Re­flect­ing on the Fu­ture

Southasia - - CONTENTS - Re­viewed By Taha Ke­har

No dis­course on the fu­ture of South Asia in the global con­text is com­plete if it fails to ex­plore the im­pact of its po­lit­i­cal cat­a­clysm, nu­clear com­pe­tence and hu­man de­vel­op­ment prospects. South Asia 2060: En­vi­sion­ing Re­gional Fu­tures uses these in­gre­di­ents to pro­duce a co­gent anal­y­sis of the long-term goals of a re­gion plagued by con­flict and dis­par­ity. Edited by Adil Na­jam and Moeed Yusuf, the book is a com­pi­la­tion of 47 sets of ex­pert opin­ion that ex­am­ine fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties and short­com­ings for re­gional co­op­er­a­tion in South Asia.

It has been fre­quently noted that es­says that at­tempt to in­ves­ti­gate fu­ture trends tend to of­fer fixed ideas based on guess­work. How­ever, the con­tent in this book use facts and data to pro­vide a se­ries of sce­nar­ios that lay the ground­work for fur­ther anal­y­sis. The book adds a new di­men­sion to the on­go­ing de­bate on global pol­i­tics. At a time when South Asia is glob­ally both strate­gic and volatile, se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions for the en­tire world are vested in an­a­lyt­i­cal nar­ra­tives on the fu­ture of the re­gion.

The book does not fo­cus on cre­at­ing a purely aca­demic frame­work for un­der­stand­ing the fu­ture of South Asia. In­stead, var­i­ous prac­ti­tion­ers, pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als and pol­i­cy­mak­ers con­trib­ute their in­sights into is­sues such as re­gion­al­ism, de­vel­op­ment and hu­man well-be­ing. Through a di­verse range of opin­ions, the es­says present prac­ti­cal and en­light­en­ing per­spec­tives.

The con­trib­u­tors tackle the com­plex de­bates sur­round­ing re­gion­al­ism to fore­cast the re­gional fu­ture of South Asia. How­ever, as Na­jam and Yusuf point out in their own chap­ter, they pro­vide an ‘op­ti­mistic ver­dict’ on the fu­ture of South Asia as a re­gion. By us­ing this as a start­ing point to an­a­lyse re­gion­al­ism in the South Asian con­text, the con­trib­u­tors pro­vide a rather bi­ased view. Although this does not sig­nif­i­cantly af­fect the main ob­jec­tive of the book, it does weaken its abil­ity to of­fer a pow­er­ful in­dict­ment on South Asia. Had the sub­tle nu­ances of this de­bate been ex­am­ined in more de­tail, a holis­tic anal­y­sis could have been pro­duced.

De­spite this weak­ness, the edi­tors and con­trib­u­tors of South Asia 2060 are to be com­mended for high­light­ing top­i­cal con­cerns and their im­pacts in an in­for­ma­tive man­ner. Ac­cord­ing to the edi­tors, re­gions are ‘ar­ti­fi­cial con­structs’. Through a de­tailed scru­tiny of the scope for re­gion­al­ism in South Asia, the con­trib­u­tors pro­vide in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to con­vert these ar­ti­fi­cial con­structs into a per­ma­nent, po­lit­i­cal space. For in­stance, in his thought-pro­vok­ing piece, Manan Ahmed Asif, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor of His­tory at Columbia Univer­sity, writes that com­mu­nity-build­ing in South Asia can be de­vel­op­ment through Bol­ly­wood. The ap­proach is a ‘rarely dis­cussed facet’ and de­lin­eates the im­por­tance of cul­ture as a ve­hi­cle for cre­at­ing a suc­cess­ful re­gional fu­ture for South Asia.

A sound re­gional fu­ture for South Asia will re­quire ef­fec­tive state re­la­tions. The scope for democ­racy, and the im­por­tance of re­li­gion in the over­all in­fra­struc­ture of the state, will serve as use­ful tools for con­flict res­o­lu­tion in the fu­ture.

The es­says high­light spe­cific con­cerns that need to be tack­led to mit­i­gate re­gional prob­lems. Wil­liam Milam, a se­nior pol­icy scholar at the Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Schol­ars in Wash­ing­ton, pro­vides a con­crete anal­y­sis of whether South Asia will con­tinue to be the cen­tre of grav­ity for ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity. An im­mi­nent nu­clear risk, the stale­mate be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan and the

emerg­ing dom­i­nance are some other preva­lent themes in the book.

Var­i­ous di­men­sions of eco­nomic and hu­man de­vel­op­ment in South Asia have also re­ceived crit­i­cal at­ten­tion. The es­says raise some per­ti­nent points about the eco­nomic fu­ture of a re­gion strug­gling to over­come decades of bad gov­er­nance, eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment and weak con­trol. Pre­dic­tions about the South Asian econ­omy in 2060 have also been used to of­fer a de­tailed assess­ment of fu­ture eco­nomic chal­lenges.

Some chap­ters deal with con­ven­tional eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors. Glob­al­iza­tion and trade are a proof of this pre­dictable trend. How­ever, some ob­ser­va­tions on de­vel­op­ment are skil­fully in­ter­spersed with food and wa­ter se­cu­rity, elec­tric power de­mands and even ur­ban poli­cies for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. As a re­sult, the es­says show aware­ness of key de­bates on de­vel­op­ment.

South Asia 2060 pro­vides a shrewd com­men­tary on the chal­lenges of hu­man well-be­ing and the prospects of im­prov­ing liv­ing stan­dards in the re­gion. Is­sues such as poverty re­duc­tion, pop­u­la­tion dy­nam­ics, health risks, ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der equal­ity and the po­si­tion of women are thor­oughly an­a­lyzed. The con­trib­u­tors also pro­vide some well­re­searched sub­mis­sions that re­flect on so­cial is­sues to high­light the scope for de­vel­op­ment and change against a back­drop of re­gional co­op­er­a­tion.

In ad­di­tion to these con­cerns, the es­says also carry pow­er­ful ob­ser­va­tions on the emerg­ing role of the me­dia and the sta­tus of schol­ar­ship in South Asia. Some con­trib­u­tors open new av­enues for de­bate and dis­cus­sion by dis­play­ing creative ideas. For in­stance, Saad Shafqat, cricket com­men­ta­tor and nov­el­ist, goes the ex­tra mile and writes on the im­por­tance of sports for a pros­per­ous fu­ture for the re­gion.

At a time when South Asia is both glob­ally rel­e­vant and po­lit­i­cally weak, there is a grow­ing need for aca­demic schol­ar­ship and a pol­icy agenda to di­ag­nose the weak­nesses and develop a strat­egy for im­prove­ment. Adil Na­jam and Moeed Yusuf have man­aged to look beyond the doomand-gloom sce­nario that pre­vails in South Asia and search for a re­gional fu­ture.

How­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to en­vi­sion the fu­ture of South Asia through guess­work alone. Prac­ti­tion­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and aca­demics need to di­ag­nose the prob­lems and sug­gest so­lu­tions for a bet­ter fu­ture. As a pow­er­ful con­tem­pla­tion on the scope for change and pros­per­ity, South Asia 2060 is an at­tempt in the right di­rec­tion.

Book Ti­tle: South Asia 2060: En­vi­sion­ing Re­gional Fu­tures Edi­tors: Adil Na­jam and Moeed Yusuf Pub­lisher: An­them Press Pages: 338, Hard­back Price: $140 ISBN: 978-0-85728-074-9

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