‘SAARC nations must have synergy’

(From left) Former Ambassador and NSA Shivshankar Menon, economist Prasenjit Basu, Suhasini Haidar, Manjushree Thapa, and Husain Haqqani in Jaipur on Friday.   | Photo Credit: Rohit Jain Paras

The conundrum of South Asian identity, involving the challenges posed by the 1947 Partition, internal politics of each country and meddling by the U.S. and China, could be resolved if the “negative discourse” on the region was driven out of the public domain and the borders were rendered irrelevant, a panel of diplomats, essayists and foreign policy experts said here on Friday.

The panel comprising former Ambassador and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, Pakistan's former diplomat Husain Haqqani, Singapore-based economist Prasenjit Basu and Canadian essayist of Nepali descent Manjushree Thapa was in conversation with Suhasini Haidar, Diplomatic Affairs Editor of The Hindu at the Jaipur Literature Festival here.

The experts said in the JLF session on “South Asia: Walls and Bridges” that the region’s future lay in cooperation among the eight SAARC nations and strengthening of bonds with emphasis on common ethnicity, culture, traditions, languages and religions. The panel felt the focus of South Asian discourse needed to shift away from the perception of India's dominance in the region.

Mr. Menon said the walls in South Asia were political, whereas the bridges could be built in every domain. The SAARC could play a meaningful role, as there were no security or financial dilemmas among the member countries, except between India and Pakistan, he said, and added that there was no need to panic on interference by countries such as China and the U.S.

Ms. Thapa pointed out that when Nepal looked towards India with an “emotional response” for emulating the values of secularism, institutional independence and women's empowerment, the new trends of majoritarianism were sending across confusing signals. “The 2015 Constitution has declared Nepal [to be] a secular State. We expect India to be our role model,” she said.

Describing the term “South Asia” as a geographical misnomer, Mr. Basu said the usage of “Indian Subcontinent” would help depict the “geo-political strategy” of Britain to partition India on the basis of two-nation theory. He said the SAARC could be turned into an effective forum by enhancing economic relations among the member countries. “Bangladesh is doing well on the economic front and its remittances to India are the third highest,” he added.

Mr. Haqqani said the South Asian countries, which shared 5,000 years of commonality, should learn from the European countries which were coming together and had established an economic model based on common currency. “We lack the imagination and are unable to overcome the current barriers without realising that disagreements exist even among States in the Indian Union,” he remarked.

The Pakistani activist and diplomat, who has served as Ambassador to the U.S. and Sri Lanka, said the rulers in India and Pakistan must identify the “constituencies for peace” and build new bridges while trying to diminish dissimilarities. “That will help define a new South Asian identity based on common values and ideals... Each country in our region should realise that we have a common destiny.”

Ms. Haidar made observations about the role of SAARC in the changing geo-political scenario and stressed the need to go a step ahead of the use of “soft power” and bring the South Asian nations together to ensure regional cooperation.

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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 8:39:59 PM |

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