Territorial disputes, security concerns blocking regional integration in South Asia

Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Experts said that political disputes and security threats were hindering connectivity in South Asia on Thursday.
The experts, who were speaking at ‘Workshop on Regional Connectivity’ organized by the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) in collaboration with German Foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, cautioned that future of projects like Silk Route, New Silk Route, CASA-1000 and TAPI depended on peace and stability in the region.
Attended by leading academics, analysts and thinkers, the Workshop was held to discuss the challenges to regional integration and explore ways for improving regional cooperation and intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity for greater economic integration, development and prosperity in South Asia. The speakers emphasized that the deadlock in India-Pakistan ties and deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan were the major roadblocks in the way of integrating the region.
Former Foreign Secretary Ambassador (retd) Shamshad Ahmed speaking on this occasion said that motivation for Pakistan’s active involvement in regional integration projects should be the objective of converting the country’s geo-strategic location into an asset instead of a liability.
Amb Shamshad, while referring to India-Pakistan rivalry, said a legacy of mistrust, hatred and suspicion continues to afflict Pak-India ties. “It was leadership’s responsibility to mitigate that, but no attempt has been made,” he regretted and called for building an “edifice of peace” on the basis of cultural commonalities.
He said the political and bureaucratic inadequacies within the country also needed to be addressed for the connectivity projects to succeed. Noted Economist Ashfaq Hassan Khan said the future of New Silk Route (NSR), being pursued by the US, depended on stability in Afghanistan and the regional countries taking ownership of the project.
The Silk Route Economic Belt (SREB) project, he said, in comparison (to NSR) looked more viable because of support from China that has made it the center-piece of its economic diplomacy. 
Speaking about the SREB, Mr Fazl-ur-Rehman, an analyst, said that China would continue to invest in the project despite the security challenge. “The Chinese thinking is that economic progress would address poverty and ultimately fundamentalism and extremism.” Mr Rehman, however, said that security incidents could slow down the progress on SREB and economic corridor linking Gawader to Kashghar. Economic corridor, he noted, was much more than a road project and would promote industrialization, job opportunities and investment in the country.

Vice Chancellor Quaid-e-Azam University Dr Eatazaz Ahmad was of the view that political and economic implications of the SREB project needed to be studied. “We have to look at short and long term impact of the project on foreign investment and capital flow and hold broad-based consultation on it,” he said.
Dr Riffat Hussain maintained that conflict resolution was central to regional connectivity in South Asia.
“Until border disputes are resolved and regimes for regulating borders are in place doubts and suspicions would remain,” he observed. Analyst Simbal Khan said political disputes played a more pronounced role in hindering connectivity in South Asia than in any other region. She was of the opinion that domestic considerations of India and Afghanistan would have a stronger impact on the future of connectivity in the region.
Executive Director CISS Ambassador (retd) Sarwar Naqvi concluded that Chinese commitment to the planned Economic Corridor coupled with determination and support of Pakistani government was cause for hope about the success of the project.
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