Annual International Conference on "Changing Political Context in South Asia: Prospect of Regional Security and Cooperation"
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  • Rapporteur Report on Session 2

    November 5, 2008
    Prepared by Nihar Nayak

    The session was chaired by Ambassador I.P. Khosla. He observed that the word ‘neighbourhood’ offered a new way of thinking about the common challenges in South Asia. There are some complexities and contradictions in the region; however, there was also an opportunity to resolve these problems through common and cooperative initiatives.

    Prof. Ataur Rahaman, from Dhaka University, Bangladesh, presenting his paper titled, “Common Challenges Facing South Asia: Perspective from Bangladesh” identified challenges from three different sources, viz., within the State (Governance and Democratization), outside the State and challenges arising out of globalization. He made the following points during his presentation:

    • Human security and climate change are the major challenges confronting all the States in South Asia. Security analysts need to look beyond the nation state paradigm to address these challenges.
    • Water issues can be a source of future conflict in South Asia, especially between India and Bangladesh.
    • There is a need to establish mutual trust amongst regional partners and India should lead others in addressing these challenges.
    • India and Bangladesh need to cooperate in tackling illegal activities in the border areas. There is a need for India and Bangladesh to cooperate on the issue of arms smuggling in which Bangladesh is used as a transit.
    • Bilateral disputes should not pose a hurdle in the process of regional cooperation.
    • Bangladesh looks towards India with hope and expectation. Sometimes, unnecessary bureaucratic delays spoil goodwill generated by political gestures. There has to be a change in the mind-set of people. It is a continuous process that needs to be adjusted with reality and India should draft a regional policy keeping the neighbourhood in mind.

    Mr Walilullah Rahmani, Founder and Executive Director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, Afghanistan, presented his paper on “The New Great Game: The Contest for Afghanistan”. He made the following observations:

    • During the last four decades, efforts towards government formation by various forces have failed in Afghanistan.
    • Those efforts have failed due to ‘imperial overreach’ by certain powers and the present democratic initiative too may not last long because of the great game going on in the region about control of Afghanistan.
    • Because of Afghanistan’s strategic location, external players have been tempted to play a role in the process of evolution of Afghanistan as an independent and sovereign state.
    • There has been a contest, among different players from the region and beyond, to assume control in three different areas, viz., the contest for political control, the contest for economic control and the contest for the soul of Afghanistan. But no one has succeeded yet in assuming control in any of these spheres.
    • The people of Afghanistan instinctively abhor religious extremism and intolerance.
    • They are tolerant and will welcome any initiative that aims at setting up a liberal democracy with tribal values and cultures. Western democracy, in its original form, may not work in Afghanistan.
    • A regional initiative is necessary to resolve the problems in Afghanistan.

    Dr Hari Prasad Bhattarai, Tribhuban University, Nepal, presented his paper on “New Era of Democratic Republic Nepal: Prospects and Challenges Ahead”, and identified the following challenges confronting Nepal and its implications on its neighbouring countries:

    • The new government has several challenges ahead. They are:
      1. taking the ongoing peace process to its logical conclusion,
      2. restoration of peace and security,
      3. stability of the coalition government,
      4. institutionalization of the democratic republic,
      5. restructuring of the State,
      6. new constitution making process and its contents,
      7. economic challenges
      8. foreign policy
    • Nepal has tremendous potential to face these challenges. The political parties lack democratic consensus in Nepal. However, the entire transitional process has so far been driven by a positive and reconciliatory approach and this trend may persist in the coming days to usher in a new era in Nepal.
    • There is a suspicion in Nepal that external forces were involved in the process of constitution making and the process of political integration.
    • While the people in power tend to be friendly towards India, those in Opposition tend to whip up anti-India sentiments amongst the people of Nepal. At the popular level there is widespread belief that India is trying influence the ongoing process of transition in Nepal. This has to be addressed.

    The following points emerged during the discussion:

    The threat of climate change may induce the countries to strengthen cooperation in the region.

    Regional initiatives may help in the resolution of the Afghan problem, but no country, so far, has taken any initiative in this regard. Dr Rahmani emphasized a regional initiative to resolve the Afghan problem and stressed that the tribal culture and customs were important ingredients of democratic governance.

    Dr Adhikari emphasised that the momentum of change that was in consonance with people’s aspirations needed to be sustained. The media and civil society needed to play a leading role in creating the momentum for change. The Nepal Army must respect the democratic aspirations of the people and respect democratic norms. India needs to be sensitive to the political process in Nepal.