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National Strategy Lecture - How to Achieve Sustainable Peace in South Asia

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  • January 28, 2011
    Speeches and Lectures

    Despite South Asian having achieved relative progress, multiple factors such as religious extremism, high levels of corruption, inequitable development and mutual distrust among others have led to South Asia being termed as the most volatile region in the world. Professor T.V. Paul analyzed past relationship and the contemporary political and security environment through the lens of prominent theories in International Relations.

    Professor Paul began with an overview of common threats and pointed out the prevalence of weak states posing hurdles to achieving everlasting peace. According to him, a weak state is characterised by its low levels of State capacity - which he defines as the ability of a state to develop and implement policies in order to provide collective goods like security and welfare to its citizens in a legitimate and effective manner untrammelled by internal and external actors. A state is not just a security provider but should function in a way to provide welfare and order as well. He stressed upon the fact that a benign state is healthier than a forceful aggressive state in order to have deep peace in a region. He listed three deficiencies as hampering a state from being a strong state namely-security deficiency, infrastructure deficiency and lastly participation deficiency.

    Having laid down the theoretical backdrop, he classified South Asia in terms of strength of the state capacity.

    • Failed state - A failed state is one that has failed in all crucial aspects, predominantly security and legitimacy, and not having full control over its territory. A failed state is heavily reliant on external support for its survival. He mentioned Afghanistan as an example in this category.
    • Very Weak State - A very weak state is one that has relatively better control over its territory, but is tenuous. He described the lack of legitimacy and non provision of welfare as being the main characteristics of a very weak state naming Nepal as an example.
    • Weak State - A weak state is a legitimate state, providing reasonable levels of welfare and security, but having substantial coercive power and thereby being able to suppress internal dissidence for a short time but not eternally pointing out Pakistan and Sri-Lanka as the main nation states which fall into this category.
    • Strong/Weak State - Professor Paul depicts strong states as being strong in various aspects largely control and legitimacy whereas being weak in some other aspects primarily welfare and internal security. He mentioned only India as being the likely candidate satisfying these conditions.

    He pointed out the fundamental linkages between state capacity and security that are prevalent in South Asia starting with the first one which states that weak states tend to manage internal security ineffectively and thereby have the tendency to use their force to suppress internal dissidence. This kind of suppression leads to secessionist groups operating from home soil. Another linkage that arises in weak states is the penchant for externalisation of domestic conflicts to strengthen domestic credibility. He also illustrated weak states as being fertile grounds for major powers to operate and pursue their own national interest.

    While trying to depict the situation in South Asia, Professor Paul talked about the three prevalent theories of international relations and their relevance in South Asian regional framework.

    Realism - This has been the dominant perspective amongst scholars as well as practitioners of international relations especially in South Asia. Pakistani establishment’s application of balance of power to contain India through alignment with US and China at different times, acquisition of weaponry and an overtly aggressive strategy has been successful. But it has not helped socio-economic development of Pakistan. Applying hegemonic stability thesis, he stated that there can be regional order and stability with respect to South Asia that only if India achieves strength of epochal dimensions. On to the question of why India has yet not received such strength, he felt that the attempts by the Indian establishment have not been serious enough. He characterized economic dominance as being a potential area where India can play a vigorous role.

    Liberalism - This theory is driven by three mechanisms namely-democratic peace, economic interdependence and lastly multi-lateral institutions. In this theoretical context he rationalized why South Asia has not been able to achieve sustainable peace identifying the presence of hybrid democracy structure seen in many South Asian countries specifically Pakistan. Weak institutions, lack of leadership and meagre economic integration are seen as the root causes for turbulence in the region.

    Constructivism - This theory is concerned with how ideas define international structure. He asserted that bad norms being adopted by many South Asian countries like intervention and profound focus on territorial expansion as being the major hindrances to achieving everlasting peace.

    He summed up his lecture by insisting that divergence of civilization and religious practises as not being an argument for not achieving peace in South Asia. He opined that the key for sustainable peace lies in visionary leadership and sustained norm entrepreneurship.

    In the Q and A session, the first few revolved around the role of Pakistan in the impediment of South Asian stability and about the rest of SAARC members having relatively stable relations amongst themselves. Professor Paul pointed out that the change in stance of the Pakistani establishment is unlikely to happen due to the increasing clout of the Pakistan army in the decision making process. There has not been a pivotal moment to force Pakistan to change which is absolutely critical to force people to realise that existing policies do not work. He proposed that Indian establishment should engage the civil society in Pakistan and work towards improving trade ties between the two nations.

    Discontentment and mistrust with other South Asian nations arise out of a perception of Indian domination and interference. For instance, perceived meddling in the internal affairs of Nepal by India has often led to negative responses from Nepalese civil society. In this regard, he advised the Indian diplomats to demonstrate flexibility and restraint while dealing with fellow SAARC members. He emphasised the critical importance of the border states have in achieving sustainable peace and encouraged more open talks between border states and neighbouring countries.

    There was also a discussion on how these international relations theories can be practically applied to solving the key issues plaguing the region. There were questions raised as to why this region does not symbolise cohesiveness on the world stage and take an effective stance to reshape multi-lateral institutions. The lack of visionary leadership was another talking point and Professor Paul mentioned the excellent leadership shown by the Indian business class at various forums but emphasised the need for the business class to closely work with the political system. He sought reinvention of International Relations discipline in India by reducing its reliance on the realist paradigm to analyze contemporary world affairs from different theoretical perspectives

    Dr. Arvind Gupta thanked Professor Paul on behalf of IDSA for enlightening the audience on this complex topic and observed that problems in South Asia are caused primarily by the breakage in the civilizational commons partly because of colonization. He argued that realist paradigm is here to stay as long as the security situation improves. India has to discard its scepticism with regards to discussing security scenarios in South Asia and be prepared to have more open discussions with member states of SAARC. All international theories are imperative and should not be looked upon as being mutually exclusive. In his concluding remarks he argued that India has to be strong in all aspects and take a more dynamic role in attaining sustainable peace in South Asia

    Report prepared by Pratik Jhakhar, Intern, IDSA and Sundar M.S. Research Assistant, IDSA

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