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.
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.