Op-ed: Towards peace and development in South Asia
Dr Akmal Hussain
An 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
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 to 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 per cent 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 getting rid 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 demonisation 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 actualise 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 destabilising 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 institutionalised 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 set up 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 for taking shared positions in the WTO negotiations.
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 to 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 countries.
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. Actualising the potential for electricity production and distribution through regional cooperation can lay the basis for 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 on these issues. 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 multilateral 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 for 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.
M V Ramana is a physicist and research staff member at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and co-editor of Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream