Remove Trust-Deficit, Institutionalise Regional Cooperation Efforts for Stability and Growth: Pallam Raju

November 06, 2012

New Delhi: India is emerging as “an economic power house” in South Asia and “all countries in the region have an opportunity to link up with the Indian economy and improve their own prospects of growth”, feels Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Shri MM Pallam Raju. The Minister was speaking at the inaugural session of the opening day of the international conference on South Asia, ‘Prospects for Stability and Growth in South Asia’ at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on November 6-7, 2012.

Highlighting how countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh have already benefited from deepening their economic cooperation with India, Shri Pallam Raju hoped that the “the trust deficit” which comes in the way of cooperation would yield to “a climate of change and the positive side of growing together with India would be appreciated”.

“The present intra-SAARC trade is only 4 per cent of the region’s global trade. There is enormous potential of intra-regional trade and investment that we must not leave untapped” insisted Shri Pallam Raju.

Hailing the ‘democratic moment’ that the South Asian region has witnessed, the minister urged the South Asian nations not to be complacent and “work towards reinforcing the processes of change by building more capable institutions, improving governance, tackling the problem of corruption, reaching out to the vulnerable sections of the society and strengthening the feedback loops.”

“Think South Asia”, should be the motto for all of us to connect with one another and build bridges across artificial divides that inhibit the process of regional integration, insisted Shri Pallam Raju, adding that the “Initiatives taken by the SAARC forum provide excellent frameworks for cooperation.”

Further, throwing light on the global financial crisis that is also casting its shadow in the South Asian region, the minister urged the regional community to “institutionalize regional efforts for cooperation at various levels” to combat the situation. “The finance ministers and the central bank governors should come together and discuss the crisis at the earliest,” he stated.

Instead of wasting their energies on mutual differences, the South Asian states need to focus on the region’s rich “human and natural resources” and its “demographic dividend” in the form of its vast youth population and use them for strengthening the foundations of democracy and ensuring transparent governance and inclusive development, concluded the minister.

Shri Pallam Raju also released two publications on South Asia that are edited by IDSA scholars - ‘Cooperative Security Frame work for South Asia’, by Dr Nihar Nayak and ‘India’s neighbourhood: The Armies of South Asia’, by Dr Vishal Chandra.

In the first session of the conference, Prof SD Muni, Senior Visiting Fellow at IDSA, critiqued the very idea of stability and said that sometimes it might mean regime stability, which may not be welcome. He analysed the situation prevailing in most of the countries in the region and said that they were all affected by political uncertainty and fractured political consensus. The issues that led to conflicts in different states remained unaddressed. Therefore, he held, South Asia would continue to be haunted by instability in the days to come. Other delegates from Myanmar, Maldives and Afghanistan highlighted the ongoing process of democratisation in their countries and identified the challenges they are confronted with. The common problems of lack of strong institutions, poor governance, corruption, irresponsible media and corrosive role of religion in politics were brought into focus by the speakers. Dwelling on Pakistan, an Indian analyst, argued that an interventionist judiciary, a well-entrenched army and immature opposition and above all a partisan media would pose a critical challenge to consolidation of democracy in Pakistan. Chairing the session, Ambassador Leela Ponappa moderated the discussions and argued that there was a need to redefine south Asia to bring in other countries and regions into the ambit of the discussion.

Earlier, welcoming the guests, Director General, IDSA, Dr Arvind Gupta spoke about the numerous geopolitical and economic challenges confronting the South Asian region. Dr Gupta said that “we need to harness our vast human potential for peace, prosperity and stability in the region,” as the “key to the future of South Asian stability will be in the hands of the youth”. He also held that in an interconnected world, developments in the neighbouring regions of West, East and South East Asia will have their impact on stability and growth in South Asia.

The two day conference is the sixth in the series of annual South Asia conferences that IDSA has been holding since 2007. Distinguished scholars, experts, journalists, diplomats from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka are a part of the panel.