Will Indo-Pak tensions threaten SAARC?

12 October 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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IDSA New Delhi Distinguished Fellow Professor Emeritus S.D. Muni, Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi and other officials at the event

The Institute of National Security Studies, Sri Lanka (INSSSL) held its inaugural ‘Security Salon’ at the Defence Ministry recently. The Security Salon created a space in Colombo to foster intellectual, diplomatic and political debate and deliberation on a specific topic by a select audience. 


The guest speaker on the topic ‘Indo-Pak Situation’ was Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) New Delhi Distinguished Fellow Professor Emeritus S.D. Muni. The first meeting of its kind in Colombo, the session was chaired by Sri Lanka Defence Secretary Eng. Karunasena Hettiarachchi with the opening remarks delivered by INSSSL Director General Asanga Abeyagoonasekera. There was participation of research officers from the INSSSL, Defence Ministry, scholars, members of the diplomatic community and armed forces.


In understanding the protracted Indo-Pak conflict as a hindrance to unimpeded regional development, Prof. Muni drew to contextualise the problem as one that goes back 70 years. The conflict may be understood as explained by him as a series of connected events through history which cannot be treated in isolation to one another. However, he restricted his remarks to focus on the current situation.


Prof. Muni addressed the question as to whether the recent attack by the Indian forces against Pakistan was cross border firing or a ‘surgical strike’ as specified by the Indian Director General Military Operations (DGMO). The Indian Army’s defence is that they were trying to foil a “terrorist attack” with a surgical strike whereas Pakistan argues that it was a cross-border issue. However, the consequences of this incident have led to far greater activity and tensions at the line of control.  


His remarks were focused on how the latest exchange differs from previous incursions, as for the first time India has officially claimed responsibility for the attack, the international community has been briefed and Prime Minster Modi has also released a statement in this regard. Therefore, he stressed that now Pakistan needs to respond with caution in order to avoid further escalation of the conflict and that both governments need to exercise strategic restraint. 


The speaker however noted that there have been some retaliations and threats despite these efforts with statements from Pakistan reiterating that they are a nuclear weapon state and there could be a bigger war. With regard to India’s attacks, he stated that internal pressure on the government from the opposition and media could have led to the strike. As for consequences, Prof. Muni remarked that new red lines have been drawn between India and Pakistan although in his opinion it will not result in the end of cross-border terrorism, largely because of internal Pakistani politics and dynamics.


The implications of this situation on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the smaller South Asian states were also debated at the Security Salon. Territorial tension between these two parties has now accelerated to bring out new threats and challenges to dismantle regional security. South Asia being especially vulnerable to regional and international calamities has been facing challenges to maintain its regional solidarity, cooperation and integration. 


However, Prof. Muni placed the SAARC in the context of other regional groupings such as the European Union (EU) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which have their own internal struggles for survival and continuity drawing to the conclusion that setbacks such as the present situation must be overcome in order to such important organs of regional importance to continue. He concluded his remarks with the hope that the tense situation would not escalate and slowly regional relations would come to a normal place.


At the interesting discussion that followed, comments were made on there being no credible evidence to prove the attack was a surgical strike. India’s actions in sabotaging the China-Pakistan economic corridor instead of joining to increase productivity in the region were also questioned. India’s views were presented. 


The premier national think tank for security studies, the INSSSL aims to understand the national security environment with regard to regional and global security dynamics and work with the Government of Sri Lanka to craft evidence-based policy options and strategies through debate and discussion in the interest of national security. As such, the first Security Salon was a success in being a platform for debate and deliberation of an important issue in the region at present which could well have implications for Sri Lanka.

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