The latest round of Indo-Pakistan hostilities draws attention to South Asia’s security vulnerabilities and the global South’s yawning political leadership deficit. The former aspect is plain to see because the South Asian region continues to be considerably dependent on a degree of harmony and good will between India and Pakistan, for the sustainability of its collective security.
That is, instability in the Indo-Pakistan relationship has a knock-on effect on South Asia’s security. If this were not so, SAARC would not be in a near moribund state; leaving a marked question mark over South Asia’s ability to muster a degree of regional stability to meet its essential requirements.
The above second aspect may not be immediately apparent. The Asian continent is seemingly enjoying unprecedented economic growth and South Asia is touted by opinion moulders as a region with immense prospects in material advancement. Its fortunes are believed to be on an unprecedented upswing. This fixation with economic advancement, however, has concealed the Asian region’s growing need for collective political leadership and direction.
The latter need has been latently present over the past 30 years but it has not been widely discussed in the South as a result of the highly publicized economic successes of the continent. It is as if relative material prosperity rendered inconsequential political direction and ideological integrity.
Moreover, market-led growth all over Asia almost rendered superfluous the need for the socialist model of economic development with its emphasis on redistributive justice, which dominated Southern development thinking until the onset of the market-led growth paradigm in the early nineties. It should be remembered that the founders of the Non-aligned Movement, for example, were in the main socialist in their political orientation and this ensured that the South had its sights primarily on the socialist principle of re-distributive justice in matters economic.
To place developments in a historical perspective, with the bipolar world political system characteristic of the Cold War decades coming apart in the late eighties, free market economics characteristic of the capitalist system began to dominate economic policy thinking in the South. Consequently, the urgency to ensure that the South retained political perspectives that protected its core interests in the world system came to be eventually lost. We in the South are currently living through this crisis.
The South in general is, in keeping with market principles, competing in the WTO-regulated global economy with some of the most powerful economies of the North, but not all Southern countries are gaining by this exposure to the notoriously unequal world trade system. In fact some of them are being ‘beggared’ by the exercise. However, it is essentially an ‘every state to itself’ economic order and the South has only itself to blame for lacking collective political thinking that focuses on the core interests of the South as a hemisphere.
However, a positive is emerging from the current round of Indo-Pakistani hostilities in that sections of the South are beginning to think of Southern-centred modalities of easing the stand-off in South Asia. Ideally, SAARC should be in the forefront of these conflict resolution efforts, but the indications are that it is hamstrung as a result of allowing India and Pakistan to take centre stage over the decades. Consequent to living in the shadows of these heavyweights for too long, SAARC seems to have condemned itself into inaction.
However, in a thought-provoking article in a weekend newspaper the ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka Ashraf Haidari has spoken of the possibility of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) taking on itself the task of defusing tensions between India and Pakistan. This proposition needs to be given some thought because the SCO has within it some very important states of the South. Besides India and Pakistan, the SCO has within its fold, China, Russia, Kazhakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan. It has four observer states including Afghanistan and six dialogue partners including Sri Lanka. These states are said to account for more than three billion people, centred mainly in the global South.
Haidari names ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’ and ‘separatism’ as being among the SCO’s focal areas. Besides, the heavyweight or big power status of many SCO member countries makes the organization most suitable, he thinks, to mediate between India and Pakistan.
However, one couldn’t help but observe that a too national security-centric approach to the problems dividing India and Pakistan would be of limited use in bringing a degree of peace between them. This position needs to be taken because the three ‘evils’ just mentioned cannot be managed by law and order methods alone and states such as Russia and China consider the three issues as essentially resolvable through the adoption of these measures. True, they have a law and order side to them but the roots of the problems go deeper to factors such as wealth inequality, poverty and identity. If the issues mentioned are remedied at these roots, the resultant peace is likely to be more enduring.
More to the point would be Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priorities for SCO. Haidari sums up these requirements as coming under the concept of SECURE. S – security for citizens, E – economic development, C – connectivity in the region, U – unity, R – respect for sovereignty, E – environment protection.
Of the above factors, economic development and regional connectivity, one believes, would go a considerable distance towards ending regional instability and ensuring the security of people and countries. The SCO should take up the challenge of working more collectively and intensively on these subjects.
The question is – is the SCO Southern leadership material? Could it match the collective strength, range, vision and magnitude of NAM, for instance? At present this question could be answered only in the negative. It is not enjoying the international presence and prominence that NAM enjoyed in its heyday. It has to also lead from the front in giving the South ideological direction.
Besides, SCO should think in terms of extending its geographical reach to cover all regions that were considered part of the Third World. This would give it global stature and clout. Regardless of whether the SCO measures-up to these challenges or not it is amply clear that the South needs to rally round an international collectivity, whose voice will be heard, respected and acted on. The South could no longer drift aimlessly in the current international political and economic disorder.