The co-editors and two contributing authors for the book South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures spoke about how they see the future of the region at a Pardee House Seminar on November 20. Hosted by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, the seminar was part of Boston University’s programs during International Education Week.
Seminar moderator and book co-editor Prof. Adil Najam (BU International Relations, Earth & Environment) highlighted the complexities and contradictions inherent in the region as he presented five major themes distilled from the essays written by 47 contributing authors.
The five themes he noted:
- South Asia as a region (which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) is strong as an idea, but regional structures are weak;
- South Asian institutions are defined by competitiveness, not cooperation;
- The South Asian State is generally overbearing and has mostly fallen short of the expectations of ordinary South Asians;
- Security and development are seen as key, but competing, challenges across the region;
- Hope for the future of “SouthAsian-ness” stems more from the citizens than the state.
The panelists offered opposing views of pessimism and optimism about the future of the region 50 years from now. Co-editor Moeed Yusuf (Director, South Asia Programs, U.S. Institute of Peace) cited politics and security issues as the major problems and “depressing thoughts.” He noted that while demographically the majority of the population is young, the younger generations are growing up during times when political systems are corrupt and there is little respect for the rule of law, coloring their view of the future. While recent democratic elections had widespread popular appeal, “that doesn’t say much about inclusion of the people.” He also noted that South Asia as a region is largely identified as “India and Pakistan, plus the rest of the countries,” which tends to place emphasis on the past and continuing tension between the two largest countries.
Contributing author Beena Sarwar, a journalist and filmmaker, agreed that the history and current relationship between India and Pakistan “bedevils the entire region” but said she sees hope in the relationships between ordinary citizens of the two countries and elsewhere in the region, and especially among the younger people. She views the citizens of South Asia as “far ahead” of governments in seeing their common humanity and shared cultural connections, and thinks the connectivity provided by the internet, cell phones, and social media tools will help advance those connections. She cited a recent ad for Google that went viral on the internet about old friends from India and Pakistan who are reunited by their grandchildren as one example of the power of these tools.
Contributing author Prof. Shahla Haeri (BU, Anthropology) spoke about the serious gender disparity in the region, leaving the majority of women without political power or voice and living in poverty and dependence. She argued that to legitimize women’s status as full citizens and achieve justice for women, encouragement and emphasis toward a culture of “male caring” needs to take place in a region with a strong tradition of patriarchy. She talked of the “father-daughter axis” as one means of encouraging men to support advancement for their daughters in areas such as education and economic opportunities. But, she noted, such changes will come about through pressure from civil society.
All panelists agreed that leadership in the countries of the region and strong and active civil societies will be key to the future. Sarwar summed it up: “No country in the world has everything right, but there has to be accountability and awareness.”
A video of the seminar is available on the multimedia page of this website.
South Asia 2060: Envisioning Regional Futures (Anthem 2013) is the fourth edited volume to result from a Pardee Center research project. Previous books include How Immigrants Impact Their Homelands (2013, Duke University Press) edited by Adil Najam, and Pardee Faculty Fellow Susan Eckstein; China Today, China Tomorrow: Domestic Politics, Economy and Society (2010, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) edited by Pardee Faculty Fellow Joseph Fewsmith stemming from a 2008 conference, Where Is China Headed?; and The Future of South-South Economic Relations (2012, Zed Books), edited by Adil Najam and Pardee Center Research Fellow Rachel Denae Thrasher and stemming from a 2010 Pardee Center conference by the same name.