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Barriers To Progress In South Asia

Future of South Asia: A New Generational Perspective

Published Year: 2004
Published by: Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) & Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

Price: Not mentioned, Pages: 136


By Ritu Raj Subedi

South Asia, the home to 23 percent of the world's population, is the poorest region in the planet with teeming millions living below the poverty line having a daily income of less than a dollar a day.

Despite its vast market potentials, richly endowed natural resources (water of Nepal. Natural gas of Bangladesh, coal of India) and qualified human resources (IT professionals and entrepreneurs), it has failed to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

The region witnesses massive conventional arms race, acquisition of nuclear arsenals, circulation of small arms and drug trade, frequent border skirmishes, conflicts centering around religious, ethnic and sectarian lines and above all political instability, terrorism and massive corruption.

Following the 9/11 incident, South Asia has received due attention and emerged into being a strategic geopolitical location with the US-led war in Afghanistan. The region's strategic location has been admitted by the western world not solely because it has countries like India and Pakistan that have proved their nuclear potentials and are long time rivals. It is more because of its natural and human resources that is likely to help the region emerge into a key economic power in the years ahead. Its uniqueness lies in its diversity standing out in the form of different nationalities, religions, culture, geography and historical legacy.

SAARC that came into existence to bring progress and prosperity in the region has not been able to gain momentum as expected largely due to never ending Indo-Pak tension. Besides, the lack of a strong political and economic will on the part of its leaders has hindered development.

To galvanise the SAARC process and overcome inertia demands fresh approaches, which this book, under review, attempts to offer. The book is a compilation of four working papers by young intellectuals presented at a seminar in Kathmandu a few months back. It deals with various issues and dimensions on politics, security, economics, WTO and mutual cooperation with special reference to SAARC.

In 'Security in South Asia: A Future perspective,' Nischal Nath Pandey analyses the region from the standpoint of security. He sees poverty, hunger and diseases posing more threats than that of missiles to the region. He also deals with inter and intra-states conflicts.

It is insane to presume that a nuclear exchange will resolve our problems. The only panacea for all impediments and measures to address substantial issues is possible through a changed mind-set.

"The politico-strategic nature of inter-state relations continues to remain depressing. Foremost, India's relations with smaller neighbours function like traffic light. Post 9/11, the US has emerged as a potential synthesizer and a conciliator for peace, harmony and stability in the region. The rapidly changing global strategic environment also warrants an early establishment of formal security mechanisms in the region," he writes.

Pandey thinks South Asia offers the hope through a vibrant civil society, its younger generation of a better, prosperous and a more secure future.

'Using WTO Membership as a Tool for Governance Reforms in South Asia with Special Reference to Nepal' by Ratnakar Adhikari mulls over the benefits to Nepal as a member of WTO.

However, it should also be kept in mind that Nepal will not be able to take the advantage it enjoy after joining World Trade Organisation (WTO) if it fails to reform its domestic policies or in other words "put its house in order," he write.

He says that a country like Nepal, which is saddled with years of mal-governance, should initiate autonomous governance measures to benefit from the world-trading regime.

He prescribes a number of reforms such as mainstreaming trade in development strategies and process, stressing on the knowledge-based economy, building capacity and human resources, identifying competitive and diversification of export of profile, compensation the losers, creating safeguard and enacting the competition law, among others.

Although his suggestions are right and necessary but the existing political and economic turmoil can hardly help to implement them.

In 'Streamlining Economic Cooperation in South Asia,' noted industrialist Rajendra Kumar Khetan raises a number of issues to boost mutual regional cooperation: making similarity of product and process as most of the economies are based on agriculture and their technological advancements are not very different, meeting consumer demand, product quality and overcoming market limitations posed by political and geographical considerations and dismantling the non-tariff barriers (NTB) in the region.

"However for meaningful regional cooperation, whether economic or otherwise the primary requisite is a spirit of peaceful coexistence among the members of the region," he writes.

Foreign expert Paras Ghimire in 'Way to Re-invigorate SAARC' calls on the SAARC leaders to display not only political will but also economic will. According to him, practical and concrete activities are a must to reinvigorate the regional body. Holding annual dialogues between the SAARC heads of states/governments, civil society leaderships to boost people to people contacts and an annual business summit along with the lines of Davos Summit are some ways in this regard.

The young experts have painstakingly worked to give maximum input on the core regional issues. As they have pointed out, a change of mindset, especially in the regional rivals is a must to benefit the South Asian people by exploiting great human and natural potentials located here. India must drop its 'big brother image' and be realistically ready for mutual cooperation and respect it's the smaller neighbours.

The authors the book indeed offer pragmatic ideas but until military and political jingoism deeply-rooted in the region, are stamped out, these ideas are likely to evaporate in the thin air. Anyway, the innovative views if adopted with honesty would have a positive impact on the key decision-making forums.

The book also contains comments from the erudite personalities such as M.R Josse professor Gundnidhi Sharma, Madhukar SBJ Rana and professor Bishwo Pradhan on the above mentioned papers, which should prove a bonus to the readers.

Source: The Rising Nepal, Friday Supplement (28 May 2004)

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