Conference on Peace in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges

Karachi: The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) to mark its 70th anniversary organized a conference on “Peace in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges” on 15 and 16 November, here at a local hotel.  The conference inauguration session was presided by President of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain.  At this occasion the President said, ‘The destiny of South Asian nations is linked and together they can fight the battle against poverty, unemployment, climate change and militancy and the problems faced by the people’.

The president added that deep-rooted poverty and social backwardness in the region provided a fertile ground for the growth of extremism and radicalisation. “With transnational threats on the surge, South Asian neighbours should actively support each other to alleviate poverty and improve social conditions of their people,” he added.

“The lack of access to basic amenities of life increases the possibility of internal conflicts; thereby rendering regional states vulnerable to ethnic and sectarian violence,” Mamnoon said, and added, “South Asia is mired in several crises and conflicts at the moment due to various unresolved political and geographical factors.”

“China’s growing interest and investment in the region provides a significant incentive to South Asian countries to draw maximum benefits from various Chinese initiatives relating to regional connectivity and infrastructure development such as One Belt and One Road (OBOR), CPEC and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB),” he said. Parliamentary Committee on CPEC Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, in his keynote address, said that peace in the region could help us access the untapped potential of South Asia’s natural resources while providing employment opportunities to millions of youth to eradicate poverty in the region.

“It will also help us wipe out threats existing in the form of water issues, climate change , environmental degradation, and other challenges through mutual cooperation,” said Senator Mushahid Hussain.

He added that Pakistan was the centre of regional trade and had geo-strategic value. “CPEC is the centrepiece and flagship in the history of Pakistan. CPEC is very important for regional trade and cooperation,” he added.

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Dr Masuma Hassan, PIIA chairperson said, “South Asia is no exception to war and conflict. It is home to some of the most intractable disputes, including that of Kashmir. We have invited scholars from south Asia and other countries so that we can discuss the dynamics and factors in the pursuit of peace in our region.”

Scholars from leading think tanks, academia and diplomats in the region were invited to the conference.

Devika Mittal, Convener, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Delhi, India, spoke about ‘Peace Education in India-Pakistan Context: Praxis and Potentials’ through a video message, and highlighted that “Focusing specifically on peace education, a lot depends on the attitude of teachers like the school management, towards peace education, its objective and importance. Teacher’s own understanding of these issues is crucial. In the situation of a conflict between a teacher’s understanding and the narrative in textbooks, it will be the teacher who will tend to have an upper hand,” she added.

Naresh Prasad Shrestha, Chairman, Director Institute of Strategic and Socio-Economic Research, Kathmandu, Nepal, spoke about Peace, Connectivity, Trade and Investment in South Asia: A Nepalese Perspective.

The session three was about Informal Diplomacy and Connecting with the People which was chaired by Ambassador Najmuddin Shaikh, while Ambassador Aziz Ahmed Khan, Honorary Vice President, Jinnah Institute, Islamabad, spoke about Informal Diplomacy and Connecting People: Track II Dialogue Process. Jehan Perera, Chairman, National Peace Council, Colombo, Sri Lanka, spoke about ‘Priority Issues for Reconciliation in Sri Lanka’.

The session four is ‘Cooperation on Social Issues’ which chaired by Senator (R) Javed Jabbar while Ms. Mahnaz Rahman, Resident Director, Aurat Foundation, Karachi, delivered speech on ‘Women’s Movement and Peace Building in South Asia’.

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The most likely danger of a nuclear crisis in South Asia stems from the latest revolt of the Kashmiris in the India-held Kashmir and its mass suppression by India. This observation was made by former ambassador Munir Akram on the second—and final—-day of the conference.
He said that India’s increasing ceasefire violations along the LoC, its threats to launch “surgical strikes” against Pakistan, its “Cold Start” Doctrine, and threats of a “limited war”, were indications in that direction. The recent emerging Indo-US alliance had encouraged India all the more in her aggressive designs, Akram said. An India-Pakistan conflict confrontation could rapidly escalate to the nuclear level due to the asymmetry in conventional forces. This, he said, would serve as a strong incentive for the US to seize and destroy Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
To preserve credible deterrence, he said, several steps are needed on the part of Pakistan, like: i)massive deployment of artillery and short-range conventional missiles to respond to an Indian Cold Start attack ii) multiply its short, medium range and long range missiles iii) continue the production of fissile materials to provide warheads for its missile force iv) ‘pre-mate’ some nuclear weapons to delivery systems; v) deploy one or more missile systems to protect command and control centres. The world community, he said, had a vital interest in preventing a nuclear war in South Asia and as such, must hasten a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the UN Resolutions on Kashmir, and balanced arms control and disarmament measures between the two countries.

The next session was titled, “Combating terrorism” and was chaired by Lt-Gen (retd) TalatMasood, former Secretary for Defence Production. Gen. Masood said, “even though the threat has been contained by the armed forces, the ideological threat remains”. Pakistan, he said, had taken some very bold decisions in the two Waziristans and FATA, but still, he said, there were major challenges.

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Lt-Gen (retd) Tariq Khan said that terrorism has assumed a critical place in international affairs and has become a critical global concern but Pakistan had rarely put out a cogent narrative explaining its position on the subject. He added, “we can’t go on increasing summary military courts and as such, have to expand and empower the judiciary to the maximum to deal with terrorism cases”. Military solution to terrorism, he said, has to be fully complemented by strong governmental measures.

Noted journalists Rahimulah Yusufzai, listed the measures like the Zarb-e-Azb and the RaddulFassad, launched by the Pakistan Army, the latter launched by the army in February 2017. He said that to date, there had been 16 major operations and about a dozen peace accords concluded mostly secretly. He said “we should not hold peace talks without building a consensus”.

Former ambassador Shafqat Kakakehl, currently the chairman of the Sustainable Policy Development Institute (SDPI), said the bulk of Pakistan’s fresh water supplies, he said, passed through India and Afghanistan. Pakistan, he said, must endeavour to preserve the Indus Waters Treaty. It should also, he said, engage in parleys with Afghanistan to obtain undiminished access to the waters of the Kabul and the Kurram rivers. The internal and external aspects of Pakistan’s water woes, both in terms of per-capita availability and quality must receive urgent attention. Pakistan, he said, must engage with India and Afghanistan. The biggest driver of water scarcity, he said, was burgeoning population.

The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs is the oldest think tank in Pakistan was established as an independent, non-political, not for profit association in 1947, devoted to study and research in international relations, economics and jurisprudence.

Farhan Khan

Mr. Farhan Khan, holding a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) in 1st Division from the University of Karachi. Farhan Khan has got rich experience in Communications, Public relations and Media, with some excellent communication, writing, managerial and reporting skills.

Once a part of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as a Communication & Liaison Officer (2010-2012), he is currently serving Live Rostrum, as Manager Regional Leads for the Live Rostrum News Agency.

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