BOOKS & REVIEWS
Reflecting on the Future
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