Saarc states urged to frame joint security architecture

Date: 2 November 2012

Former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Farooq Sobhan on Thursday called upon the South Asian countries to frame joint security architecture based on developing multilateral co-operation to counter the wide-range security threats posing the region.

Speaking at a public talk titled “Security Architecture for South Asia”, organised by Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI), the former Bangladeshi foreign secretary said that South Asian region had about 30 percent of the world’s population and 15 percent of the world’s arable land, but received less than one percent of global foreign investment and tourism revenues were less than two percent of global GDP. While South Asian countries confront both military and human security dilemmas, he pointed out that national budgets tended to favour military spending instead of social sector making South Asia one of the major flashpoints in the world. “This has also resulted in arms race among some countries of the region, leading many to fear the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or an accidental use of nuclear weapons,” he argued. Sobhan said the end of cold war and the subsequent transformation of the global distribution of power from a bipolar to a multi-polar structure had profound ramifications on the perception of security which resulted in ‘regionalism’ receiving a renewed impetus as a means of sustaining peace and stability.

He further said that despite sharing a common history and culture, south Asia remained one of the least integrated regions in the world both in terms of security co-operation as well as economic integration. He said that for all its economic potential, South and Central Asia remained one of the least economically integrated areas of the world. The adverse affects of economic and political ramifications of transnational terrorism and transnational crime are further aggravating security of the region.

He suggested three mechanisms for the administration of the architecture -intergovernmental, which, he said, should comprise periodic meetings of foreign ministers, home and trade ministers of all South Asian countries; government/non-governmental organisations, which should include regular meetings of governments officials, think tanks and civil society; and non-government, which should include regular meetings of think tanks, non state actors and members of civil society. This should be supported by a small regional secretariat, he further suggested.

He also went on saying that confidence building measures, preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention were all steps, which if were undertaken through an institutional mechanism, as suggested might eventually draw South Asian countries to collectively fight common threats and benefit from each others economies. He said that no country of the region including India could address the challenges single-handedly.

The former Bangladeshi foreign secretary further suggested that there should be joint peacekeeping operation and the armed forces of the regional countries to conduct joint military exercises. South Asia being the most vulnerable to natural calamities, he proposed that there should also be a joint disaster management plan to respond the calamities collectively. He deplored the fact that the main impediment to regional security in South Asia was the lack of trust and confidence among member states, adding that negotiations on disputes had not produced the desired results, but countries were slowly beginning to realise the futility of confrontational means of resolving conflicts.

However, he added, the unresolved disputes should not impede moving forward on co-operation in various fields, suggesting that South Asia should be a free trade region and there should be visa free travel among the South Asian countries.

In his view, food and water, health, environmental security and climate change, illegal migration and human trafficking, energy security and transnational crime and transnational terrorism were the main non-traditional threats to South Asia.

He strongly advocated the joint venture like Tajikistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline projects by the regional countries for the economic prosperity of the region, adding the project could be extended to Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.

While highlighting the fact that Saarc had not been able to achieve much, Sobhan suggested that one of the fundamental steps in achieving co-operative security was the formation of a holistic security architecture, which would espouse security co-operation among politically diverse nations through a wide network of institutions. “Independent of Saarc, security architecture in South Asia must be based on developing multilateral co-operation and initiating public diplomacy to counter the wide-range of security threats posing the region,” he added.

Earlier, in his welcome address, ISSI Director General Ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi (Retd) said the region of South Asia was full of promises and challenges. He stressed the need for new approaches to handle those challenges and it could only be done on regional basis.