Comprehensive and Cooperative Security in South Asia



The concept of security is dynamic and multi-dimensional. Since the last three decades, it has been mater of constant change. Significantly, the end of the Cold War has changed many traditional concepts. Amongst them security has been the most debated one as its focus has changed from security through armament to security through human development and empowerment. States are no more projected as the object of security; instead, individuals take the center position. In today politics, the cogent marshaling and persuasive communication of ideas and information are more important for leadership than military firepower. For stable world order, sound economic, political and social institutions have been considered more important than the use of military threat. The process of globalization as a result of highly advanced technologies has led so many opportunities for states to uplift millions from poverty, deprivation and degradation. Yet it unleashes chronic challenges that need to be addressed properly.

In this highly competitive environment, countries are trying to resolve their old differences in order to benefit from the emerging opportunities. This is so that they can successively fulfill their national interests. The idea of cooperative security, whereby states follow the policies of threat reduction (war avoidance), national restraint and secession of arms competition through the process of dialogue, cooperation and confidence building measures for mutual benefits has gained currency and has taken the fundamental position in many foreign policies. However, there seems no adjustment of these trends in South Asia. The ruling elite here faces the problems of adjustment with the post cold war trends. Disparities in addressing the challenges of globalization, territorial disputes, arms race, civil war in states and political tension among states prevent stability in the region. Besides the weakening of traditional states; demographic pressures, exploitation of foreign investments, low level of interstate trade, fragile governments, weak political institutions, poverty, deprivation, marginalization of a considerable segment of the society, gender discrimination, violence, terrorism, drug trafficking and proliferation of armed militia are just some of the factors that have blocked progress in South Asia. Consequently, South Asia leads in most of the negative human development indicators. We in South Asia desperately need to assess our priorities. Today, we neither have time, nor the margin of error. We need to speed up the process of peace, prosperity and development in this era of intense competition. In order to address the security challenges, all the South Asian countries first need to put their houses in order. Then attempts should be made to enhance cooperation with each other to ensure peace, security and development.

In the light of this background, this papers discusses the conceptual framework of comprehensive and cooperative security as a background of current security paradigms. Internal and external dynamics of security in South Asia are discussed here to see how South Asia is responding to these current developments. The paper proceeds with the case study of Pakistan to suggest what individual countries can do to improve the security environment in their respective countries. An attempt is also made, while discussing different issues, to suggest ways to ensure security and to forge it through cooperation with each other.


The notion that security is not restricted to military issues alone but is comprehensive in character including other elements of national power such as economy, diplomacy, politics, energy, food security and protection against natural calamities had its origin in Japan in the early 1970. Many developments in the context of East-West rivalry in mid 70s and 80s broadened the concept of security. With the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union in December 1991, the world observed a great emphatic shift from security through military means to security through economic well-being, prosperity and social development.

The genesis of comprehensive security was found in the realization during 1970s and onwards that threats to national security come from many directions; which are not necessarily military in nature. These may come from lack of economic opportunities, external commercial factors, internal situations, challenging core values, natural disasters and even ecological degradation. Thus, to deal with such complex issues, nations need to develop comprehensive capabilities rather than build nuclear arsenals. However, as a concept, comprehensive security does not exclude military capabilities. It wants sufficient defense capabilities to be more realistically expressed through mutual dialogue and decisions, yet it lays great emphasis on the economic factors that support real security.

Many factors were responsible for this realization. First, there had grown strong international norms against territorial expansion or changing existing national boundaries. The Helsinki Process further institutionalized the principle that national boundaries must be respected. Second, military forces became a decreasingly effective tool in international diplomacy. The major case studies to prove this were the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and Somalia, Soviet Union involvement in Afghanistan and Iraqi aggression in Kuwait. Finally, economic power today is no longer directly linked to the availability of natural or material resources, but depends more on the potential of the people themselves and their ability to create wealth within a nation.

To address the comprehensive nature of security, the idea of cooperative security was introduced. Its basis was that in an interdependent world, security for one can not be achieved at the cost of the another and that the multidimensional nature of security requires a joint venture to save all. It has been considered that a more effective way to ensure security is to create a positive process that can lead to peace and disarmament. This concept laid its formation on the following principles:
All nations have a legitimate right to security
Interdependent nature of world require joint efforts thus restraint is necessary in asserting national interests
Military force is not the right instrument for resolving disputes

The process emphasized on cooperation between countries friends and adversaries alike, through constant dialogue and the process of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).

Cooperative security, as General Banerjee writes, is perhaps a less difficult method to adopt because it does not call for many fundamental changes in approach. It acknowledges the primacy of state interests. It accepts the reality of competition between nations. It recognizes the value of existing bilateral and balance of power arrangements. It takes into account the presence of multiple actors and the complexity of prevailing geo-politics. In short, cooperative security provides a sound mechanism to achieve security at national and international level with the preservation of states primary national interests.

The concept of cooperative security as a guarantor of comprehensive security or durable peace and development represents both the common aspiration of the people throughout the world and strategic thinking of today. Yet, ten years trial in the field of international politics and diplomacy after the Cold War has characterized two distinct phenomena. On the one hand, the world observed a decisive shift away from the policies of confrontation and conflict to the course of cooperation. Initiation of peace process in the Middle East was a clear indication of that shift. The Ireland peace process, negotiations between the North and South Koreas for close cooperation and ultimately unification, and most recently Clinton visit to Vietnam lead to many positive aspirations. In the intense era of globalization, joint ventures for exploring opportunities to secure all are indeed promising, as it eliminates the image of threat perception and reduces the pursuance of security from a state centric view.

On the other hand, close analysis shows that the unfair and irrational old international political and economic order has yet to be replaced. People in many countries are still suffering from the scourge of wars and turmoil. Hegemonies and power politics still exist. Local conflicts caused by ethnic, religious, territorial or resource factors keep cropping up. Separatist terrorist and extremist forces of various kinds are causing increasing damage to the international community. Drugs, refugees and other global issues are more acutely felt and we are still far from a stable and tranquil environment.

Today there are fewer wars between nations yet more within them. These are often fueled by the vested interests of outside players. Furthermore, the most important feature of changing concept of security arms non-proliferation, is still an uphill task as the major countries preaching it themselves take contradictory measures; e.g., the U.S. initiative to launch the National Missile Defense Program. This has renewed the debate of the arms race in future. The developed countries possess 86 percent of the world Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and occupy 82 percent of the world export markets. While the developing countries, which account for the overwhelming majority of the world population, possess only 14 percent and 18 percent respectively.

In addition, developing countries are also victims of the fact that the developed countries now united virtually in a single bloc. Convergences of their broader interests give a tough time to developing countries. If there is no fundamental change in such a situation, it will be difficult to avoid turbulence in the international community, promote durable development for all countries and achieve worldwide prosperity. The failure to achieve the objectives of new thinking that was infused by the West in the post Cold War era, was clearly indicated by Kofi Annan in the United Nations (UN) Millennium Summit. In his words our greatest challenges to free humanity from war, poverty and disease, to reduce environmental destruction and to make the UN effective are all unmet.

For countries, especially the developing ones, to address the crisis of these contradictions while focusing on internal development to meet the comprehensive nature of security with their scarce resources is indeed a difficult task. Yet, these countries have no choice but to address the security dilemmas at home as the historic shift of security objects is hard to reverse; and then with sound internal backing preserve their strategic and national interests.

With this in mind, many countries are scrambling to gain benefits from the emerging opportunities of globalization. Many traditional partnerships and alliances at the community, national and international levels have become redundant and new ones are being forged between countries, organizations, and individuals in a highly changed and volatile atmosphere. Many such alliances are being forged between those who were poles apart not so long ago. The changing relationship patterns of Middle Eastern states with each other and with that of the outside world are the classic examples. It is clear that those who do not comprehend these changes will now be left behind. Therefore the most unlikely people are leaving their traditional niches and beginning to discuss matters that they considered anathema earlier.


The security environment of South Asia is highly paradoxical when viewed in the context of trends in today global politics. Inability of the South Asian ruling elite to address the current challenges competitively, their unwillingness to explore opportunities for the peoples benefit and not the least important, the retrogressive, intolerant and individualistic approach of South Asian peoples on basic issues effecting their lives have made security something most difficult to achieve at least impossible in the forty-fifty years to come. For the better understanding, states internal security scenario and the overall regional security environment have been dealt here separately.


The region, home of one-fifth of the world population, is badly managed. The dominance of a narrow band of elite reflects the concentrated nature of political power in South Asia. All countries here severely face the priority dilemmas. Democracy is fast turning into an empty ritual. The gap between state and society is notable. People continually feel excluded from the larger political process, and, despite the existence of local Governments in many countries, the state remains distant. Institutional decay is evident here from every example. There are marked social and economic inequalities, which though primarily rooted in the colonial past, are also the result of an inefficient and unjust system of economic management. South Asia economies are debt ridden and the rates of the saving and investments are low. Income disparities in South Asia are one of the largest in the world. Health services in the region are poor and the increasing demographic pressure against resources is a constant threat to survival. Much more is spent on defense than on social, economic and physical development.

Consequently, the region has emerged as the poorest, the most illiterate, the most malnourished, the least gender sensitive and in fact the most deprived region in the world. The process of nation building is highly complex and contradictory in the region due to division on ethnic, religious and linguistic grounds. These divisions have been a constant source for intra-state violence. The region is a queer amalgam of people and faiths. The ethno-racial and linguistic diversity is one of the most complex features of South Asia. Just the Eight Schedule to Indian constitution recognizes eighteen languages. There are six main religions, viz., Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Jainism. Then there are several versions of religion that make South Asia a breeding ground of violence and crime. Nation building in such a Pluralistic setting creates fertile grounds for conflicts. Thus, from the civil war in Sri Lanka to the cast-based crimes in India or the sectarian killings in Pakistan, South Asia seems to be at war with itself. Another source of intra-state conflict has been quest for appropriate model of socio-economic and political development. Cross-border affiliation of ethno-linguistic and religious groups often transforms intra-state conflict into an inter-state one. And sometimes such problems have been abetted from across the border with political motives.

The most depressing feature of South Asian societies has been the retrogressive approach of people towards the basic issues. All attempts to change the security environment of South Asia are futile unless the people are willing to change themselves. To bring about the expeditious social change is a fundamental task here for those who are striving to bring the realization of changing world norms in this volatile part of the world. To change the mindset of people towards a positive direction seems to be a distressing task. We talk about the illiteracy as a main cause of our evils but what about the educated ones? Corruption and distortion have taken root not only in the systems here but also in people feelings, thinking and words, causing distrust and uncertainty everywhere. Our systems have become such that they marginalize the positive segment of society. Though the governing system compounded by the external involvement have caused unrecoverable damage to state and society yet the individual role at most levels and most of the time has not been any exception. Thus, unless the mindsets are changed here, all attempts to change the regional security environment will not bear fruit and the achievement of comprehensive security will remain a distant dream in South Asian societies.


A framework that could be conducive to greater peace and security is far from firmly being rooted in the region. While the rest of the world has experienced the peace dividend, South Asia remains mired in tension. Actually, the pattern of inter-state relations in the region continues to be prone to conflicts and instabilities. This is mainly because of the perceptual aspects, historical memories, mutual threat perceptions and above all, absence of the desperately required political will. The nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan in May 1998 has also made South Asia one of the most sensitive regions in terms of security; where the chances of nuclear war are ever high due to the unresolved Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. Not only this, but bilateral disputes between all South Asian states have proved to be too difficult to resolve. While some of them are rooted in the colonial past, others are in the current dynamics of bilateral as well as intra-state relations. Main issues that constitute the regional security environment of South Asia can be summarized as follows:

  • Arms race
  • Territorial disputes inherited from the colonial past and the demarcation of land and maritime boundaries, among them the leading one is of Kashmir
  • Sharing water resources of common rivers
  • Intra-state conflicts involving actors with cross-border affiliations
  • Divergent security perspectives
  • Conflicting economic interests
  • Smuggling and illegal cross-border activities
  • Indian attitude towards smaller neighbor as it is the dominant power in the region and as most of the problems are Indo-centric
  • Involvement of extra-regional forces

The dominant issues, which will be key factors in the formulation of the future security environment in South Asia, would be the nuclear issue and the solution of the Kashmir problem. For the whole region is dominated by the rivalry of India and Pakistan. The other smaller countries in the region react to all such development based on their own perception of national interests and establishment of world-views that hamper regional cooperation towards positive directions. How to bring the South Asian states under the umbrella of cooperation is a complicated question, yet needs to be addressed urgently.

In order to address the challenges of the intense competition and to achieve comprehensive security, South Asian countries must enhance their capacity to develop their economies, science and technology. Political regimes need to give importance to current emerging trends to save their own interest. Then the development will depend on the continuous strengthening of their capacity of self-development. All the South Asian countries first need to put their houses in order. Then attempts should be made to forge cooperation. Unless the countries have sound internal bases, they can not fight for their interests externally. For these countries it is a prerequisite to identify the parameters within which it will be possible to forge cooperation. There is dire need to accept the current realities of the present world order and then to identify the regional expectations of what might be the objectives of cooperative security. Priorities must be assessed. The problem of no solution of the outstanding issues lies in the lack of political will. Until that will is produced, all talks of crisis prevention and conflict resolution will ring hollow.


Pakistan, today is in a no-win situation. It is not in a position to address either aspect of security; be it internal or external. It is experiencing its third military regime. There are forty five million people living below the poverty level. The official literacy rate is around forty percent while female literacy is only twenty-four percent. According to a World Bank report, Pakistan is the only country in the whole world where the primary education rate has declined up to three percent. Its GDP barely touches sixty billion dollars. While its external debt stands at 40 billion dollars. This figure reaches around 60-65 billion dollars when internal debts are added. Except for nuclear and defense production, the country is seriously deficient in technology. In the absence of the clear perception of national priorities and sincere leadership, people have sought an individualistic approach, and it is evident from many examples. While our social and political institutions are subject to constant decline some of our individuals lead world forums.

The endemic corruption in Pakistan and the endless race for power, privilege and resources by individual politician and successive political and military governments has created a bias against all those who are associated with the official establishment in any way. Policies taken in the name of national interests have actually affected the national interests and the population in negative ways. As one observes, Activities undertaken within the country in the name of security, the strategic interests of the state and national defense have a profound impact on citizens. These can under certain political philosophies, allow for the suppression of freedom of speech and association etc., because the political status quo is projected as being essential to national security. In those countries where the concept of national security includes the preservation of the way of life, secular or based on religion may be, the maintenance of political and economic security, control of the political opposition and unfavorable media coverage may be considered cause for intervention in aid of civilian law and order agencies at different levels. Under such circumstances alliances between certain types of political elements or governments and the armed forces, can be convenient such alliances are generally sought in order to attain, or maintain, power and privilege for specific elite groups. As a result, in Pakistan the polarization of not just political but social forces is on rise.

The society is divided on linguistic, ethnic, social and economic grounds. These divisions are fueled often to gain political objectives. People easily become victim of shrewd policies of the power-greedy elite due to their ignorance and naivety. Myopic approach of our intelligentsia has further dimmed the chances of the alternate way to infuse people with spirit which by now has become mute to react to any development.

At the regional front as well Pakistan has not contributed much to positive developments. Its constant involvement in regional conflicts has only worsened the situation. Our leaders have been unable to project even their right policies. The way the Kashmir issue has been tackled is a clear indication. A Right stand with the wrong projection has created an image of Pakistan as a country promoting terrorism across the border. Instead of the Kashmiri people, the Pakistan Kashmir policy has served the interest of political leadership at any juncture of the history. Its rigidity on the nuclear issue has harmed its image abroad badly and caused almost total economic bankruptcy. While many countries of the region have forged reliable alliances, Pakistan continues to beg for assistance. Pakistan, due to its insolvent intermestic policies today is vulnerable to many threats. Again this is a matter of will. Right steps are needed in the right direction to narrow the gap between potential and achievements. The most crucial question today is who will take those steps while the decline of different segment of the society is evident?

As non-traditional aspect of security is more dominant today, non-traditional means to achieve that should be sought. Non-traditional means here is taken as the endeavors taken by individual in a very informal manner with the possible future coordination with organized forums. The process should be started without expecting anything from any quarter. It will be naïve to think that political leadership in South Asia will rise above their petty interests and a true and sincere leadership will emerge as all the faces in picture have been judged time after time. They are suspected because they have been exposed. There are no immediate remedies that can redress our injuries neither is there any hope of improvement in the political environment in the near future.

It is said that all the ills of democracy can only be cured by more democracy. But is there a hope of true democracy? What should be done to put the house in order then? Should we wait for miracles or take the initiative? Small steps by small groups can help a lot to change the situation in the long run. For anyone interested to break the vicious circle which engulfs us, the following steps might be helpful.

Start the process with you. As not just the political will but firm determination is required at every level and at every place.

Set priorities with the realization of national interests and take measures to implement them.

Target the undeserved people. We have several examples in the country whereby individuals created fuss of everything causing serious damages to the institutions and people. Such individuals must not be supported in their narrow interest, as has been the practice.

Influence those who influence others. Your object should be small groups particularly those who are playing dominant roles in the society and effect the large community. If their thinking can be molded in right/positive direction the effects on the large community will be positive. Definitely it will have multiple effects.

V. Conclusion

The current assessment of South Asian affairs is not to suggest that there is no positive development at all. Of course, there have been some developments yet the negative aspects of affairs overshadow these. Some countries are trying to be an exception. For example, Bangladesh: More civil society initiatives are emerging there contributing towards positive environment. Though the internal political differences have not been resolved, on foreign policy front they are doing well. There is also a general recognition in the region of the importance of redefining the term security and what can legitimately be called strategic interests at any given time and at any particular stage of national development. Furthermore, the process of dialogue has not been discontinued between India and Pakistan despite severe clashes. And attempts have also been made to forge the regional cooperation. Regardless of all its weaknesses, South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC) could not be said to be a total failure. Attempts should be focused to make it effective instead of seeking new initiative because it is not the policies that proved to be a failure but the poor implementation of those policies.

This assessment of the affairs of the region is to suggest that to address the comprehensive nature of security comprehensively, many bold initiatives need to be taken both by the public and private sector. Clear division of responsibility between the public and private sector needs to be worked out. States need to work in partnership with the private sector and with civil society in its broadest sense.

South Asia is strategically important to the outside world. It has the potential to emerge as the most dynamic region but a high level of maturity and prudence is required to promise the achievements. If countries of the region succeed in clearing the fuss from their houses and forge cooperation in the region through close contacts with each other they can benefit immensely from the opportunities of globalization.