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Monika Chansoria

Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Peace needs political will

otwithstanding its common historical heritage, the tumult of South Asia's legacy renders it as the least integrated region in the world. The gambit of South Asian security discourse is extremely complex and perplexing owing primarily to the existential inter-state trust deficit. Regional security mechanisms have proved to be ineffective in the South Asian case as the "security-insecurity paradox" remains the focal point.

Although the dialogues surrounding South Asian security take into account traditional (military) and non-traditional security issues, the fact remains that as the largest regional organisation, in terms of population and sphere of influence, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has failed to take off effectively. Heavily contentious political issues have eclipsed the forum entirely. Incongruous development, economies, demographic sizes, inadequate domestic energy resources, with a competition to secure energies supplies, constantly lay pressure on the stability and security of the region. Additionally, the politico and geo-strategic setting of the subcontinent, with security dependencies among regional nations, and the looming presence of external players, remain deeply intertwined.

The regional dynamics of South Asia do not make for a very promising or optimistic picture. In addition to the traditional challenges of nation-building, a pressing need for economic engagement has often been dwarfed by mammoth political compulsions which tend to block any such consideration.

Being the second largest poorest region in the world, South Asia's human development indices are among the lowest in the world, with nearly 32% of the population here living on less than $1 per day. The economic potential of the region has predominantly been demonstrated by the story of India's successful economic growth in recent years. However, it is ironical that in terms of the human development index, India is placed way below Sri Lanka and Maldives.

The regional dynamics of South Asia do not make for a very optimistic picture.

Besides, South Asia remains the most populous region in the world, with nearly 1.57 billion people, making for 23% of global populace. The region stands witness to decades of unending conflict including irregular, covert and proxy war in the name of jihad, spread of radical fundamentalism/extremism and terrorism. The resultant challenges of human security and conflict resolution loom large across South Asian countries and the interminable presence of heavily militarized borders between prominent players in the region tend to manifest this reality. The population figures also illustrate that a predominant youth bulge in the region is challenging employment generation. Lack of enough opportunities, easy access to small arms, narcotics, and drugs has created a diabolical nexus between narcotics trafficking, arms trade and terrorism.

India lies at the centre of two major international weapon warehouses, namely, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/FATA region in the Af-Pak belt and the Southeast Asian arms market comprising Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Both these sub-regions are large-scale consumers as well as transit points for proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs). The "gun culture" in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA areas is rooted in Darra Adam Khel with as many as 2,600 arms shops and five gun factories. Other South Asian nations including Bangladesh and Nepal were transit routes once upon a time, however, have become major end-users now. Sylhet and Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh were used to transfer arms procured by insurgent groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) from the Thai-Cambodian border and Myanmar.

South Asia's security dynamics have become ever more precarious since India and Pakistan were propelled across a nuclear threshold with the consequent risk of war in a nuclear setting. More significantly, concerns over the physical security of nuclear weapons and sensitive WMD material/technology, including Radiological Dispersal Devices (commonly referred to as "Dirty Bombs") have only been rising in the past few years.

This can be attributed to growing radicalism both in society and in the armed forces of South Asian member-states, in addition to weak governance, socio-economic disparity — factors that remain the root of social turmoil and political unrest.

While the prospect of cooperative peace and security in South Asia is highly desirable, a strong political will and sincerity is requisite to enhance regional integration and operationalise cooperative peace, and more critically, define and protect the parameters of human security in the subcontinent..

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