Comprehensive Security for South Asia

Madhukar S.J.B.Rana


This paper attempts to generate ideas for the formulation of a strategy for 'comprehensive regional security' in the context of the extended opportunities for SAARC with the entry of Afghanistan as full member; and China and Japan as observers. Hopefully, soon enough, South Korea too will join followed by Iran, Myanmar and Russia.

The strategy should, and is, being conceived in the context of an emergent Asia in the wake of the fairly rapidly changing world order with unknown global challenges to peace and security. And what Asia should do collectively as a new global powerhouse for the welfare of all life on earth.

This paper, furthermore, analyses the issues against the background of the evolution of SAARC as an institution and seeks to build on its achievements so far, modest as they are. In doing so, however, it is more focused on geo-economics rather than geo-politics and indeed, as it should (for a more complete treatment), on geo-psychology that motivates its peoples to want to cooperate and yet not.

In doing all of the above, it is hoped that this paper will stimulate ideas, and encourage further research, with principles and approaches for strategy-making. That should garner the full participation of the regional states, the peoples and the major powers of Asia as partners for mutual benefit with the strategic mission to attain regional peace and progress of South Asia together with modernizing South Asia as a worthy centre of the global knowledge society and global politics for world peace and security.

Notion of Security

Nation states and communities within it, just like individuals, feel insecure when their very existence, their material and financial assets, and their fundamental values are threatened by other nations, societies and individuals respectively.

Nations, communities and individuals' families feel internally secure when there exists, within its territory, communal harmony and tolerance so that there is safe from social turmoil and violence. They also feel secure when there is the absence of political disruptions with law and order prevailing with clear prospects of easy recourse to, and dispensation of justice, by a highly trusted judiciary.

Furthermore, all three entities feel secure when there is macro-economic and financial stability that contributes to rapid economic growth with improved all round equity--- be they between national regions, gender, class, caste, communities while striving to meet the very specific needs of the disadvantaged and the various age groups-- children, youth, aged—in the demographic make-up of the nation. This entails that governments adhere to universal principles of 'good governance' involving accountability, transparency, participation by stakeholders in decisions to be taken by the state with the quality of governance being gauged by the level and depth of  political, economic and social corruption prevailing at any time.

All states feel threatened: be they continental, sub-continental, land-locked or sea-locked states. Nations feel secure when they are protected from external threats, and encroachments from outside involuntarily thrust upon them, to cast aspersions on its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Nations feel secure when they can partake in the decisions and deliberations collectively being taken by the international community of nations. Nations feel secure, too, when they can modernize its social, economic and political institutions to keep pace with the competitive demands of economic and financial globalization being driven relentlessly by the unfolding revolutions ushered in by transport, communications, information and medical science and technology.

Feeling secure in this new age of inter-dependence and instant exposure of daily events throughout the far corners of the globe has got to be a challenging business. Because never before in mankind's history have there been so many nations with so many peoples making daily contacts at the state-to-state and people-to-people levels with attendant vulnerabilities and risks at the global, regional, national and community levels.

Collective security by the UN has been bypassed in the cases of Iraq and Balkans wars and, we wonder, if it is capable of providing collective security for the interest of all. Not just the West's.

Further the UN's 'successes' in peacekeeping is now being questioned for its sustainability. Be it in East Timor; Palestine; Kashmir; Congo; Haiti; Ethiopia; East Timor; Somalia; Sudan, Rwanda or Sierra Leone.

 Global optimists would argue that since 1990, with the end of the cold war, the world is going to be more secure than ever before with the 'end of history', the global spread of liberal democracy, the formation of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and reaffirmation of the utility of the NATO pact. All this may be true for Europe but not elsewhere. The very fact that a united Europe needs yet the NATO alliance for its own security is indicative of the emergence of non-Western powers in the global political scene.

It is as though we are in a "borderless world" where the tide of history moves on leaving nations, communities and individuals wanting 'comprehensive security' as opposed to mere 'national security'. The fundamental questions that any theory of comprehensive security must address are the following: (a) from whom, (b) for what end, (b) and how is it to be delivered to nations, communities and peoples?

Concept of Comprehensive Security

We learn (B.C.Upreti in Dahal and Pandey: 2006) that the concept of 'comprehensive security' is of Japanese origin with a vintage of around 50 years. How appropriate, then,   that this 'extended' or non-traditional concept of security is being discussed at this International Conference today as Japan will be an Observer in the extended SAARC from 2007.

Japan developed this concept in the mid-1950s against the background of the fall off the imperial order in the ashes of defeat, dishonour, disillusionment, despair and disbelief with the surrender of sovereignty to the Americans; and from the traumatic psychological impact of the aftermath of the horrors and humiliation from the devastation and destruction by the two nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bereft, as a nation, of all its imperial glory, possessions and stranded without its own natural resources other than its human resources.

If this concept is being given a global diplomatic perspective by Japan of late, it is because no major economic power is more vulnerable to world geo-political and geo-economic (i.e. geo-strategic) developments than Japan. It is critically dependent on open trade, open commerce and open financial markets for its own progress and prosperity in the 21st century. It is also the anchor with which Japan's claim to a seat in the UN Security Council rests, particularly as it does not have the military might as compared to the Permanent Five members--.or, for that matter, even as compared to India, which too aspires desperately to be seated in the UN Security Council.
The concept is also being promoted by Japan grounded on the genuine values of pacifism and non-violence which the post Second World War generation has well espoused. Since 9/11 however it is dawning on the militant nationalist elements in Japanese society that the security being proffered by the US-Japan military alliance may not be sufficient with the rise of China as a new super-power; and Korea, India and ASEAN as major players in regional affairs.

Fundamentally, the Japanese doctrine of ‘human security’ rests on the premise that for national security there must not only be military security to defend the nation from outside threats but also 'human security' to 'defend' nations from inside threats as national stability depends on each individual having sufficient food security, employment security, social security (education, health and old age pension), energy security, information security (access to transport and communications).

As the US finds its military capabilities over stretched it is beginning to put pressure on Japan to invest more in its own defence. In 2006, around $ 1000 billion is likely to be spent on defence with the US claiming 50% of that expenditure. Japan's reluctance to change its constitution to permit new defence undertakings is also a factor for the new concept of security being proposed as a part of its international diplomacy. For changing the constitution opens up a new can of worms with the growing nationalistic sentiments among the youth.

Interestingly, it may be underscored here that the Japanese concept of 'human security' is not identical to that being propounded (unsuccessfully so far owing to strong US opposition) by Canada. The Canadian vision goes beyond Japan's to include individual human rights as an integral part of international law and diplomacy. Thus seeking to put it on par with the rights and duties of states to be aligned to the UN Charter's preamble referring to " We the peoples …"  with individuals being made the primary objective of international security.

To former Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axeworthy, the most radical proponent of  the concept, who calls forth new perceptions, attitudes and behaviour in public policy and multilateral negotiations where people are perceived as subjects of all international diplomacy and jurisprudence---not states nor governments. Human development and the quality of life are, therefore, paramount goals to be sought for international peace and harmony. Any retardation in the quality of life causes human insecurity and, therefore, are conceived as threats to world peace because in the emergent 'international society' non-state actors play a prominent role in word peace and progress.

It must be underscored that in regional and international affairs the novel concept being moved by Japan and Canada  call, to be pragmatically meaningful, for preventive multilateral and regional diplomacy for peace so as to avoid violence, conflicts and, not least, wars--- be they 'cold', 'proxy', 'ethnic', 'civil', 'criminal', 'legal' or whatever. One would have to move beyond 'peace keeping' by the United Nations towards 'peace enforcing' .Then there is the vital question: should such peacekeeping be through preventive actions by the UN Security Council or based on implementing decisions by the UN General Assembly or indeed based on judicial review by the International Court of Justice for international rule of law to be paramount.

It is argued by many analysts that this concept took birth precisely after the end of the Cold War. One need ask what makes the concept valid with the end of the Cold War and not anytime before? Is this a concept driven, explicitly, by the force of world history or one, implicitly, seeking to preserve the supreme interests of the major powers that are vulnerable to the counter forces to globalization; who are no more in a position to command, control and coordinate their national self interests through traditional diplomacy relying on the use of force for compliance as non-state actors are increasingly involved in international politics.

The emerging concept of 'failed states' is an attempt to garner collective action against a ‘fragile’, ‘weak’ or ‘soft’ state or simply states-in-conflict or-crisis that may eventually threaten regional and global peace. But there is no guarantee that this collective action will ensue since the Permanent Five, with their veto power, can keep their national interests supreme above others.

The critical assumption or theory of human security rests on the premise that an 'international society' has emerged as a consequence of globalization following the demise of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1999.  Thus state and non-state actors have a role to play in nurturing and safeguarding ‘comprehensive security’.

Threats to Regional Security in South Asia

Of all the regions in the world, South Asia is unique in being the only one that does not have a collective security arrangement of any kind. Therefore, to attempt to strategize on ‘comprehensive regional security' for SAARC is a daunting task when there is no common regional security perception to begin with.
The overwhelming asymmetry in power relations between South Asian nations makes each neighbour fear the dominant power/s with the smaller powers seeking external support to preserve and promote their national identities.

Then there is the glaring fact that each South Asian nation competes in the same markets for their exports and for the limited aid finance available through the multilateral agencies. This too compounds the fears from asymmetry because of the chronic lack of either trade or production complementarities within the region. South Asia is also the least economically integrated region of the world. Despite the fact that the region was more or less an integrated one for more than 500 years first under the Mughal empire and subsequently under the British empire.

South Asia is similarly the most communal region in the world. The British empire policy of divide and rule to sustain itself gave birth to communalism as this had not been a feature of the Mughal empire. "Undoubtedly the British exploited the situation to their advantage, initially to establish the British Empire, later to sustain it, and at the time of departure, to ensure its future dependence" (Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema: Dahal and Pandey; P: 145).

When the British left they did so in a hurry leaving many regional security issues in the dark---- the fate of the land-locked states of Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim; the fate of the Muslim majority princely states of Kashmir and Hyderabad; the fate of the  Northeast tribal states and, not least, the fate of the entire eastern seaboard of the sub-continent from disruptions to the transport and communication linkages and production complementarities as a consequence of the partitioning of Bengal and the subsequent decline of Kolkatta as the premier metropolis of United India.

With each country actively pursuing economic policies of national self-reliance throughout the period 1947-1990, and being quite content with the low economic growth rates that barely kept ahead of the demographic dynamics, any hope of sound regional economic linkages was completely dashed making South Asia an ideal playground for Cold War geo-political rivalry between the West and East that accentuated the fears of hegemony among the smaller powers.

The Cold War may be over, but in South Asia its legacy lingers on rather actively as seen in the destabilization of Afghanistan and its aftermath where first the USSR intervened directly and now, post 9/11, the NATO and the European Union en bloc. After it was realized that Pakistan was unable to, as a proxy, rid Afghanistan of the Taliban menace that effectively provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorists to lay down their global strategy of destabilization, anarchy and terror causing a clash of civilizations.

The South Asian region portends to be the new vortex of the emergent real politic in the post 9/11 new world order of emerging multi-polarity with, perhaps, its own unique multi-polarity with the arms race in the region; the non-resolution of the Kashmir question; the growth of violence on account of terrorism; ethno-nationalism, sectarianism, religious fundamentalism, communalism, inequalities between the urban and rural areas and the ascendancy of the Maoist ideology amongst the landless peasants and tribal communities suffering massive unemployment and acute deprivation.

The gravest threat to South Asia is the politicization of religion to make electoral gains as a strategy of the fundamentalists that is expected to multiply leaps and bounds with the onslaught of Christianity into the region coupled with the rise of Maoism in South Asia   that rejects religion totally-- as the opium of the people to keep the poor suppressed under feudalism. Even more frightening is the threat of an alliance between extremist forces to destabilize the sub-continent across-the-board.

China's rise to super power status has compelled the US to enter into 'strategic partnership' with India, which it now describes as a 'natural' ally. The rise of militant Islam with Afghanistan has the hub for international terrorism and the drugs trade compelled the US and Europe, after 9/11, to bomb and occupy the country with regime change. Thereafter, it assumed the onerous task of 'nation building' by creating a national army and incorporating democratic institutions. All this, to be successful, required another strategic partner in South Asia. Pakistan was found as an ally in the West's war against terrorism and Islamic militancy. All this happening as Pakistan and China similarly develop a comprehensive 'strategic partnership' to include cooperation in defence, surface transportation, free trade arrangements and building naval ports.

An Approach to Regional Strategy-Making

Dahal and Pandey (Ibid: 2006:P7) have written that "comprehensive security encompasses the full range of survival, well-being and identity-related issues, and the complex links between the domestic and international relations". That said, how do we strategize comprehensive security regionally is the task ahead for all of us; and the problem to be addressed by this Conference. 
Security analysts, like Kumar Rupesinghe, counsel us that " an understanding of the linkages between politics, modernity, criminality and psychology are essential to creating a new security framework…In a situation of intensive globalization, the revolution of expectations and the feelings of relative deprivation are normally seen as a source of violence" ( Shridhar Khatri and Gert W Kueck : P 396 and P400): where acts of revenge by humiliation are considered as legitimate, just or, even, holy.

The central thesis of this Paper on which a 'comprehensive regional security' strategy is this: Five hundred years of globalization under Western supremacy is giving way leading to a new era of globalization that threatens the world with anarchy.

Strategy-making requires us to undertake a global security analysis as to the underlying and emergent forces of stability and instability; conflict and harmony; peace and war. The best sources for security analysis would be to draw upon the wisdom of historians as well as ecological futurists. William Woodruff's (Ibid: 20005) paradigm of future world anarchy rests on the following parameters: extreme inequality between and within nations; growing nexus between the military-industrial complex; international debt and migration; resurgence of religion as the world tires of consumerism, materialism, communism, nationalism and Western modernism found on rationality and individualism and the upsurge of 'revolutionary nationalism'.

Other regions are now on the rise as centres of world power. Most notably it is happening dramatically in Asia that will have profound impact on global peace and security--specially, if India, and South Asia, emerges as a major world power. A true dialogue between civilization, as equals,  is now needed for world peace, security and harmony where, in the past 500 years " Western resolution, Western confidence, Western modes of thought (which envisaged an inherently orderly world), Western economics, Western values and laws, Western system of transport and communications on land and sea, Western science and technology, Western industries and finance, Western diseases and medicines, and especially armaments combined to change the world". Woodruff believes that we need common moral imperatives as the world view of the major powers and civilizations are different. Much too much emphasis on cooperation over the tangible forces like technology, finance, trade and investment must be balanced with cooperation over the intangible forces like religion, culture, social psychology. 
There may be 191 states in the UN and 200 states participating in the football World Cup.

But, in reality, more actually clamour for nationhood within states as seen in the civil wars and ethnic conflicts, for example, in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Myanmar in South Asia. It must be underscored here that 1 person in 5 in the globe are South Asians and most South Asian nations are amongst the largest 40 nations of the world in term of demographic size. Stability in his region is crucial for global security.  Ethno-nationalism that culminates in the demand for rights to self-determination is a manifestation of 'revolutionary nationalism'.

Elsewhere in Asia, the 25 million Kurds spread allover Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia is a glaring example of 'revolutionary-nationalism' in West Asia that is coming to the fore of international politics as West and Central Asia are the energy security hubs of the globe faced with rising Islamic nationalism. Such a ‘revolutionary nationalism’ will impact all states –be they federal, confederal or unitary as demands for new boundaries and territories and, possibly, new forms of governance, will destabilize the immediate neighbourhood where the revolution is unfolding.

Tension will keep mounting in West Asia as the Palestine problem's solution is no where in sight similar to the Kashmir question. The Central Asian Republics with their large numbers of Russians in these countries have to deal with their own version of ethno-nationalism living under the shadows of Russia. So too China faces threats from 'revolutionary nationalism' from the Mongols, Tibetans, Turkomans and various Tibeto-Burman-Thai minority races.

"Our global civilization today is on an economic path that is environmentally unsustainable, a path that is leading us toward economic decline and eventual collapse…The military threats to national security today pale beside the trends of environmental destruction and disruption that threaten the economy and thus our early twenty-first century civilization itself" believes Lester Brown (Ibid: 2003), perhaps one of the greatest futurist of our times.

New threats call for new strategies. These threats are environmental degradation, climate change, health pandemics, the persistence of poverty and, not least, the loss of hope. The last parameter is best symbolized by the unemployment, alienation and angst of the world's youth that feeds anarchism in the wake of the unbridled consumerism and growing inequalities.

Some may be inclined to believe that threats from natural disasters should be conceived as an external force. The fact is that, except for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, all natural disasters are actually man made caused by poverty, population explosion, excessive exploitation of natural resources resulting in "shrinking forests, expanding deserts, falling water tables, eroding soils, collapsing fisheries, rising temperatures, melting ice, rising seas, and increasingly destructive storms,” all that futurist Lester Brown underscores for us. Furthermore, he warns us that one of the great fault lines in the history of civilization is oil whose scarcity could reverse both urbanization and globalization processes causing cities to decay and rot.

Having undertaken global scenario analyses is it necessary to do a SWOT appraisal to assess threats to regional security from (a) national causes that will impact regional security and (b) threats from outside the region that will impact the region as a whole. It is assumed that unless there is agreement by and between SAARC members over these matters no strategy is likely.

They are just four broad forces of regional insecurity or threats to South Asia from the external environment. They are: (a) external intervention and exploitation by these external forces of the great fault lines in the South Asian civilization, (b) poor economic performance, (c) non-protection and promotion of minority rights and (d) poor governance especially the ground reality of faulty electoral democracy driven by the politics of drawing upon vote banks and vested interests where, more and more, our electoral democracy instead of casting votes for the good of the greatest number has deteriorated to voting castes, creeds, communities and classes in a fragmented manner making constraining the national leaderships from fulfilling their roles. It breeds the “million mutinies” that the Nobel Laureat  Naipaul perceives for us all.

Nor is a strategy likely unless there is general agreement on the 'guiding principles' to comprehensive regional security. It is submitted that they should comprise the following:

  1. Panchsheel--- non interference in the internal affairs, territorial integrity of all states and complete respect for the sovereign equality of all states;
  2. Renunciation of Violence
  3. Recourse to Truth and Reconciliation
  4. Renunciation of Economic Blockades and Boycotts and Threats of Use of Force
  5. Inviolability of National Boundaries
  6. Respect for Human Rights and Civilizational Heritage of All
  7. Provision of Human Security for All
  8. Peaceful Settlement of all Disputes
  9. Sharing and Caring when Disasters Strikes
  10. Listening to Others About Their Fears
  11. Being Open, Comprehensive and Futuristic
  12. Respect for International Law
  13. Faith in Cultural, Social and Religious Pluralism and Diversity and
  14. Special and Differential Treatment for Less Developed Countries

In brief, a comprehensive regional strategy should comprise a five sub-strategies each having their own set of objectives to move the process forward for securing the overarching regional security goal for SAARC. Namely, to preserve and protect the ecological integrity of South Asia; to be engaged in the dialogue between civilizations as a global power for world peace, for equitable prosperity for all the peoples of the world, and for the security of planet earth.

Needless to say, for South Asia to be a global power it needs to develop on all fronts simultaneously ---- spiritually, culturally; socially; technologically; institutionally; legally; politically; economically militarily and geo-psychologically

These sub-strategies could encompass the following components: (i) to generate faster growth as a fundamental requirement for effective comprehensive security, infrastructure development and advance South Asian competitive advantage in the global economy ;

(ii) build on the policy and institutional achievements of SAARC to further expand and deepen regional cooperation.; (iii) provide human security through a SAARC Common Minimum Programme (SA-CMP) to advance the purpose of the SAARC Social Charter through people-to-people collaboration to create a commonwealth of South Asian peoples; (iv) serve the needs of China and Japan and act as the anchor for a pan-Asia movement for Asian solidarity, peace and security and (v) move towards a new 'eco-economy' that is protective of the environment and planet earth with new values and life styles based on the South Asian ethos of caring, sharing, frugality, animal rights and deep reverence for Nature.

The Action Plans for Strategic Outcomes for Each Parameter 

Broadly, the entry of Afghanistan, China and Japan changes the entire outlook for SAARC as a grand economic region with the Indian sub-continent composed potentially of 4 economic hubs or sub-regions---(a) the 'western seaboard' linked to West Asia and Africa by  the Arabian Sea; (b) the 'northern Hindu Khush-Himalayan land mass' linked to Central Asia; (c) the 'southern seaboard' linked to Southeast  Asia and Australasia by the Indian Ocean, and (d) the 'eastern seaboard' linked to Indo-China by the Bay of Bengal and BIMST-EC.

Parameter One: South Asia's collective competitive advantage lies in food processing, pharmaceuticals, steel, cement, aluminum, automobiles, financial services, health services, educational services, IT and electronics; construction; harnessing of Himalayan and Oceanic resources. The biological, physical and cultural diversity makes it the most fascinating tourist destination in the world.

Joint investments by the private sectors of China and Japan in the production and supply chain management of, for example, the Himalayan sweet drinking water develop this product into a global brand name.

Joint investments in tourism infrastructure for developing heritage sites and routes, such as the Silk Route, Marco Polo Trail, Buddhist and Hindu Heritage Trails, Islamic sites cold go along way to garner people-to-people diplomacy for peace.

Most importantly, development of a new world heritage city at Mt. Kailash-Manosoravar in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China would be the crowing glory for an extended China in South Asia. If anything, the 21st century will be known for variety, diversity and pluralism; and for the realization and acceptance that individuals can espouse and be comfortable with multiple identities simultaneously.

 China, Japan and the South Asian diaspora can beneficially collaborate in R & D in the S & T sector for the modernization of all of the above competitive advantages for mutual benefit. It should be underscored here that South Asia's diaspora is one of its core strengths--so too China's. It is guesstimated that the Chinese diaspora in East and Southeast Asia has a collective income that surpasses China's GDP.  

China in SAARC will have profound impact on the development of the Hindu Khush-Himalayas as a new sub-regional growth centre with far reaching implications for energy, water and environmental security, especially as this region is linked with electricity-driven modern, high speed transportation to Central Asia and beyond into Russia and Europe and

South Asia, endowed with the world's greatest water towers and with its resplendent biological diversity, has unimaginable potential for Asia's food security. As well as for its environmental security, if transformation of the economic base can be done, This requires  linking the highland-lowland economies into the new 'eco-economy' through integrated water management and watershed development of the Indus-Gangese- Brahmaputra-Meghna river basins respectively.

The harnessing of marine resources from the Indian Ocean presents opportunities that needs to be investigated. In both of these endeavours, Japanese capital backed by its vast scientific and technological know how offers new hope for the enlightened emergence of Asia as the central world power of the globe by 2050.

Chinese and Japanese investments in transportation infrastructure will help boost development and modernization of South Asia and could lead to the commencement of the desirable Asia Bond Market in convertible and non-convertible currencies. Investing in highways and railways will further boost Asian economic integration as these transport connections are part and parcel of the UN ESCAP's Asian Highway and Asian Railways vision. Furthermore, joint ventures under the BOOT mechanism with public-private-people-partnerships can be conceived in laying down regional power grids and regional water canals for transportation and irrigation and pipe lines for drinking water distribution. Such imaginative joint venturing will lay the foundation for Asian free trade and investment agreements; and the create world class infrastructure that will boost growth so necessary to eradicate poverty and underemployment and create jobs for all.

R & D Collaboration in S& T: With regional centres of excellence for technology development and venture capital funding for the (a) agro-based food industries (milk, vegetables, fruits and cereals, (b) forest –based  herbs and wood industries and (c) engineering industries to develop technologies for enhancing land and machine productivity as well as controlling post harvest and post production loss and damages in storage, distribution and transportation in the agricultural and forestry sectors, (d) developing new clean processes to eliminate pollution of air, water and soil in steel, chemical, cement, (e) harnessing of marine resources, (f) defence, space and nuclear energy technology, (g) technology for the prevention of transmission loss and for storing hydro-energy and (h) harnessing of marine resources to benefit coastal, land-locked and sea-locked nations.

FDI for Infrastructure Development:  So dismal is the infrastructure in South Asia that one wonders if it will not constrain any growth forecasts; if it will contribute to enhancing the region's competitive advantage and attracting fdi. Not just transport costs but also loss and damages in-transit as well as significant reduction in lead times for market delivery of the traded product is vital for South Asia to have an efficient, highly productivity business environment with low transport and distribution costs. Globalization is all about supply chain management through sub-contracting that looks difficult to attract with the current dismal state of SAARC's infrastructure.

As all SAARC nations share borders with India only hence it will be incumbent on India to plan its infrastructure of roads, railways, ports, airports, waterways, irrigation canals, energy grids and water and gas pipelines to be integrated with its neighbours and construction and investment coordinated using resources available with  China and Japan.

Integration is needed also to ensure that SARRC can have a system of multi-modal transportation where containers are carried by all modes of transport through sea ports, airports and inland dry ports. All these developments must be integrated with ICT infrastructure since communication is an integral part of transport, distribution, packaging and marketing of goods. With this kind of vision on regional infrastructure the whole region could eradicate poverty by 2015 –and not just halve it as per UN mandate.

If 'health for all' and 'education for all' are valid approaches to striking at the root causes of poverty so also we need, as SARAC, seek 'electricity for all' and 'sanitation and irrigation for all' as well as 'drinking water for all’ by 2020.  None of this can be imagined without electricity. And energy is the underbelly of SAARC progress with lack of water a real threat to regional peace and security.

India's installed energy  capacity is perhaps less than 100,000 MW whereas Nepal's hydro-potential is 84,000 MW with 60,000 MW already deemed to be commercially viable at current oil prices.  High voltage transmission grids could be set up to link up the entire SAARC region which consequential savings in power transmission losses and from excess capacity during the day and during monsoons. China has become the hub for mass manufacturing industries with its 300,000 MW installed capacity with an addition of at least 15,000 MW each year.

Information Technology: Collaboration in IT education with regional schools, colleges and curriculli will go a long way in creating trust, confidence and good will amongst the youth of South Asia who have no memory of the pangs of partition. It will also create jobs for the millions of unemployed youth in the region. SAARC needs to create the world's largest pool of human resources in the IT sector. It is necessary to cooperate to arrest the digital divide between the urban and rural sectors which, some think, could be the ‘new class war’ and a new threat to regional security along with lack of water that cold lead to riots and wars.

Such a conceptualization will take us 'out of the box', so to speak, from the one so divisively left behind as a legacy of the British empire. It helps transcend the constraint on SAARC arising from the 'fear of asymmetry' among the smaller powers, while allowing the dominant regional bigger power to play its due role as regional leader without suspicion of the small powers being like pawns in the game of political poker.

Revival of the Gujral doctrine of non-reciprocity, announced in 1996 by India, could boost this confidence particularly if it is extended as a valid principle of international equity by China and Japan also to provide special and differential treatment to less developed countries and less developed regions of Asia.  

Exemplifying this out-of-the-box-think, is the view of C.Raja Mohan of India's Hindu Newspaper when he said that " The fear of a rising Chinese profile must be balanced by the prospect of India gaining economic access to parts of ChinaTibet, Yunan and Xinjian. (Opinion; July 19, 2004).

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) engaging China, Central Asian Republics and Russia, with India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia on the sidelines; the completion of the railway to Lhasa that will link the Himalayan region with China (in addition to the Karakoram highway) and Central Asia with Russia. This opens up new vistas of grand opportunities for development and modernization of the entire Hindu Khush-Himalayan region through the 'look west' policy of China seeking desperately to bring balanced regional development to its western and south western landmasses

Parameter Two: The idea is to strengthen SAARC with effective implementation of agreed to treaties and designing novel strategic targeted programmes. For example,

(a)strengthening the SAARC Regional Treaty on Suppression of Terrorism with cooperation on intelligence and border security to combat possible links between international terrorists, international business mafia, international anarchists and religious extremists. It can do with a definition of terrorism to give legal validity to the treaty;

(b) SAARC Treaty on Transit, Trans-Shipment and Transport is advisable to support the envisaged infrastructure modernization and investments; (c) SAARC Treaty on Protection of the Environment and Disaster Management be drafted. It should incorporate early warning system to monitor flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes, and forest fires; (d)

 Designing a SAARC Youth Programme is a must for collective security and identity for the future and to generate faith and hope amongst the youth.

Comprehensive regional security is strategically meaningful if and when nation states devolve power to the people – to the panchayats or local communities--- away from the traditional dominant elites and their institutions. Sharing of power in some manner of devolution with active participation of NGOs and civil society professional and business groups is needed.

Parameter Three: SAARC Common Minimum Programme (SARAC-CMP) for poverty eradication through social mobilization of the poor and people-to-people cooperation with the support of China and Japan for micro credit, SMEs development for export production and marketing; illiteracy eradication; building organizations of the poor for self-managed development initiatives at the grass roots; bridging the urban-rural digital divide, and human development with emphasis on the girl child. Cooperation in these domains could also benefit directly both China and Japan by developing appropriate vocational and technical skills to man industries relocated to South Asia or to supply manpower in shortage owing to the rapid greying of East Asia.

More concretely, in the context of the institutional profile of SAARC the following funds should gradually be created with the participation of China and Japan. These are:

SAARC Education Fund : Vocation and technical education for all should be part of the new SAARC with the financial and technical support of China and Japan contributing funds for a regional programme to assist those in the age group between 10-16 who wish to purse vocational and technical skills for jobs expected to be in shortage in Asia based manpower demand-supply surveys; these skills should meet standards that are acceptable to the labor markets overseas. Such skills should also include occupation that will be in demand in South Asia for the relocation of low technology, low labour cost industries from East Asia into South Asia

SAARC Micro Finance and Social Entrepreneurship Fund: Promote South Asian INGOs to generate private philanthropy from China, Japan and South Asia to mobilize, distribute and manage private capital for the above fund to support the consumption and investment needs of local social entrepreneurs and households.

Parameter Four: Create new institutions in SAARC  such as (a) SAARC Council of Religious Leaders; (b) SAARC Council of Elders;  (c) SAARC Council of Women Leaders; (d) SAARC Council of Parliamentarians; (e) SAARC Business Leaders Council; (f)  SAARC Council of Dalits, Indigenous Peoples and Tribal Leaders; (g)SAARC Council on Migration , and (h) SAARC NGO Council .

Major Recommendations

A strategy for ‘comprehensive regional security’ must take cognizance of emergent threats to world peace and security. The wisdom of economic historian William Woodruff and futurist Lester Brown are supremely valuable as a basis for the scenario analysis so necessary for strategy formulation. So also the profound insights of V.S, Naipaul.

Strong states are a must for comprehensive security which entails a professional national army, para-military and police forces , intelligence agency as well as a national security agency that subscribes to ‘comprehensive security’ and not simply military and para-military doctrines

National Security Agencies should dialogue through participation in a SAARC Security Council whose strategic goals should be to enhance, preserve and protect environmental, energy, water, employment, health and cultural security and guarantee food security to all through regional cooperation and integration; and promote South Asia's collective security interests in the United Nations and other multilateral and regional fora by adopting a common position keeping in view the ecological unity of South Asia as one region bound by one civilization.

Create SAARC- Japan and SAARC-China Business Councils to promote trade, investment and technology through annual summits bringing together representatives from academia, diplomacy, bilateral chambers of trade and commerce. The Council should also draw up a framework agreement on SAARC-China and SAARC-Japan FTAs and/or preferential treatment for the LDCSs and serve as a forum for exchange of ideas on WTO and other multilateral institutions

The expanded SAARC can be the true building bloc for the larger Asian Economic Community as was envisioned by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and as is being envisioned by China and the ASEAN. The vast infrastructure needs of the SAARC region should trigger financial momentum for the formation of the Asian bond and equity markets and creation of free trade and investment regimes.

Work pragmatically using the legal functional approach for regional integration taking  advantage of the common legal heritage derived from the legacies left by the Mughal and British empires in South Asia; by strengthening the existing treaties, and signing new ones using the institutional innovation of the diverse Councils of SAARC to derive the necessary top-down approach to regional cooperation and integration. This way a Social Union of South Asian nations will be nurtured with people-to-people interface and dynamism to help build confidence amongst the elite of South Asia to move towards a SAARC Peoples' Commonwealth of Nations that would give dynamism to the goal of a South Asian Economic Union.—and beyond. It may be possible that with all  these integrative steps a Confederation of South Asian Nations will, someday, be a reality.   

Security issues should be conceptualized comprehensively. That said, its strategizing should be compartmental, given its complexities and the specific constraints and bottlenecks, and done within the framework of relevant regional treaties to guide and govern each parameter in a systematic functional manner.


Weapons cannot defeat terrorism. Nor can they arrest deforestation.

How far expansion to include Afghanistan and China and Japan will lead to comprehensive security cooperation in combating threats from nuclear and military arms race; energy, water, food and employment insecurity; inequality; democratic deficits;  religious fundamentalism; failed governance; political extremism; regional spillover impact from political instability in one state upon another; ethnic cleansing; insurgency;  civil war; terrorism; ethno-nationalism; pollution; waste management and global warming remains to be seen. The entry of these nations into an expanded SAARC must be gauged for their impact on comprehensive regional security. The peace and prosperity of Asia depends critically on the ability of South Asia to eradicate poverty and modernize its social order for the full benefit of all its vastly diverse peoples like no where on earth.

Comprehensive security must not only be conceived as matters of national and regional interests ---equally seek to protect and promote community interests. People-to-people cooperation, therefore, is as vital as state-to-state cooperation for comprehensive regional security to be a living social reality

Cooperation for comprehensive regional security requires that South Asia cooperate to advance regional peace by helping each other stabilize their polity and economy to strengthen law enforcement agencies and to safeguard the rule of law in each nation. It must desist from destabilization politics through its intelligence agencies.  

Regional comprehensive security cannot take off unless states agree to expand national security policies and strategies towards comprehensive national security and to recognize that national comprehensive security can only be possible through cooperation through regional security arrangements.

Lack of cordiality in relations between India and Pakistan and, further, India and Bangladesh, need not confine SAARC to be disengaged from dialogues on comprehensive regional security. 

Track II diplomacy is vital for confidence building. It is hope that draft regional treaties could be worked out to progress the dialogue on policies and strategies which will eventually help Track I diplomacy. It would be beneficial if these functional treaties concerned with the various parameters of comprehensive regional security could be open to signature by at least three nations leaving it open for others to join when they deem it suitable to their national interest.

So long as the Kashmir question remains unresolved terrorism will prosper in South Asia with the ‘new cold war’ between the two South Asian nuclear powers thus heading towards general anarchy and self-destruction as terrorists, fundamentalists, business mafia and social anarchists join hands to create instability, chaos, confusion in the wake of the impending water, energy, health, food, public and peasants' debt crisis This could be aggravated severely with the destabilizing hand/s of extra-regional powers.  

The strategy being visualize may be perceived as making all of South Asia as India-locked nations by being so India-centric: far from it.  South Asia must begin to visualize the India sub-continent as having a 4-in-1 economy reaching out to the far corners of Central Asia over the Hindu Khush-Himalayan landmass; West Asia through the Arabian Sea; Indo-Chinese Peninsula through the Bay of Bengal, and Australasia and Africa through the Indian Ocean.

From 1985-1990 the threat of marginalization of South Asia as the global econmy's backwaters led to motivate the leaders to cooperate regionally albeit in a highly guarded manner bent on confidence building. From 1991-2002 with liberalization of the economy facilitated by common macro-economic and financial policies engineered by the likes of IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank regional cooperation was deepened to include economic agendas with SAPTA being most prominent.

From 2002, after the events of 9/11 when terrorists attacked the US with Afghanistan serving as a terrorist state under the Taliban, regional cooperation takes on more dynamism despite the hiccups as gauzed by the frequent interruptions in the SAARC Summits in 2005--- contrary to Charter provisions. Such real politic behavior was caused by India's attempts to impress the West with its 'deep commitment' to promoting democracy as part of its foreign policy thereby hoping  to get a seat, as a permanent member, in the UN Security Council.

Around one million Indian and Pakistan troops face each other across the Line of Control in Kashmir. And thus South Asia is (as President Clinton frankly remarked in New Delhi)   the "world's most dangerous place" with a precarious nuclear 'balance of terror' being crippled by terrorism that could graduate to mass levels through the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons..

The interplay between extremists--- fundamentalists, secularists, Maoists, anarchists and the business mafia---- will shape the course of security in South Asia with all its challenges to the self-seeking, corrupt, uncaring political elite that are content with majority rule in an illiberal, fragmented democracy with urban global connectivity that ignores the needs of the rural poor for capital, technology and markets.

Pakistan's former Foreign Secretary Naik believes that a security mechanism has become a necessity in SAARC if it is to effectively pursue the vision for SAARC as laid down by the Group of Eminent Persons (GEP), who recommended a South Asian Economic Community by 2010. Naik also adds that the changing global security environment compels SAARC to have a South Asian Security Organization (SOSA) and that the informal meetings on the sidelines of each Summit have already sowed the seeds for SOSA.

'Peace' means the successful resolution of human conflict arising from the differences between them. For peace we have to build on the commonalities while containing the differences through dialogue and cooperation so that all gain from the bargain. Truth is not absolute. It must be shared.

Perceptions of what is the truth, what is good and what is evil must be shared to get to the reality of it. National interests must be reconciled to the health of planet Earth. All interests are secondary to this overarching natural need. The value and significance of human life will be dependent on the value and significance that we, as humans, give to Mother Nature.

We lack a world outlook. Notice how the Bush-Blair or the Anglo-Saxon doctrine of global security is being questioned by their own peoples A new world moral outlook must, first and foremost, be enunciated. Here we are already blessed by the moral preaching on peace and compassion by Lord Buddha; by Mahatma Gandhi from his message of truth and reconciliation and non-violence, and by the teachings of the great modern Saint, our own Shivapuri Baba's who stresses upon duty, devotion, discipline, and discrimination as the fundamentals for a moral and happy life for all.

Considered to be one of the greatest modern saints of South Asia (Ibid: John Bennett: 2006), Sri Govindananda Bharati, popularly known as Shivapuri Baba to the Nepalese, has left behind for us all his teachings of Swardharma or Right Living on how to connect the three disciplines of Body, Mind and Soul in the quest for (eternal) Truth. The beauty of his teachings lies in the deep wisdom that whereas the three disciplines are the same for all times and all the peoples of the world yet, for practical purposes, they differ from one age to another, one nation to another, one individual to another--- even for the same individual living in different conditions and different geographical spaces

It is high time that international politics and economics in the 21st century be nourished by the intangible forces that move humanity as they go beyond interventions in the frontiers of science, technology, natural resources and financial capital. We need a veritable dialogue between civilizations now. It is essential that the West, foremost, reconcile itself to the fact that doctrines of liberal democracy, individual liberty and freedom are not universal; and that the rhetoric of 'evil empires' are a non-starter to such a dialogue for universal peace, goodwill and harmony.


Axeworthy, Lloyd (1999); Navigating a New World; Random House; also "Human Security: Safety for Peoples in an Insecure World (website);

Bennett, John G  and Thakur Lal Manandhar (2006); Long Pilgrimage: The Life and Times of the Shivapuri Baba; Multi Graphics, Kathmandu

Brown, Lester R. (2003); Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble; W.W.Norton & Co., New York

Dahal, Dev Raj and Nischal Pandey (Editors) (2006); Comprehensive Security in South Asia, Manohar Publihers and Distributors, New Delhi

Kalam, A.P.J. with Y.S. Rajan (1998); India 2020: A Vision for the New Millenium; Viking , Penguin India, New Delhi

Khatri, Sridhar K and Gert W. Kueck (2003); Terrorism in South Asia: Impact on Development and Democratic Process, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Shipra Publications, New Delhi

Niaz Naik (2003); " Security Organization for South Asia (SOSA): Mechanism for Conflict Resolition in South Asia" in Khatri and Kueck: P 249-261.

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana (2006); " SAARC and Trade and Investment in Services: Towards a Social Union of South Asia by 2015 Through a Commonwealth of Pluralistic Communities", Paper presented to the 'Round Table on SAARC and Economic Union', Organized by the Commonwealth Business Council and SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Islamabad

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana (2006); "Indo-Nepal Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century: From Dependence to Interdependence; Landlocked to Transit State and Buffer to Bridge State", in forthcoming IFA Policy Series, Institute of Foreign Affairs, Kathmandu

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B. (2006); "Sixty Years of the United Nations", Paper to be published by UN Association of Nepal, Kathmandu

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana (2005) ; " South Asian Growth Quadrangle: Role of  Asian Development Bank", in South Asian Survey, Volume 12 Number 2, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Sage Publications, New Delhi

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana (2003); "Nepal Bangladesh Relations: Retrospect and Prospects" in Policy Study Series 3: Nepal's Realtions with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,  Institute of Foreign Affairs, Kathmandu  (also published in modified form , in 2004, by the Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies, Dhaka)

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana (2003); " China in South Asia" , Editorial Page, The Himalayan Times,  Kathmandu

Rana, Madhukar S.J.B.Rana ( 2000); " Social Mobilization, Development and Democracy", Paper presented to the Regional Seminar on Culture, Development and Democracy, Organized by the India International Centre, New Delhi

Rana, Madhukar S.J.BRana (2000); " Globalism, Globalization, Glocalization and South Asia", Paper presented to the Regional Seminar on Culutre, Tradition and Modernization Organized by India International Centre and Indian Council for South Asian Cooperation, New Delhi

William Woodruff (2005); A Concise History of the Modern World :1500 to the Present : A Guide to World Affairs, Abacus, London
(The author is a senior economist and a former finance minister of Nepal)

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I agree


  • Posted on - 2010-07-03    by     gd
  • Dr. Thapa - Nepal's problems unfortunately have to be tackled all at once. Tackling one first may mean waiting forever to tackle the next step. A wholistic approach is a must I'm afraid.
  • Posted on - 2008-03-24    by     Dr. Govind Thapa
  • The problems of justice and security begin from our doorsteps; so do the solutions. If we look into the causes of every problem we find ‘human being’ sitting down at the root. The solutions of problems are perceived by people from different perspectives and proximities. Today societies suffer from inequity, inequality, injustice, and insecurity. These are also basic factors for conflict in the societies. Global/world security is more political in nature. The first thing we can start right now is: address these local problems. These are more local than regional problems. Let these be tackled first then we can think of regional politics, not at this moment.