Edukemy Gazette

Illogical rejection of the idea of South Asia

Illogical rejection of the idea of South Asia

Exam View: Benefits and Opportunities of Regional Cooperation in South Asia, Issues and Challenges with Regional Cooperation in South Asia.

In News: As per a recent World Bank study on air pollution, about two million people die prematurely in South Asia each year as particulate measure concentrations put nine South Asian cities among the world’s top 10 worst affected by air pollution.

Concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the region’s most densely populated and poor areas are up to 20 times higher than what WHO considers healthy (5 µg/mᶾ).

South Asia, a subregion of Asia, consists of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and peninsular India. It includes the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan and the Maldives are often considered part of South Asia as well.

India's vision of regional economic integration in South Asia is based on enhanced intra-regional trade, investment flows and regional transport and communication links in South Asia. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and India’s Neighbourhood First Policy are the two vehicles in this process.

Benefits and Opportunities of Regional Cooperation in South Asia:

Issues and Challenges with Regional Cooperation in South Asia

  • Lack of economic opportunities: It has 40% of the world’s poor. According to the World Bank, 399 million people in the region live under $1.25/day, living in extreme poverty.
  • Inter-state disputes are resistant in growth: Pakistan has refused talks with India to its own detriment and now stands to miss out on being part of the South Asia energy grid that is already powering dreams of regional connectivity between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN grouping), and possibly Sri Lanka.
  • Low Inter-Regional Trade: South Asia’s intra-regional trade is the lowest globally, constituting only 5% of the region’s total trade. The current economic integration is just one-third of its potential with an annual estimated gap of 23 billion dollars.
  • Political Tensions: Historical conflicts, border disputes, and ongoing political tensions between countries in the region make it difficult to foster cooperation and regional integration.
  • South Asia has failed to build a platform regarding the climate crisis: As per a study in Bhutan, the average PM 2.5 concentration from 2018-2020 was three times World Health Organization-prescribed limits. The Maldives Meteorological Service has already warned that visibility had been reduced by 60% due to smog for which it has blamed “winds from the Himalayan foothills”.
  • Security Concerns: The region is plagued by various security concerns, including terrorism, extremism, and separatist movements, which can make regional cooperation and integration difficult.
  • External Influence in South Asia: Recent Chinese actions and policies in South Asia as well as its maritime neighbours, including Indian Ocean Island nations, have made it necessary for India to take its neighbours very seriously.
  • Inefficient Management of Global Supply Chain: South Asia’s international trade integration is lower than the global average, and it is way less integrated into global value chains compared to East Asia. The countries have abysmally low exports due to the low productivity of many countries in this region.
  • Economic Disparities: Significant economic disparities between countries in the region make it difficult to establish a level playing field for trade and investment.

Way Forward

  • Political stability: In order to strengthen South Asia’s regional identity and growth as a region, it is necessary for all countries in the region to have political stability, a decent economic growth rate and a feeling of mutual benefit.
  • Strengthening Existing Associations: Existing associations like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) haven’t been able to significantly advance regional cooperation here.
  • Delinking domestic sentiments from the economic rationale, and engaging in diplomacy to allay concerns should be the way forward for South Asian countries which do have qualms about the integration.
  • Delink PM’s presence at the SAARC summit (next in Pakistan): instead have the President or the Vice-President represent India.

A quid pro quo could even see Pakistan send a replacement for its Prime Minister to the SCO Heads of State summit due to be held in India in June.

  • whole of region” approach: The solution to the problems of air pollution lies in a “whole of region” approach. South Asian countries should begin talks between scientists, officials and leaders to create a mechanism for the cooperative management of air pollution.
  • Towards Self-Reliant South Asia: Self-reliance of South Asia ranges from offers of freer transit trade through the region, the development of supply and logistic chains, digital data interchange, single-window and digitized clearance systems, risk assessment and minimisation measures, wider use of trade lines of credit (presently abysmally low), denser connectivity, smoother cross-border inspections.
  • Countering Terrorism: Countries in the region needs to improve their cooperation on intelligence sharing and law enforcement, in order to more effectively target terrorist networks and disrupt their operations.

In any case, it is necessary for the future to boost South Asian cooperation, and to effectively deal with issues such as health, energy, women’s rights, security, and terrorism.

To reject the idea of a unified South Asia as a region would mean a missed opportunity, with repercussions more direr than those that come from the poisoned air the region breathes today.


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