Key need to revisit South Asian identity and common future, says Dr. Adil Najam at UN lecture

South Asia must revisit the concept of the South Asian identity and explore a brighter common future beyond its immediate challenges and predicaments, said award-winning Pakistani academic Dr. Adil Najam, Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment at Boston University, in New Delhi last week.

The former Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and recipient of one of Pakistani’s highest civil awards, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz, made these comments during the ‘South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures’ lecture organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s South and South-West Asia Office (ESCAP-SSWA) and the South Asian University.

“The peace process [between India and Pakistan] is less stalled than one may think,” said Dr. Najam. “Official relations are much more mature than they have been in the past. A composite dialogue needs to take place and both simple and complex issues should be addressed, but one needs to get going, taking small steps and focusing on the ‘practical ideal’ model.”

In his opening remarks, Dr. Nagesh Kumar, Chief Economist of ESCAP and Director of ESCAP-SSWA underscored the common heritage that binds South Asia, in spite of the gaps: “South Asia has become a growth pole of the world economy and has performed well on several parameters of development, including poverty alleviation. However, it remains one of the least integrated subregions.”

The lecture examined challenges and opportunities for the subregion and brought forward five central ideas: the idea of South Asia is strong even though the structure of South Asia is weak, unlike the European Union; competitiveness, not cooperation defines South Asian institutions; the South Asian state is overbearing, falling short of expectations; security and development are central issues, but face competing challenges across the subregion; and lastly, hope for the future of the South Asian identity is likely to emerge from people more than from state actors.

“Institutions across South Asia have been built to manage competition rather than inculcate cooperation,” added Dr. Najam. “There is a development logic and people-to-people logic, also owing to technology and communication and a generational shift.

“A new generation of South Asian people does not remember hostilities. Ultimately, it will depend on which of the stories will prevail.”

The lecture brought together over 100 academics, policymakers and students from South Asian countries.

Hosting the lecture at the South Asian University campus, Professor GK Chadha, President of the South Asian University, stressed the value of the event in developing “the South Asian identity and argumentativeness around its definition and concept.”