The April stirrings of spring found a diverse group around the Ditchley table to take a new look at South Asia, in particular its economic growth prospects and whether more positive regional dynamics could contribute to this, as well as to greater regional peace and security. With the help and encouragement of our Chair, we were able to avoid being dragged too far into the disputes of the past, and to focus more on how positive change might come in the future. This helped us to narrow down some constructive suggestions. But we were not so naïve as to assume that the fundamental differences within the region would not have to be successfully addressed at some stage. We spent less time than we should on some of the smaller countries of the region, partly because of the eventual balance of participants, but our conclusions apply across the region, not just to the major players.
We observed that South Asia, though not integrating within its own region, was being ‘Asianised’, and should perhaps no longer be seen as a discrete region at all. Connections with other parts of Asia were growing, as other Asian powers, particularly China and Japan, took an increased interest, and as the regional countries themselves became more outward-looking. This could be a precursor for improved dynamics within the region, as old attitudes were shaken up, or become a substitute for such change. It might even inhibit regional integration by diminishing the interest in fixing old conflicts. That would be damaging in the longer run.
Should we assume from India’s current status as the world’s fastest growing large economy that the region could become a new centre of economic dynamism in Asia? We thought this possible but by no means guaranteed. Fundamental problems of lack of basic services and infrastructure remained, and the necessary economic reforms and improvements to governance were still some way off in many cases. The demographic dividend from a young and growing population could turn to a nightmare if jobs and skills were not provided.
The regional economic cooperation which could contribute to greater dynamism was meanwhile notable mainly by its absence, except recently between India and Bangladesh. There was nothing new about this, though that did not make it any less regrettable. The countries of the region did not seem much interested in mutual trade and investment, or ready to take on the competitive challenge implied by signing up to deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, the context was being shaken up by the rise of China and increased Chinese interest in the region. Chinese ambitions to make Pakistan the key final stage of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy were matched by promises of massive cheap funding, while China was also working hard to improve economic links with India and the other countries of the region. Others like the US and Japan were reacting by stepping up their own engagement.
How could economic links in the region be improved? We saw no point in relying on SAARC. Essentially, progress would have to come from outside governments, though governments would have to be co-opted at some stage to achieve change on any scale. There were many common problems and interests which could drive better ties, with electric power seen as the best bet for rapid and substantial progress, and water and environment not far behind. Sub-national arrangements bypassing central governments would make a lot of sense in some places. Business could lead the way by proposing solutions to their mutual practical difficulties. Easier travel, particularly through easier visa arrangements, could make a huge difference. Agreements such as in double taxation, investor protection and mutual acceptance of standards could help.
We saw the best route to greater future cooperation as coming through contacts between young people and related use of new communications technology. With luck the young would be free from the historical baggage of their elders and readier to engage and trade with each other, though this should not be seen as automatic. Informal fora and IT platforms for discussion and deal-making, led by the private sector and civil society, would be one obvious way forward.
What were the chances of progress in regional political cooperation? We were not optimistic in the short term. Governments tended still to be dominated by security thinking and status anxiety, not openness to new ideas or concern for the well-being of their populations. The core India-Pakistan relationship, while not too hot for the moment, remained vulnerable to a new major cross-border incident. Pakistani-Afghan relations were heading for a new rocky period. The use of proxy violent movements had not been abandoned, particularly by Pakistan. The nuclear balance between India and Pakistan could be seen as stabilising but the deterrence was fragile at best. New security architecture was urgently needed, but might most effectively be Asia-wide, not regional.
The struggle against violent religious extremism, and not just of the Islamic variety, should be a factor bringing regional governments together since it posed a bigger threat to all of them than they did to each other. But this was not happening, and discussions should be revived and pushed. The threat to the region of contagion from the Middle East, particularly IS/Daesh, should not be underestimated. The long-term spread of hard-line versions of Islam, encouraged by Saudi Arabia, was a real concern to many.
The countries of the region, with newly acquired self-confidence, had their own futures in their own hands. But outside powers were inevitably involved, not least because some regional countries wanted them to be for their own reasons, despite protests about outside interference. Again the Chinese presence and influence was the new major factor, leading to a reaction from the US, Japan, Russia and others. China could be helpful in Afghanistan and with Pakistan, but it was not yet clear they were using their influence as much as they could, and the effect of their presence could even drive India and Pakistan further apart. Countries of the region would play off outside powers against one another in classic ways but this was a dangerous game. Could outside powers help countries of the region overcome their problems and could they even work together to do so? In principle yes, but the regional countries had to get their own act together for such assistance to be effective.
Overall, despite the opportunities and the shock to South Asian attitudes from outside, we worried that regional governments were part of the problem, not the solution, and that there was a lack of powerful constituencies for change and greater regional cooperation. Bottom up efforts were needed to break existing paradigms and blockages, and should be strongly encouraged. At the same time, the old problems, particularly between India and Pakistan, would have to be fixed at some stage if the region was ever going to reach its potential.
The Asianisation of South Asia
A particularly interesting element of our discussion was whether it made sense to go on thinking about South Asia as a coherent region at all, economically or politically. Many of the smaller (but not necessarily small) countries in the region had long looked outside it for help and support, not least to help preserve their autonomy and distinctiveness from India. But virtually all the countries in the region were now more outward-looking, and in many cases of more interest to outside powers. The outside connections were therefore stronger, and particularly so within Asia itself. Moreover there was now a new and powerful factor driving dynamics in the region, namely the presence and economic weight of China. This China effect came up throughout our discussions, political as well as economic, and was clearly on everyone’s mind in one way or another. The point was that China was now almost everywhere in the region in one way or another, which was profoundly influencing the behaviour of all the actors of the region. South Asia had made little progress towards improving links within its own region, therefore, but was being ‘Asianised’.
As part of this, India was pursuing a constructive relationship with China, helped by the recent absence of border tension, but was always conscious of the underlying rivalry behind this – which was what lay behind India’s push eastward to and through Bangladesh, and its openness to Japanese trade and investment. Pakistan seemed increasingly to be putting all its eggs in the China basket, with China offering mind-boggling quantities of infrastructure investment and seeing Pakistan as its preferred route to the Middle East and Europe and a fundamental building block of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy. There could be doubts about whether China would in the end really put so much money into a dubiously functional polity and economy, and whether Pakistan could absorb/match such sums on its side, and also about how unconditional the Chinese commitment was. But the scale of the ambition was clear – and for now at least obviously excluded India. China was also pushing more and more into Afghanistan, and had invested heavily in Sri Lanka under the Rajapaksas.
The net effect was that South Asia could no longer sensibly be looked at in isolation from the rest of Asia – both the opportunities and the problems of the region were being Asianised, for better or for worse. This raised some fundamental questions for the future. Would the impact of Chinese interest and investment, and hopefully growing prosperity all round, drive the countries of the region towards greater integration with each other, and towards finding solutions to their bilateral problems, notably between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan; or could it have the opposite effect, entrenching divisions, and giving for example both India and Pakistan extra opportunities and reasons to ignore each other, with potentially dangerous consequences? We could not easily answer that question, but both Indian and Pakistani voices raised concerns about the latter possibility. Extending the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to include a part of India could be a very important Confidence Building Measure (CBM) in this context.
South Asia as a centre of global growth
Could the region become a new centre of economic dynamism in Asia, as China slowed and East Asia as a whole headed into choppier waters? India was already the fastest-growing large economy in the world, even if the statistics might not be entirely reliable, and could clearly go above the current 7.5% annual growth if policies and reforms could come together in the right way. Other regional countries too were growing at more than respectable rates by current global standards. We did not go into great detail about the economic challenges in each country, but our overall conclusion was clear: sustained rapid growth in India and the region more widely was possible, even plausible, but by no means guaranteed. Regional integration was largely absent. There was still a long way to go to achieve the right mix of reforms and improved overall governance which would encourage domestic and foreign investment, and release the undoubted creative talent and entrepreneurial energies of the peoples of the region. Debt levels were high and investment levels low. This had to change.
In this context the much-trumpeted demographic dividend of young and growing populations in the region should not be seen as automatically a good thing. It certainly could supply plenty of consumer demand. But unless decent jobs could be found for the hundreds of millions of young people coming onto the labour market, with high aspirations and expectations, and unless they were equipped with the right skills, the demographic dividend could quickly become a demographic nightmare, feeding political turbulence and even violent extremism. It was not at all clear where such large quantities of jobs could or would come from, in an age where increasing automation meant that even major manufacturing operations no longer provided skilled jobs on a large scale. Meanwhile, the basic problems of mass poverty and poor education and health systems for most people still had to be tackled successfully in many places. Infrastructure of all kinds remained poor. Women’s empowerment lagged behind what was happening in much of the rest of the world. Rapid urbanisation might well exacerbate some of these problems. In other words the quality of growth, including the provision of decent opportunities to the many as well as to the elite few, was as important as its quantitative aspect.
Turning to our underlying theme of regional cooperation, the lack of this on the economic side was very striking. Less than 5% of overall trade was within the region, a remarkably low figure compared to other regions. So there was no multiplier effect of regional convergence, let alone integration. Grandiose targets were talked about, including a South Asia Economic Union, but action did not follow. SAARC had been a dismal failure, beset by political divisions and bureaucratic inertia. It was true that some tariffs had come down, but non-tariff barriers to trade and investment, largely stemming from political obstruction, were still rife. Connectivity across borders, hard and soft, was poor, even in areas such as electric power where the benefits should be obvious to all.
The picture was not all bleak. Direct contacts between businessmen, even between India and Pakistan, were being stepped up and could lead to some progress, assuming the governments could be brought along. There had also been significant progress between India and Bangladesh, as India had increasingly decided to focus on its eastern borders, and the economic opportunities beyond, in Myanmar and deeper inside ASEAN.
How can trade and other economic ties be boosted?
We noted that some of our discussions, particularly about the lack of trade within the region, could have been held 20 years ago without much change, although the advent of China on the scene was certainly new and potentially disruptive. So what could be done now to promote trade and other economic links? One line of thought was to encourage India and other countries to think about trade in a more global way, and to reverse current policies of standing aside from major international trade arrangements. There was logic to this – 40% of the India’s trade was with countries which had signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and which would, once the TPP was in operation, be setting the standards and making the rules to which India and others would need to conform. South Asian countries needed to start to play on the global trading stage, and joining the TPP at some stage in the future would be one way of promoting the necessary reforms and changes.
Those from the region could understand this logic but thought that any such move unlikely for the foreseeable future. The fact was that India and the other countries were simply uncompetitive in many areas, and would not want or be able to launch themselves into a more open market until this had changed. Planned reforms, in India for example, were aimed at achieving greater competitivity, but would take a long time to have the desired effect.
A wider point was that, for now, the governments of the region did not see trade as an essential part of their economic future or one which could make a decisive difference to their national economic prospects. They could be wrong about this but that was the general attitude. Still less did they see trade with their immediate neighbours as the top priority economically or politically, partly because of lack of obvious complementarity between their economies. We discussed in this context the old dilemma of whether political problems like Kashmir had to be resolved or at least properly addressed before economic and other civil society ties could improve, or whether improved links could create a context in which the political problems could be more successfully tackled. We could not resolve that, although our inclination as a group was clearly more for the latter.
In any case, we had a good look at what could actually be done to improve regional economic links in practice. There were plenty of ideas, recorded below. But we quickly hit another dilemma. Such steps were unlikely to get very far in the South Asian context, particularly between India and Pakistan, without government blessing and government implementation of necessary steps. However, governments were precisely the problem, for the most part, and unlikely to lend their weight to anything they saw as undermining their positions, viewed as these were largely from a national security standpoint. Again there was no easy answer to this. However, we thought that there was still merit in starting processes which governments could be tempted or shamed into joining later, and that one way in was to pick sectors where the potential economic and commercial gains were clear, since even the national security actors understood that they needed resources.
Against that background, we identified a number of visible common problems across the region where in principle all should have an interest in co-operating:
- water sources and water management
- food security and agriculture
- access to electricity
- health care
- climate change and environment
- infrastructure connectivity
Co-operation in any or all of these areas would hold out great promise. But the one which stood out as offering large, rapid gains for all was the power sector – could it become the South Asian equivalent of coal and steel for the EU? Cross-border connectivity offered immediate benefits for those on both sides, for example where there was excess power on one side of the frontier and local demand on the other, and deals could be structured so that there were strong disincentives to disrupt the connection. Collaboration on hydro power, renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage also offered significant opportunities. Power Secretaries from across the region already met informally from time to time.
In these and other areas, we saw a significant role for sub-national deals across borders. This could be particularly possible and helpful where national capitals were far away and unresponsive. There were already examples of this, across the India-Bangladesh border, and even across the Kashmir line of control.
Another area of useful and mutually beneficial co-operation was in disaster prevention and relief, particularly for floods. The particular advantage of this was that it brought the militaries together.
Regional businessmen getting together bilaterally or multilaterally to discuss mutual problems was clearly healthy and helpful. The practical obstacles to trade were many and various – we heard stories about the extraordinary transport costs imposed by the virtual impossibility of taking many goods across the India-Pakistan border, and the use of routes via the Gulf instead. If strong recommendations could be made by business to governments, maybe some of these issues could start to be tackled, especially if government representatives were involved in the process from the start and could therefore more readily take ownership. Miracles should not be expected but even small steps would be useful. It was surely absurd that were only two flights a week between Lahore and Delhi, for example.
An improvement which could quickly make a huge difference was easier and faster availability of visas. If there was one single point of progress to be recommended, this was it. One possible way forward was to issue more SAARC-wide visas, which made movement around the region so much more manageable. Trusted traveller schemes could be useful. One way into this might also be the availability of visas for religious tourism, where the pent up demand was huge.
Other proposals included double taxation agreements and investor protection agreements, routine in other parts of the world. These could help to reduce the costs and risks of doing business within the region, and make a difference over time, as well as being CBMs in their own right. Mutual acceptance of norms and standards was another useful way forward, since it was easier not to try to harmonise on any one country’s standards, because of sensitivities about sovereignty.
A major area of focus was the idea that the way forward should be through much greater engagement between young people across borders, and much greater use of modern technology both to allow that to happen easily, and to form cross-border internet-related commercial bonds and relationships. The millennials, like their peers elsewhere round the world, should in principle be much less inhibited by historical baggage than their elders, full of entrepreneurial spirit and talent, and ready to take advantage of the new possibilities. In many ways the mystery was why more of these kinds of exchanges of data and ideas was not happening already. But the question was how to encourage it without running into the dead hand of governments.
We discussed the creation of informal fora or platforms, set up by ‘coalitions of the willing’, with IT support from some neutral outside organisation(s), to enable exchange of information and analysis, transaction and deal-making, and even adjudication of differences. We doubted that SAARC could take on such a role (though that could be checked) and saw the World Bank or a think tank like Brookings, or NGOs of one sort or another, as possible vectors. Such arrangements could take various forms: a YouTube channel, common web pages, an internet-based platform for start-ups (on the model of Angels List) or a platform for cross-border e-commerce.
The private sector and civil society should certainly be in the lead here. Governments would no doubt have to be brought along at some stage, especially if real scale were sought, but the idea should to be go ahead with practical steps, and ask for endorsement/forgiveness later, not wait for official permission before starting.
There was one warning note among all this. We should not take it for granted that the younger generation would be more open to cooperation across borders than their elders. Their minds could also be shaped by the propaganda they heard all round them, and the patriotic/nationalist sentiments which prevailed. The Chinese example suggested for example that social media could foster hard-line nationalism just as much as, if not more than, internationalist thinking.
Prospects for political co-operation/confrontation
On the whole we were not optimistic that the underlying tensions in the region could be settled any time soon. The fact that all the countries of the region were democracies (despite fears of a lurch towards authoritarianism in Bangladesh) was important, but did not seem to help their mutual links. The biggest problem was obviously between India and Pakistan, where signs of real forward movement remained few and far between. Intelligence sharing, started after the recent Pathankot incident, seemed to have stopped again. The relationship remained a game of snakes and ladders, where there always seemed to be more snakes than ladders. It was perhaps encouraging that the accession to power in India of Prime Minister Modi had not resulted in the feared increase of bilateral tension. His recent visit to Lahore, while seen by some as window-dressing, rather than a harbinger of fundamental change, had been an interesting and possibly significant gesture. At the same time it was clear that we were only one significant terrorist incident in India away from a potentially major confrontation, given what Mr Modi had threatened in the event of another Mumbai hotel-style attack. At that point all bets would be off.
Meanwhile, the prospects of bilateral progress on Kashmir seemed poor, even though the internal dynamics on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC) were changing. If the LOC could be calmed down, so that shooting incidents and deaths became a thing of the past, as had happened on the China/India border, that might over time make a lot of things possible bilaterally which were not possible now. A hot border kept all the old instincts and animosities constantly alive.
An ideal way forward in some respects would be trilateral negotiations between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan to resolve their mutual issues and agree to work together economically and politically, as much as they could. Unfortunately, we seemed a long way from any such possibility. The problem was that, even if things went well in Afghanistan – and better than they appeared to be going at the moment – it was likely to remain a constant source of contention and instability in the region for years to come. For now, Afghan official opinion had shifted sharply against Pakistan because of the perception that efforts to engage and find solutions had not been reciprocated. Afghanistan would not abandon the effort to improve relations but would now focus elsewhere – the new approach could be labelled as ‘beyond Pakistan’. Good relations with China and India as well as the US would certainly be part of this.
One major question was whether the possession of nuclear weapons by both India and Pakistan was stabilising or the reverse. It was certainly possible to argue that without the threat of nuclear conflict there would already have been another India-Pakistan conventional war. But this was not necessarily reassuring, given the relative absence of bilateral protocols and safeguards governing use of nuclear weapons in the region, and the imbalance in size and power between the two sides, which made the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons by Pakistan more plausible in the event of renewed conflict. These issues needed to be discussed much more between militaries so that there were clearer understandings on potential nuclear scenarios, and better ways to avoid potentially fatal miscalculations. The risks of nuclear terrorism, and nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands, also needed more dialogue. These risks were not just present on the Pakistani side.
As a wider point, the issue of how to combat violent extremism ought to be a point of common interest across the region. It was an obvious way of bringing even adversaries together to discuss how to deal with a common enemy, which was a greater threat to all the states in the region than they were to each other. However, this was not really happening. We agreed that urgent new efforts should be made to promote this dialogue. One way to do this could be to reactivate the SAARC protocols on terrorism, despite our wider scepticism about the effectiveness of SAARC.
Progress in this area also required all concerned to abandon finally their practice of ‘hedging’ or using proxies, in other words covertly supporting certain violent groups which they could deploy against their adversaries when they chose. These spoilers, hard to control at the best of times, were ever more likely to blow up in the faces of their supposed masters and turn against them. Pakistan had long been seen as the main offender in keeping certain groups on the books, through the army or the ISI intelligence organisation, despite the obvious risk to themselves of violent Islamic groups. Many round the table agreed that stopping this self-destructive habit, including finally re-establishing full civilian political control over the army and the ISI, was the most important single step needed to restore trust and stability in the region, though by no means the only one.
We discussed in this context whether China, as Pakistan’s closest ally and friend, was now prepared to exert real pressure on the Pakistan authorities to end their support of all violent extremist groups, or whether they would in practice be satisfied if Pakistan did not support the groups of particular concern to them, i.e. those linked to the Uighurs and other dissident groups in Xinjiang. The evidence on this seemed mixed but the dominant view round the table was that China was still effectively giving Pakistan a free pass on support for some groups of no direct interest to them. The counter argument was that the Pakistan army was already engaged in a long and difficult struggle against the Taliban in Pakistan and could not take on too many groups at once. This issue was of course of particular interest not only to India but also to Afghanistan, which hoped that its own improving relationship with China might lead the Chinese to insist on an end to Pakistani tolerance of the Afghan Taliban and other groups such as the Haqqanis.
There was also a wider concern about Islamic extremism in the region, namely the continuing support of Wahhabist ideology from the outside, particularly Saudi Arabia, which had had such a destructive effect in recent years. A region which had historically been associated with tolerant Islamic strains of thought and openness to new ideas had been gradually turned into another area where intolerance and extremism were encouraged and celebrated, including violence not only against non-Islamic religious believers but also against Islamic groups regarded as apostates. The risk of further contagion from the Middle East remained high, as Islamic State/Daesh attempted to spread their influence and even take over territory. India was meanwhile not immune to home-grown violent Islamic extremism at some stage, to add to its other internal dissent problems. Regional co-operation to prevent such developments, including stopping movement of extremist people and ideas across borders, was vital.
Overall, while the context was changing rapidly, the attitudes of the political security sectors across the region seemed stuck in the past – ‘dinosaurs’ in the modern world, as one participant put it. How long would this disconnect be sustainable? For the moment there was no useful regional security architecture, and no good fora where states could talk to each other and thrash out their problems. One suggestion was that this might be easier in the context of a broader change to Asian security architecture than something too focussed on the region. The regional nuclear discussion might also benefit from being Asianised.
The role of outside powers
To what extent were future developments in South Asia likely to be shaped by the countries of the region themselves, or by outside powers seeking to pursue their interests in the region? In the end the futures of the countries in the region obviously lay largely in their own hands. It would be their attitudes and the policies of their governments which would determine where the region was going. They were more self-confident now than in the past. All were in principle against external intervention. It was also relevant that South Asia did not seem for now to be near the top of the worry lists of the big powers, though that could change again quickly.
However, in practice some if not all of these same countries would also, to a greater or lesser extent, continue to try to use outside allies and friends to gain advantages or protect themselves, hoping that they could avoid being dominated or over-influenced in the process by playing off outside powers against one another in the classic manner. There was thus a complex matrix involving the goals and desires of the countries of the region on the one hand, and the goals and desires of major outside powers on the other. This was made more complex by apparently increasing volatility of friendships and even so-called strategic partnerships. In South Asia, as elsewhere, relationships were becoming more transactional.
The major dynamic in all this, as already noted, was the growing interest, weight and influence of China, and how this played out against the role and aims of the US. China had in recent years made a strategic bet on its relationship with Pakistan but was at the same time playing an increasing role in Afghanistan, including in the peace process there, and making a major effort to improve the political and economic relationship with India, as well as with others like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This was a tricky balancing act. They were also using the argument that they were the region’s natural partner, as fellow Asians, unlike the Americans. The US for its part was once again deeply frustrated by Pakistan’s refusal to change its habits, was making it clear that it had a long-term commitment to stability in Afghanistan, albeit with clear limits to its military deployment, and was clearly pursuing a closer relationship with India. None of this automatically put China and the US into a confrontational posture with one another, but the element of rivalry was clear, in this region as in other parts of Asia. The balance between Sino-US co-operation and confrontation could easily edge towards the latter over time.
This gave the countries of the region opportunities to play off China and the US against one another but it was also a dangerous game, with a constant risk of being squashed between the two elephants. The worst scenario for most of the countries of the region would be the emergence of some kind of G2, where the US and China would define spheres of influence and work together closely on that basis, freezing out other major players. India, in particular, could not contemplate such a prospect with any equanimity. The ideal scenario for most regional states was therefore that Sino-US relations were neither too warm nor too cold.
We talked relatively little about the maritime aspects of all this but were aware that China’s development of a blue water navy and forays into the Indian Ocean were changing the dynamics here too. On the Gulf side, the development of the ports at Gwadar on the Pakistan coast and Chabahar in Iran was interesting from many angles. One question was whether they had to be in competition with each other, as was currently the perception. There was plenty of potential trade for both, even if that would affect the ports on the Gulf side.
Although we spent a lot of time on the US and Chinese roles, we were also well aware that a number of other major international players were active in the region, particularly Japan, Russia, the EU and individual European countries, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Japan’s profile was particularly noteworthy as a major investor in India and security partner with her. There were of course important Japanese economic interests engaged but there was no doubt that Japan also saw engagement in South Asia as part of containing China’s dominance of Asia as a whole. It perhaps also reflected Japanese fear that the US might be retrenching in this area, as in others, and leaving the field too open to China. Japanese determination to make a success of her links in the area should not be underestimated.
Russia was not a big player in the region, despite continuing Indian dependence on Russian-made weapons (still 70% of the current inventory, we were told). However, Russian influence could not be ignored either and was not necessarily helpful from a Western point of view. For example, the Russian position on Afghanistan appeared to be shifting from one of tacit support for, or at least acceptance of, Western efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, towards opposition to Western, particularly US, intervention in one of her neighbours. This was of course part of wider US-Russia changing dynamics.
Iran and Saudi Arabia both saw the subcontinent as an area where they could gain economic advantage and political influence/space in a changing world. Future Saudi investment in India might be worth watching, as both sides could see an interest here. At the same time, the Islamic aspect of both countries’ presence and influence also needed watching, as mentioned above, particularly that of Saudi Arabia.
Countries like the UK, France and Germany had important commercial and economic interests in the region, particularly in India, and also a stake in the stability of the region, not least through past and, to some extent, present involvement in Afghanistan. However, they were not big political players overall, and the current India leadership did not seem particularly interested in them. There was also little apparent Indian interest in a new trade agreement with the EU.
How much could outside powers assist the countries of the region overcome some of the basic problems of poverty, lack of basic services and poor infrastructure? They could certainly help through investment and where appropriate aid, as for example the Japanese were doing in India. But they could not substitute for good governance and good policies on the part of the countries themselves – and outside efforts could only have limited success if that good governance was not there. Should outsiders therefore try to structure their engagement to encourage constructive forces, and the right kind of policies? The answer in principle was no doubt yes, but this was a hard act to pull off in the best of circumstances and particularly hard in the subcontinent where suspicion of outside meddling was always high. Was it fanciful to imagine outside powers cooperating with each other to help tackle some of the region’s problems, political or economic? We feared it was – but could always dream.
We were also well aware that it was not only states who would influence what happened in the region. The behaviour of non-state actors such as IS/Daesh and the Taliban could make a big difference. And international organisations such as the World Bank, Asia Development Bank and the new Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank should continue to play helpful roles on the development side.
The preceding paragraphs contain a number of ideas and recommendations, new and not so new, which participants believe could help the region to come together and create the conditions for safer and more prosperous futures for its peoples. The general view that such a coming together would be beneficial for everyone, as a complement to the wider Asianisation of the region. There was also a general feeling that there was now indeed an opportunity for the region to break out of the trap of low growth rates, and that old assumptions and habits were beginning to break down under the weight of change in the rest of the world, particularly the rise of China. At the same time there seemed to be more worries than hopes around the table.
At the root of these worries was the view that the governments of the region, and many other institutions, were mostly stuck in the past, and an obstacle to positive change rather than a vehicle for it. They often seemed more anxious about national status and prestige than about the real economic and social progress of their peoples. It was therefore not obvious for the moment where powerful constituencies for regional cooperation and the changes that implied were to be found, and how they were to be mobilised. Change would have to be bottom up and led by individuals, not institutions. But unless governments could be co-opted into the process, any such movement could be largely still-born.
If we had an overall conclusion, therefore, it was that the forces for more regional cooperation and for more attention to future opportunities than past struggles needed to be encouraged, without seeming to interfere in highly sensitive states. Youth and new technology could hold the keys, and should be given the chance to let a hundred flowers bloom. There was useful talk of a virtual group composed of conference participants to discuss further ways to make this happen. Nevertheless we knew too that the old problems would still have to be fixed at some point, particularly between India and Pakistan. Even a cold peace would not ultimately be enough to allow the region, or its superpower, to reach full potential.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
CHAIR: Mr Bill Emmott
Independent Writer, Speaker and Consultant on international affairs; Chairman and Co-Founder (2013), The Wake Up Foundation; Non-executive Director, OfCom (2016-); Advisory Board member, International Institute for Strategic Studies; member, President's Council, University of Tokyo; Visiting Fellow in Practice, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford. Formerly: Trustee, International Institute for Strategic Studies (2009-15); Chairman of Trustees, London Library (2009-15); Board Director, The Economist Group (1993-2006); The Economist: Editor (1993-2006). Author, including 'Rivals: How the Power Struggle between China, India and Japan will shape our next decade' (2008).
Mr Hasibulla Humayoon
Senior Partner, QARA Consulting, LLC (2010-); Aide to Umer Daudzai, former Minister of Interior Affairs (2015-); Member, Board of Directors, Afghanistan Center, Kabul University (2012-).
Dr Davood Moradian
Director General, Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, Kabul. Formerly: Chief of Programs, office of President Karzai; Chief Policy Advisor to Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006-11).
Ambassador Iftekhar Chowdhury
Principal Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore (2009-). Formerly: Foreign Minister of Bangladesh (2007-09); Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York (2001-07); Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, Geneva (1996-2001); Ambassador to Qatar (1994-96); Special Advisor to Secretary General, UN Conference on Trade and Development (2000); Chairman, World Trade Organization Trade Policy Review Body; President, Conference on Disarmament.
Professor Karine Bates Ph.D., B.C.L., LL.B.
Director, India and South Asia Research Network, CERIUM, and Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Montreal.
Dr David M. Malone
Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and Rector, United Nations University, Tokyo (2013-). Formerly: President, International Development Research Centre (2008-13); High Commissioner of Canada to India and Ambassador to Bhutan and Nepal (2006-08); Canadian Ambassador to the UN (1990-94); Author of books on the UN Security Council, economic factors in civil wars, international development, and of ‘Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy’ (Oxford, 2011). With C. Raja Mohan and Srinath Raghavan, edited ‘Oxford Handbook of Indian Foreign Policy’ (Oxford, 2015). A Member of the Program Advisory Committee, The Canadian Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Prashant Pathak
President and Chief Executive Officer, Ekagrata Group, Toronto; Board of Directors, Business Development Bank of Canada; Managing Partner, ReichmannHauer Capital Partners. Formerly: Partner, McKinsey & Company Inc.; management/operational positions at Halliburton and Schlumberger.
Professor T V Paul
James McGill Professor of International Relations, Department of Political Science, McGill University, Montreal (1991-); Founding Director, McGill University-University of Montreal Centre for International Peace and Security Studies; President, International Studies Association (2016-17).
Mr Rajat M. Nag
Distinguished Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi; Distinguished Fellow, Emerging Markets Forum, Washington, DC (2014-); Visiting Professor, Strategy and Development Issues, Asian Institute of Management, Manila, and Emerging Markets Institute, Beijing 2014-). Formerly: Managing Director General, Asian Development Bank (2006-13); Director General, Southeast Asia and Mekong Departments, and Special Advisor to the President on Regional Cooperation and Integration (concurrently), ADB (2002-06).
Dr Tanvi Madan
Fellow, Foreign Policy Program, and Director, The India Project, The Brookings Institution. Formerly: Harrington Doctoral Fellow and Teaching Assistant, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin; Research Analyst, Foreign Policy Program, The Brookings Institution.
General Ashok Mehta (Retd)
Consultant, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, New Delhi; Convenor, India-Pakistan Peace Process; Convenor, Afghanistan Policy Group; Convenor, proposed regional consultative mechanism for SAARC UN Peacekeeping. Author of books on the Royal Nepal Army and on the military operation in Iraq. Formerly: Indian Army (1957-1991): Commander, Indian Peacekeeping Forces (South) Sri Lanka; Convenor, India-Nepal and India-Sri Lanka dialogues.
Mr Vikram Singh Mehta
Executive Chairman, Brookings India, New Delhi; Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution. Formerly: Chairman, Shell Group of Companies, India; Managing Director, Shell Markets and Shell Chemical Companies, Egypt (1991-94); Advisor for Strategic Planning, Oil India Ltd (1984-88); Senior Economist, Phillips Petroleum, London (1980-84).
Mr Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Senior Associate, Rhodium Group; Foreign Editor, Hindustan Times, New Delhi; Associate Fellow, The Asia Society, New York; delegate for Aspen India strategic dialogues with the United States, China, Turkey and he US-India-Japan. Formerly: Member, National Security Advisory Board to India's Prime Minister (2011-15); Editorial Writer: The Telegraph, The Statesman; Media Fellow, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Fellow, Henry Stimson Centre, Washington, DC; Hubert Humphrey Fellow, University of Maryland-College Park; South Asian Fellow, Cornell University; Bernard Schwartz Fellow, Asia Society.
Mr Jayant Prasad
Director General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Formerly: Visiting Scholar, Center for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania (2014-15); Indian Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to Afghanistan; to Algeria; to Nepal; to the UN Conference on Disarmament, Geneva; Special Secretary (Public Diplomacy), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA); Head, Americas Division, MEA; Head, Multilateral Economic Relations Division, MEA; member, U.N. Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters (2005-07).
Dr Harinder Sekhon
Senior Fellow, U.S. Studies Program, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi. Formerly: Senior Fellow, U.S. Studies Programme, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi; Intelligence and Strategic Analyst, National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India; Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Centre of Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (1999-2001); Associate Professor of History, MCMDAV College for Women, Chandigarh (1986-98).
Ms Hitomi Sato
Counsellor, Embassy of Japan, New Delhi (2014-).
Syed Yawar Ali
Chairman, Nestlé Pakistan Limited; Co-Chair, Pakistan India Joint Business Forum; Member, Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Business Council; Chairman, Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan; Director, Pakistan International Airline; Director, IGI Insurance and IGI Life. Formerly: Chairman, Pakistan Dairy Association; Director, State Bank of Pakistan.
Mr Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri
Minister, High Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the UK.
Dr Arshi Saleem Hashmi
Associate Professor, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, and focal person for Centre of Excellence on Counter Extremism, National Defence University, Pakistan; member, Women without Borders, Vienna, and Sisters Against Violent Extremism; Visiting Faculty, Armed Forces Staff Colleges, Defence Services Intelligence Academy and Intelligence Bureau Pakistan. Formerly: Yale World Fellow (2015); Rotary International Peace Fellow (2014); Alumna Executive Education Program in Counter Terrorism, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2015).
Dr Simbal Khan
Regional Policy Analyst/Security Expert; CEO, Indus Global Initiative, Washington, DC and Islamabad (2013-); Senior Research Fellow, Ministry of Planning Development and Reform; Senior Research Fellow, Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad (2014-); Pakistan Team member, Pakistan-China-Afghanistan Track I (2013-). Formerly: Key Expert, Afghanistan-Pakistan Relations, Pugwash Track II Dialogue on Pakistan-Afghanistan (2015); Carnegie South Asia Fellow, New America Foundation, Washington DC (2013).
Senator Sherry Rehman
Member, Senate of Pakistan; Founding Chair & serving President, Jinnah Institute, Islamabad; Vice President, Pakistan Peoples Party; Convener and co-Chair, longest-running/current Track II strategic dialogues with India. Formerly: Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States (2011-13); Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Health, Culture, and Women Development, Pakistan (2008-09); Member of Parliament and Ranking Member of the National Security Committee; award-winning journalist.
Mr Ahmad Rafay Alam
Founding Partner, Saleem, Alam & Co., Lahore; Lecturer, Lahore University of Management and Lahore School of Economics; Vice-President (Punjab), Pakistan Environmental Law Association. Formerly: Chairman, Lahore Electric Supply Company (2011-13).
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sri Lanka; Secretary, Consultative Task Force on Mechanisms for Reconciliation. Winner, inaugural Citizens' Peace Award (2010).
Mr Philip Barton CMG OBE
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service: Director General, UK Prime Minister's AntiCorruption Summit, Cabinet Office (2016-). Formerly: High Commissioner for Pakistan (2014-16); Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy, Washington, DC (2011-13).
Mr Philip Bouverat
Director Group Global Affairs, JCB, London (2002-); Director, UK India Business Council, China-Britain Business Council and Commonwealth Enterprise & Investment Council; member, UK Government Asia task force, ASEAN Task Force and Syrian Task Force.
Dr Alexander Evans OBE
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (2003-): Deputy High Commissioner to India (2015-); Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King's College London. Formerly: Coordinator, Al Qaida/Taliban Monitoring Team, United Nations (2013-15); Senior Fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Yale University (2011-13); Henry A. Kissinger Chair, Library of Congress (2011); Senior Advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, then to Ambassador Marc Grossman, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State (2009-11).
Mr Richard Heald
Chief Executive Officer, UK India Business Council (2010-). Formerly: Rothschild, including as Vice Chairman, Rothschild, India.
Mr Owen Jenkins
Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service (1991-): Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2015-) and Director, South Asia and Afghanistan Directorate (2014-), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Formerly: Counsellor, British High Commission in India; Balkans Director and Head, Western Balkans and EU Enlargement Department, European Directorate, FCO.
Mr David Loyn
Independent author and writer; member, FCO advisory panel on South Asia policy. Formerly: BBC Correspondent (1987-2015): BBC Afghanistan Correspondent; Board Member, Media Standards Trust; Advisory Council Member, McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, Oxford; Author, 'Frontline - Reporting From the World's Deadliest Places' (Michael Joseph 2005); 'Butcher and Bolt - Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan' (Hutchinson 2008).
Mr Victor Mallet
Financial Times: South Asia Bureau Chief, New Delhi. Formerly: Madrid Bureau Chief; Asia Editor; Correspondent in France, Middle East, Africa and South-East Asia. Author, 'The Trouble with Tigers: the Rise and Fall of South-East Asia' (HarperCollins 1999/2000).
Mr David Pilling
The Financial Times (1990-): Associate Editor and Africa Editor (2015-). Formerly: Asia Editor, Hong Kong (2008-15); Tokyo Bureau Chief (2002-08).
Dr Gareth Price
Senior Research Fellow, Asia Programme, Chatham House (2004-16), (Head, Asia Programme, 2005-10). Formerly: Member, Advisory Panel on Country Information, Office of the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency (2008-11); Member, UKTI, Asia Task Force (2010-15); Senior South Asia Analyst, Economist Intelligence Unit (2000-04), South Asia Analyst, Control Risks Group (1998-2000).
Mrs Xenia Wickett
Head, U.S. and the Americas Programme, and Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs, Chatham House (2011-). Formerly: Executive Director, PeaceNexus Foundation, Switzerland (2009-11); Director, Project on India and the Subcontinent, Executive Director for Research, and Board Member, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University (2005-09); Director for South Asia, National Security Council, The White House; U.S. Department of State (Bureau of South Asia; Bureau of Nonproliferation; Homeland Security Group) (2001-05). A Member of the Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Vanda Felbab-Brown
Senior Fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution; Co-Director, Improving Global Drug Policy: Comparative Perspectives on Counternarcotics Regimes and UNGASS 2016, Brookings Institution; Co-Director, Reconstituting Local Orders Project, The Brookings Institution; Member, Council on Foreign Relations.
Ambassador Beth Jones
Senior Advisor, International Government Relations, ExxonMobil. Formerly: U.S. Diplomatic Service: Assistant Secretary for the Near East (2012-13); Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia (2001-05); Ambassador to Kazakhstan (1995-98); Special Advisor for Caspian Energy Diplomacy (2000-01); Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Islamabad.
Ambassador William B. Milam
Senior Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC. Formerly: U.S. Diplomatic Service: temporary Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Tripoli (2007-08); Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (1998-2001); Chief of Mission in Liberia (1995-98); U.S. Special Negotiator for Environmental and Scientific Affairs (1993-95); Ambassador to Bangladesh (1990-93).
Ambassador Cameron Munter
Chief Executive Officer and President, EastWest Institute; Professor of Practice in International Relations, Pomona College (2013-); Non-Resident Fellow, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Formerly: Visiting Professor, Columbia University Law School, New York (2012); U.S. Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to Pakistan (2010-12); to Serbia (2007-09); Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Baghdad (2010); Provincial Reconstruction Team, Mosul (2006); Director for Central Europe, National Security Council; Chief of Staff, NATO Enlargement Ratification Office, Department of State.
Mr Ashley J. Tellis
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington DC. Formerly: Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State; Senior Advisor to the Ambassador, U.S. Embassy, New Delhi; Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, Strategic Planning and South West Asia, National Security Council; Senior Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation. A Member of The Advisory Council, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Robert Williams
National Intelligence Officer for South Asia, U.S. National Intelligence Council (2011-); Senior Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, School of International Service, American University (2013-). Formerly: U.S. Department of Defense: Defense Intelligence Officer for South Asia (2008-11); Senior Defense Analyst for South Asia (2007-08); Senior Officer for Afghanistan (2003-06): Senior Analyst for South Asia (2001-03). White House: Assistant Director, President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (2006-07); White House Situation Room (1999-2001).
Mr Frank Wisner
International Affairs Advisor, Patton Boggs LLP, New York. Formerly: Vice Chairman, External Affairs, American International Group Inc.; U.S. Diplomatic Service (1961-97): Ambassador to India (1994-97); Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (1993-94); Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs (1992-93); Ambassador to the Philippines (1991-92).
Mr Martin Rama
Chief Economist, South Asia Region, The World Bank.