undertake to reduce the risk of accidental nuclear
war and management systems for preventing a conventional war from escalating
to a nuclear exchange.
A third Commission could specify a road map for moving
into an MFN trade regime between India and Pakistan followed by a South
Asian Free Trade Area. It may be pertinent to point out that the MFN (Most
Favoured Nation Status) is actually a misnomer. It by no means implies
that India would be singled out for specially favourable trade relations.
In fact it means non-discriminatory treatment of each other by India and
Pakistan with respect to trade. So that Pakistan would grant India the
same status in its trade relations as it does to any other country with
whom it is trading. As trade relations between India and Pakistan open
up, so must transit and travel facilities to enable the free movement
of goods and people.
A fourth Commission could be set up to identify the
mutuality of economic interests between Pakistan and India in particular,
and South Asia in general, as a basis of taking shared positions in the
A fifth Commission could examine policies for the
rapid development and integration of communication infrastructure between
India and Pakistan in particular and South Asia in general. A developed
and integrated infrastructure would be the key for the rapid acceleration
of domestic and foreign investment in the region and thereby achieving
high GDP growth rates for both India and Pakistan. The SACEPS research
has shown that a major factor in the high growth rate of ASEAN countries
was their much higher investment compared to South Asian countries. One
of the important determinants of the difference in investment rates between
the two regions was the relatively more developed infrastructure of ASEAN
South Asia has the lowest consumption of electricity
per capita compared to any other region of the world and yet there is
a huge potential of producing electricity economically through hydro power,
coal and gas technologies. Actualizing the potential for electricity production
and distribution through regional cooperation can lay the basis of an
unprecedented increase in both foreign and domestic investment for the
rapid economic growth of South Asia.
An immediate issue that can be taken up during the
forthcoming India Pakistan peace talks is the oil and gas pipeline to
India through Pakistan and the export of surplus electricity by Pakistan
to India for the mutual benefit of both countries. At the moment security
concerns perceived by the Indian government are preventing an agreement.
These could be addressed through a set of contracts between the two governments
and/or private sector entities, which agreements could be backed by sovereign
guarantees along with counter guarantees by multi lateral institutions
such as the ADB and the World Bank. This is an issue that can have immediate
as well as long-term gains for both India and Pakistan. The palpable material
benefit to the people of both countries resulting from energy cooperation
would be a powerful confidence building measure for establishing the necessary
trust for faster progress on contentious issues.
Internal compulsions as well as the international
situation have created for India and Pakistan a small window in time in
which they can lay the basis of a lasting peace. Such a peace could lead
to the deepening of regional cooperation in South Asia and a more prosperous
and secure future for its peoples.