Regional Challenges and Opportunities for South Asia in the Decades Ahead

‘I look at the region not as Pakistan alone. I look at wider connectivity over the next two decades’ … ‘There’s no military solution to security issues’ …

Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within is thought to be an important book. William Dalrymple called it the most “authoritative analysis” of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. General Jehangir Karamat, the former Chief of Army Staff (1996-98), called it an “insightful study” and “the centre of gravity in Pakistan”. It has been called the “key” to understanding the complex framework underpinning power structures in Pakistan. “The most well researched and lucidly written book of its kind,” is how Ahmed Rashid described it. In a talk entitled Regional Challenges and Opportunities for South Asia in the Decades Ahead at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), its author Shuja Nawaz stressed that terrorism would only be reduced if education levels remain high. He is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre.

The Atlantic Council promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the Atlantic Community’s central role in meeting global challenges. The Council provides an essential forum for navigating the dramatic economic and political changes defining the twenty-first century by informing and galvanizing its uniquely influential network of global leaders. Because of historic rivalry, the degree of misunderstanding and mistrust between Pakistan and India is constantly skyrocketing.

For example, India has recently been using coercive diplomatic tactics to impede Pakistan’s acquisition of F-16s from the Americans. New Delhi has expressed disappointment over Washington’s approval of the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Islamabad. Apparently, the Indians, who are one of the world’s foremost defence spenders (ranked 8th globally) and have been pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in Kashmir for decades, summoned the US Ambassador Richard Verma for a dressing down to convey New Delhi’s “displeasure” over the Obama administration’s decision to sell the advanced aircraft to Pakistan. India disagrees with the White House that such aircraft are helpful in fighting terrorism. The coverage in the press generated by Shuja Nawaz’s talk is available below.

Interdependence key to progress in region, says author, published in Dawn, 20 February 2016

While discussing prospects for the ‘greater’ South Asian region, writer and analyst Shuja Nawaz said here on Friday that greater connectivity and interdependence between the states in the neighbourhood was the key to progress.

Mr Nawaz, who is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre in Washington and has authored Crossed Swords, an acclaimed book on the Pakistan Army, was delivering a lecture on ‘Regional challenges and opportunities for South Asia in the decades ahead’ at the PIIA.

Quoting Maleeha Lodhi, currently Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, he said Pakistan was one of the “most over-diagnosed countries in the world”. Offering what he termed a ‘futurescape’ of the region, which he said should also include Iran and Central Asia as ‘greater South Asia’, Mr Nawaz said that to thrive, it would have to opt for connectivity and interdependence.

Mr Nawaz said he was not offering predictions but “scenarios” about the major factors likely to affect South Asia in the next two decades. Although good governance was is key, he said:

Economics will be at the heart of development and change.

Discussing the main trends, the analyst said rapid urbanisation would play a major role, as most megacities were found in South Asia. He said that although many cities in the region were larger than some countries in Europe, “are [they] being managed like a country?” He also described South Asia’s cities as “conflict zones” where disparities were evident and growth was uneven.

Mr Nawaz said the “Shia-Sunni squabble” emanating in the Middle East would spread because not enough forces were willing to counter sectarianism. He said communal strife would affect migrant workers heading to the Gulf region, while it was also true that Middle Eastern economies were slowing down. He said another area of concern was nuclear proliferation and there was unrest in the Gulf because of the recent Iranian nuclear deal. He said that although “nobody has facts [and it is] all speculation”, states in the region could possibly look for a nuclear umbrella and that:

India and Pakistan will be asked to provide nuclear capacity.

The writer observed that South Asia would also have to prepare for natural calamities such as earthquakes, floods as well as El Nino. He added that South Asian cities were not equipped to deal with rapid change and that religion, caste and ethnic barriers stood in the way of consensus.

Mr Nawaz said that “centrifugal forces” were likely to affect the “political map of the region. Don’t assume that countries that exist today will exist 30, 50 years from now, because of what we do and what we don’t do”.

He also suggested that “[we should] see if a different map of Pakistan – province-wise – can be created”. He said the “shadow economy” was huge in this region, with estimates that 30 per cent or more of the economy here was “under the table”. While discussing “centripetal forces”, Mr Nawaz said the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor was an “opportunity”, provided the western route was developed first. He said a “tributary to CPEC” should also be considered, linking Afghanistan to Central Asia. “This can create a perfect storm, a good storm.”

He was also of the opinion that climate change, the environment and water issues should be looked at through a regional lens rather than through strictly national outlooks.

‘Good governance key to meeting South Asia’s challenges’, published in The News International, 20 February 2016

The next two decades hold lots of challenges for the South Asia region, and one of the ways we could successfully grapple with those challenges is by ushering in good governance. These views were expressed by Shuja Nawaz, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Centre, Washington DC, US, while addressing members of the PIIA, media and intellectuals on Friday evening.

“I look at the region not as Pakistan alone. I look at wider connectivity over the next two decades,” he said. He advocated enhancement of trade with neighbours and among the South Asian states and also called for radical relaxation of barriers and gradual elimination of visas. The author of the book Crossed Swords, Nawaz cited the quest for good governance and said there would be both exogenous and endogenous shocks for South Asia. One of them, he said, was the rapid urbanisation and conurbation and according to him:

This is where the conflicts, the disparities are.

Going further, the security expert explained that it was those phenomena that promoted disparity and disaffection among the masses and created class fissures. He said this conurbation increased populations, making them heterogeneous, and as such there would be people who would be lining their pockets by capitalising on the resources.

Then there were other factors like religious difference, like the Shia-Sunni squabbles. Then, he said, friction between nations could spell other disadvantageous phenomena like hitting migrant labour, and in this context he cited the expulsion of Bangladeshi workers by Saudi Arabia some two months ago.

There, Nawaz said, were endogenous factors like the geological phenomena of shifting subterranean plates causing earthquakes, floods, stifling of monsoon in South Asia, aging dams and their silting. Aging and silting of dams would hit agrarian production and hence cause food shortages, he added.

The next seven years, he said, were critical in light of the El-Nino phenomenon. In support of his contention, he cited his own case where there was a severe storm when he left Washington DC three days ago and the winter temperature in a part of California had touched 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another thing, we’d have to be careful about was conurbation, a phenomenon whereby a lot of urban habitations developed around a city and then these habitations merging with the centre of the city. He said this in turn would give rise to a burgeoning population. Such a situation prevented consensus on issues among the population, caused dissension and also gave rise to sectarianism.

Nawaz said the shadow economies of most countries of the region averaged 30 percent, and Pakistan’s was reported to be 60 percent. This, he said, was a factor that retarded prosperity.

He said that as for governance, Pakistan would have to begin thinking right away, because by 2035 the country would be losing the youth dividend. Pakistan, he said, had to create around three million jobs a year. Meritocracy and transparency, he said, were the need of the hour.

“Give ownership to the locals, especially as regards taxation matters. Let them decide on preferences relating to utilisation of taxes. In this context, he cited the case of the area in the US where he is currently residing, Fairfax County in the State of Virginia, and said that the local community was in charge of the taxes. They decided that that they’d allocate the maximum amount to education and said that this as the reason why today the Fairfax county had the best schools system in the US. He said schools in the county were the first ones to purchase super computers.

He said that to grapple with the problem of terrorism, it was imperative to put in place a viable education system. He said that like the madrasas in Pakistan, there were faith-based schools in the West too, but they taught much more than just religion. Answering a participant’s question on security, he said a viable national policy and a robust economy were the key to security. He advised the audience that:

There’s no military solution to security issues.

Answering another question about the hopes for a solution of the Kashmir issue, he said that once the people of Kashmir were brought into the equation, things would look brighter.

Recent coverage of PIIA events is available below:

Posted by Editor.

12 Comments

Filed under Discussion, Events, India, Islam, Pakistan, Peace building, PIIA, United States

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