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Amit Kumar asked: How does ethnicity and nationalism hamper regional co-operation in the South Asian region?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: South Asia is an ethnic and national boiling pot. Most states in South Asia are multi-ethnic and multi-national in character. There are numerous ethno-national identities demanding their rightful place in the region in terms of recognition of their separateness, due representation in the political and economic affairs and autonomy in managing land and security in the areas they live in, both within the state systems (autonomist) and outside them (secessionist/separatist). This has led to ethno-national movements in almost every country in the region. What complicates the issue of ethno-national assertion further is the zero-sum attitude that characterises inter-state relationship and the propensity of the states to use such unrest to destabilise each other.

    Given the cross border ethno-cultural and linguistic linkages, such external interventions do lead to grave security crises in most states, exacerbating the sense of hostility among states resulting in mutual distrust and suspicion about one another. Diversity, which ought to have been the strength of the region, has led to divisiveness because the states are busy fashioning out exclusive national identities disregarding the natural plural character of the societies in the region.

    This is the reason why the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has failed as a regional organisation advocating economic integration of the region as a whole. During the last about more than thirty years of its existence, despite emphaising on the need to cooperate at the economic level, and signing of scores of agreements on a variety of issues ranging from counter-terrorism, drug trafficking to space and environment, SAARC has made little progress as a regional organisation. It is 'politics' which has trumped 'economics'.

    Several such issues relating to South Asia have been debated and analysed over the years in annual South Asia conferences organised by IDSA.

    For regional as well as country perspectives by leading experts from the region, please refer to the conference publications (click here)

    Posted on March 16, 2016