Today South Asia is in the midst of a difficult transformation within and outside which will determine the future of a quarter of the humanity. The legacy of the 1947 Partition still haunts the bulk of South Asia. Here the editors of the book advise that a region divided by politics, religion and various other identities, yet united by history, civilisation and geography has to learn to move on against the historical past.
For this book the ?South Asia Together Project? places the people of South Asia at the centre of its focus by bringing together young South Asian academia, media think-tanks who choose to focus on ?Human Freedom in South Asia? and call for a paradigm shift from a focus on the ?states? of South Asia to the ?people? of South Asia.
At the core of the agenda are the key issues of freedom of the people, particularly political freedom which means essentially greater democratisation and power to the people themselves as laid out in the Constitution; economic freedom to undertake, without unnecessary shackles and leashes, economic activities that sustain and enhance the desired change; social freedom to pursue in the emerging knowledge sector, issues of education, health care, environment, etc.; and cultural freedom to pursue diverse strains of thoughts, culture, arts, etc, within the framework of an effective system of the rule of law.
The key problems which hold back the people of South Asia today are broadly discussed around the following four issues: inadequate political freedom, limited economic freedom, social disabilities and cultural constraints.
In his paper Kanti Bajpai deals with the links between democracy and democratisation on the one hand and peace and violence on the other; the relationship between democratisation and regional stability in South Asia; the nature of democracy and democratisation and suggests how the two can be defined operatively and inquires into the threats to democracy while identifying four major threats.
Panandiker and Tripathi say that democracy will be a slow and hard fight due to a number of challenges in South Asia?in Bangladesh political rivalry is strong but with Hasina in power, things might change; in India it is the rise of the cultural Right and the Maoist Left and the continuing inter-caste violence; in Nepal it is the instabilities arising from the triangular relationship between the deposed King, the liberal parties and the Maoists in power; in Pakistan it is the overbearing military and the power of religious extremism and violence; in Sri Lanka ethnic conflicts are leading to a civil war.
Sumaiya Khan holds poverty and lack of economic development responsible for bad governance in Bangladesh.
PK Adhikari says that in Nepal, the interests of major international and regional players have not only created mistrust between the key players and the Maoists but also between the Maoists and GP Koirala (who is no longer in power) and that it will continue to jeopardise the peace process.
Regarding peace and security, C Raja Mohan advocates cooperative security in South Asia with ?walking on both legs, efforts at conflict resolution and political cooperation?.
Ehsanul Haque advocates that India, as the core power of the region, should grant unilateral concessions to Pakistan and the transformation of the ?Iron Curtain? (LoC) of a heavily militarised border into a ?Linear Curtain? between the self-administering Indian and Pakistan regions of Jammu & Kashmir.
Rajesh M Basrur says that with Sri Lanka acknowledging India'sinterests in the region there are closer relations, leading to increased defence cooperation and closer economic relations with military-strategic cooperation between the two.
When referring to regional cooperation, Mahendra P Lama strikes an optimistic note by saying that several drivers and actors from the state, market and civil society are acting as the pushing force in the ongoing process of regionalism in South Asia and that several initiatives are likely ?to give a big push to this 21-year old regional initiative.?
Most of the papers end on a promising note for greater regional cooperation and how they perceive some of the critical issues in South Asia which are likely to have bearing on the future of the region.
(Konark Publishers Pvt Ltd, A-149, Main Vikas Marg, Delhi-110 092.)