“Connecting South Asia can boost regional economy and security”
Stability in South Asia is often a pre-requisite for its connectivity. That much is true. What cannot be denied is that a more integrated region will automatically provide grounds for achieving stability and security in the region.
These thoughts emerged in various sessions of the regional conference on “Connectivity and Geo-Economics in South Asia”, which was organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank. The concluding session was moderator by Syed Jaffar Ahmed, academic based in Karachi University.
Outgoing National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. (Retd) Nasser Khan Janjua argued that economy and security are two different sides of the same coin. One results in the other. But it is only through connectivity that economic growth can emanate and stability brought about, he argued.
Earlier, participants of the conference explored how to achieve connectivity in a region that is beset with old rivalries and instabilities. Some argued that the habit of thinking everything in terms of geopolitics has to change into geo-economics, should the region want to gain maximum from economic initiatives. Others asked in specific if China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to which countries like Pakistan have already signed, can help achieved that connectivity.
Gen. Janjua said Pakistan has central role in the emerging geo-economic order, as it can help connect the countries economically. Even India cannot trade with this part of the world without Pakistan on board, he said.
But one Indian scholar Sudheendhra Kulkarni wondered if Pakistan’s vision of connectivity projects westwards only, suggesting that the eastern side be included more clearly.
As to Pakistan’s relations with India, the former NSA Gen. Janjua hinted that the bitterness of the past should be overcome. As NSA of Pakistan, he recalled, he had interacted with Indian NSA in a “very good spirit”, in which, he said, the two “did not try to win arguments against each other.”
Meanwhile, Kulkarni shared that he had come to know that Pakistani and Indian diplomats have deliberated almost all issues between the two, in quite detail. Those deliberations now await implementation, he said
The conference called for long-term interaction among South Asian countries. Another Indian scholar Shanthie D’Souza said that for connecting the region, small steps should be taken first.
One participant noted that the people’s narrative has to be different than state’s narrative; another called for promoting religious tourism and medical tourism. It was also suggested that the academia of the two countries should also be connected with each other.