Host­ing its An­nual Sym­po­sium, the South Asia Ini­tia­tive at Har­vard Univer­sity brought to­gether schol­ars and guests rep­re­sent­ing a myr­iad of in­ter­ests who dis­cussed crit­i­cal is­sues cru­cial to the sur­vival of the South Asia re­gion.

Southasia - - Cover story - By Arsla Jawaid

South Asia Ini­tia­tive at the Har­vard Univer­sity

brings global thinkers on one plat­form.

The South Asia Ini­tia­tive, launched by Har­vard Univer­sity in 2003, re­cently held a two day long an­nual event ti­tled The Fu­ture of South Asia Sym­po­sium, that drew over 300 at­ten­dees rep­re­sent­ing aca­demic, busi­ness, civil so­ci­ety and gov­ern­men­tal sec­tors.

Ad­dress­ing wide span­ning top­ics rang­ing from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and pop­u­la­tion aging to pol­i­tics and state build­ing, the event brought to­gether a very rich and in­tel­lec­tual gather­ing from all corners of Har­vard Univer­sity and be­yond. Among the re­gional of­fi­cials who served as pan­elists were Hu­sain Haqqani, Pak­istan’s am­bas­sador to the United States and Hardeep Singh Puri, In­dia’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions. Un­der the en­er­getic direc­tion of Tarun Khanna, (Jorge Paulo Le­mann Pro­fes­sor, Har­vard Busi­ness School) and Meena Hewett (As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor), the South Asia Ini­tia­tive aims to cre­ate an in­ter-fac­ulty ini­tia­tive that brings mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives on is­sues re­lated to South Asia at the fore­front.

SAI sup­ports the work of fac­ulty and stu­dents across Har­vard and draws the at­ten­tion of like-minded in­di­vid­u­als in the United States and in South Asia through its outreach pro­grams, grant fund­ing, sem­i­nars, lec­tures and sym­po­sium that are open to all. With pan­els fea­tur­ing Har­vard Deans, vis­it­ing Fel­lows, diplo­mats, pri­vate sec­tor rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and busi­ness lead­ers, this par­tic­u­lar event was de­signed to tackle some very press­ing and com­pli­cated ques­tions.

South Asia as a re­gion to­day faces harsh cli­mate-driven re­al­i­ties and equally dis­turb­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial strug­gles. The event aimed to fo­cus on the chal­lenges and is­sues fac­ing the South Asian com­mu­nity and to con­trib­ute to a bet­ter and more re­al­is­tic fu­ture for the re­gion. A panel fea­tur­ing tech­nol­ogy, en­ergy and in­no­va­tion de­bated the role South Asia could play in such sec­tors and the fu­ture chal­lenges fac­ing the re­gion mak­ing it more vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate changes. A re­gion al­ready sen­si­tive to vi­o­lent nat­u­ral dis­as­ters could soon be fac­ing more fre­quent oc­cur­rences, such as surg­ing waves and melt­ing glaciers, which could se­verely ham­per clean drink­ing wa­ter for a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple. Is­sues from wa­ter se­cu­rity to pop­u­la­tion aging all through South Asia were ex­ten­sively elab­o­rated upon and fea­tured pan­elists such as Syed Babar Ali, Win­ston Yu, John Briscoe, Amitabh Chan­dra and Jinkook Lee, amongst many oth­ers rep­re­sent­ing the var­i­ous schools at Har­vard Univer­sity. With a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and wa­ter scarcity on the rise, wa­ter is be­com­ing one of the great ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenges fac­ing South Asia to­day. The panel brought to light the grave con­cerns of wa­ter short­age and its risk and vari­abil­ity as well as the cru­cial need for wa­ter man­age­ment.

On a sep­a­rate panel, am­bas­sador Hu­sain Haqqani, re­main­ing true to his trade­mark ap­pear­ance, ar­tic­u­lately pre­sented the many chal­lenges fac­ing the Pak­istani so­ci­ety and de­scribed four ba­sic trans­for­ma­tions es­sen­tial in or­der for Pak­istan to em­bark on the road to progress. He listed a com­plete trans­for­ma­tion into democ­racy, a trans­for­ma­tion from an overly mil­i­taris­tic cul­ture, a trans­for­ma­tion into a strong South Asian iden­tity, and a trans­for­ma­tion from an over em­pha­sis on faith.

Later, a strong panel fea­tur­ing Pak­istan fo­cused Har­vard schol­ars such as, Asim Ijaz Kh­waja, Sha­hab Ahmed, Asad Ahmed and Ali Cheema, took on the daunt­ing task of dis­sect­ing the grow­ing threat of ex­trem­ism and the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and le­git­i­macy of demo­cratic state agen­cies. Hit­ting the hot top­ics of state struc­tures, in­tel­li­gence de­ba­cles, democ­racy and the army and for­eign pol­icy as it per­tains to In­dia and the U.S made for an ex­cit­ing and en­light­en­ing de­bate.

The two day long The Fu­ture of South Asia Sym­po­sium cer­tainly brought to­gether a wide range of schol­arly opin­ion and an equally di­verse au­di­ence to un­der­stand and de­bate in­nu­mer­able sce­nar­ios and is­sues fac­ing the South Asian re­gion not only to­day, but in the near fu­ture. The South Asia Ini­tia­tive con­tin­ues to play an in­te­gral role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween peo­ple from both ends and serves as not only a rich re­source but also an in­spir­ing ef­fort for those in­ter­ested in the area. Arsla Jawaid holds a B.A in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is an Editorial As­sis­tant at SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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