South Asia Week Brings Together Experts to Discuss Regional Affairs
February 22, 2012
Author: Charles Hobbs
From February 16th to 24th, the India and South Asia Program, in partnership with the Future of Diplomacy Project and the South Asia Initiative, hosted South Asia Week, an extended program of events focusing on international relations and domestic policymaking in South Asia, a region of rapidly expanding global importance.
Over eight days, the Future of Diplomacy Project hosted five eminent figures in South Asian politics and diplomacy: Cameron Munter, US Ambassador to Pakistan; Shyam Saran, former Indian Foreign Secretary; Zalmay Khalilzad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq; Nirupama Rao, Indian Ambassador to the US; and BJ Panda, Member of the Parliament of India (Lok Sabha) from Orissa. In addition to their public addresses and their interviews with the Future of Diplomacy Project’s Conversations in Diplomacy Series, each speaker spent time significant meeting with students and professors to discuss student questions on regional security, geostrategic developments and relations with other international actors.
BJ “Jay” Panda opened the week’s events with a public address on February 16.th He is a member of Lok Sabha (lower house) of the Parliament of India. As a founding member of the Biju Janata Dal, a regional political party in the state of Orissa (population 42 million), Mr. Panda shared his perspectives on Indian democracy. Describing himself as “an accidental politician,” Mr. Panda advocated the further development of federalism and coalition government as an opportunity to align government action with the concerns of individual Indians. Indian democracy under this regime, Mr. Panda said, “is significantly better than in the past, but still suboptimal. In the next few years it will get better, but not in leaps and bounds…it will get incrementally better.”
In an address on Monday, February 13th, Cameron Munter, the current US Ambassador to Pakistan, delivered a frank assessment of the most significant challenges facing the US-Pakistan relationship to a packed auditorium at the Harvard Kennedy School. Ambassador Munter shared his belief that “we got to [the current trust deficit] with Pakistan because we had relationships [in the past] based primarily on state-state relations, and not strongly enough on society-society relationships.” Video of Ambassador Munter’s speech, along with the subsequent question and answer session, can be seen here.
The former Indian Foreign Secretary, a Fisher Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project, Shyam Saran, shifted the focus back to India and its role in the region and beyond. According to Saran, who delivered a public address on February 15th, the legacy of the Non-Aligned Movement still has a significant affect on Indian foreign policy. But he also argued that, while there is a sense that Indians should deal with domestic issues first, globalization is increasingly compelling India to take a stronger position on the international stage. Saran also spent the week conducting an extended series of meetings, seminars, and discussions on broad issues of South Asian affairs.
Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, shifted the focus northward to discuss the future of Afghanistan following the removal of ISAF forces 9n 2013 . In his address on February 16th, Khalilzad emphasized that the whole world community--from Pakistan to China to the United States--has an interest in maintaining a stable, moderate Afghan government. Concerning the current peace process between the US, the Afghan government, and the Taliban, Khalilzad also emphasized that "without Pakistan supporting a peace process, in my view, it will be very difficult to get a complete peace process."
The final speaker for South Asia Week, Indian Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, returned the focus to the role of Indo-American relations in the 21st century. A seasoned diplomat who has also served as India’s Foreign Secretary, Rao argued that—while state-to-state diplomacy remains important—a growing level of shared economic and social interests is already working to bind the American people and the Indian people into a deeper mutual understanding and cooperative relationship. A full copy and recording of Ambassador Rao’s remarks are available here.
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