BRI offers common economic development for entire region: speakers


–‘Regional cooperation necessary to face common challenges in South Asia’

ISLAMABAD: Speakers at a conference unanimously said on Wednesday that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers a vision of common economic development for the entire South Asian region, which may eventually lead to common security architecture.

Apart from the traditional security threats, the South Asian countries face multiple common challenges in the realm of non-traditional security and it is imperative that regional cooperation be sought to address such collective concerns like rising poverty, food insecurity, water shortages, illicit trafficking, poor human development indices, etc. in the domain of social sector and human resource development, said speakers from Pakistan, China, Russia and the US on the final day of the international conference titled ‘Conflict and Cooperation in South Asia: Role of Major Powers’, organised by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) on Wednesday.

“Pakistan should, therefore, focus on strengthening its economy through structural reforms and robust trade regimes,” they said, adding that bilateral transit trade agreements and SAARC’s agenda should be promoted so that regional trade volume could be enhanced. Emphasis should be placed on diplomatic means, political dialogues and negotiations at both bilateral and multilateral levels to amicably settle inter-state disputes, they emphasised.

“Pakistan’s recent peace overtures towards both Afghanistan and India are unfortunately not being reciprocated,” they lamented, adding that the existing political and security paradigm demands that countries must resume dialogue and open communication channels regarding issues of critical nature. Global powers should play a proactive role in bridging the divide between disputants by facilitating political engagements between South Asian countries, they underscored, adding that BRI offers a vision of common economic development for the entire South Asian region, which may eventually lead to common security architecture. Rather than attempting to sink this economic initiative in controversy, it should be seen as a means for mutual economic prosperity and development, they recommended.

They also called for Pakistan and the US to rationalise their expectations from each other in terms of their objectives in the region and common concerns. The US and Pakistan must move from transactional to a principle-based relationship, they insisted.

In his speech, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan urged Pakistan not to change, abandon nor alter its stance on Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and called on the government to develop a holistic and clear national security paradigm and national security strategy which is shared with all stakeholders. Sharing the situation in IOK, he said that India had abandoned all principles of proportionality and precaution and the distinction between combatants and non-combatants was being flagrantly violated. He cautioned that till the general elections in India, no peace overtures are likely to be considered. President Khan also emphasised that CPEC has helped bring the Kashmir dispute back on the world stage given India’s hostility to the project. However, he said, CPEC should be treated as a catalyst and not as a substitute or panacea for Pakistan’s internal economic development. “Start thinking of CPEC in terms of CPEC-Plus wherein social sector development, especially Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) about the provision of quality education is prioritized”, he said. He also emphasised leveraging the strength of Pakistan’s diaspora in the Middle East, Europe and US which now has considerable political traction, in order to reap huge dividends for the country on critical political and economic issues.

Discussing geopolitics of South Asia and interests of the US, University of Tennessee’s Howard H Baker Jr Centre for Public Policy Research Fellow Harrison Akins said that earlier Pakistan-US’ pragmatic relationship rose and fell according to the saliency of American security interests in the region but now voices within policy debates are the politically appointed Trump loyalists without the input from foreign policy professionals, diminishing the effect of the foreign service bureaucracy to serve as a check on the actions of the presidency.

Research Fellow Dr Liu Zongyi from the Institute for World Economic Studies and Centre for Asia Pacific Studies, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIR), China, was of the view that even though the BRI has stimulated South Asian regional connectivity, India has adopted opposing, delaying and hedging measures towards different parts of the BRI.

Discussing geopolitics of South Asia and interests of Russia, Leonid Savin, founder and chief editor of Journal of Eurasian Affairs, Russia, argued that since Pakistan has taken a position of sovereignty and denied its critics in Washington, it has aroused considerable interest from Russia as an emergent power.

South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) Director General Dr Maria Sultan said that all trends indicate that the Indian Ocean will not only become the centre of economic development, but also a region of great power rivalry along with other extra-regional actors’ desiring to dominate the region’s maritime sea routes as economic interests to dominate the security projections for this region.

Concluding the two-day conference, IPRI Acting President Brig (r) Mohammad Mehboob Qadir thanked AJK President Sardar Masood Khan, speakers from various countries, participants and the media for an interactive and productive event.