Terrorism aggravating security of South Asia

Date: 2 November 2012

Islamabad-Despite sharing a common history and culture, south Asia remains one of the least integrated regions in the world both in terms of security cooperation as well as economic integration.

Farooq Sobhan, Former Foreign Secretary, Peoples Republic of Bangladesh stated this in a public talk on the subject of “Security Architecture for South Asia” at the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI) on Thursday.

While welcoming the guests, the Director General ISSI, Ambassador (Retd) Ashraf Jehangir Qazi highlighted the importance of the subject. He said that the region of South Asia is full of promises and challenges. There is a need to look for new approaches to handle these challenges and it can only be done on regional basis.

Addressing the gathering, Mr. Farooq Sobhan said that 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.

Stressing the need for a Security Architecture for this part of the world, Mr. Sobhan said that South Asian region has about 30% of the world’s population and 15% of the world’s arable land but receives less than 1% of global foreign investment and tourism revenues, less than 2% of global GDP.

While South Asian countries confront both military and human security dilemmas, national budgets tend 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 which has led many to fear the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists or an accidental use of nuclear weapons.

He said that for all its economic potential, South and Central Asia remains 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 the security of the region. He deplored the fact that the main impediment to regional security in South Asia is the lack of trust and confidence among member states.

Negotiations on disputes have not produced the desired results but countries are slowly beginning to realise the futility of confrontational means of resolving conflicts. 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 are the main non-traditional threats to South Asia.

While highlighting the fact that SAARC has not been able to achieve much, Mr. Sobhan suggested that one of the fundamental steps in achieving cooperative security is the formation of a holistic security architecture which would espouse security cooperation between politically diverse nations through a wide network of institutions. Independent of SAARC, security architecture in South Asia must be based on developing multilateral cooperation and initiating public diplomacy to counter the wide range of security threats posing the region.

He also talked about three mechanisms for the administration of the architecture that included (1) Intergovernmental – which should include periodic meetings of foreign ministers, home and trade ministers of all South Asian countries (2) Government/Non Governmental – which should include regular meetings of governments officials, think tanks and civil society and (3) 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 concluded his presentation by saying that confidence building, preventive diplomacy, conflict prevention are all steps which if undertaken through an institutional mechanism as suggested may eventually draw South Asian countries to collectively fight common threats and benefit from each others economies.