Peacebuilding is the practice of developing policies that consolidate peace and restore order through political, economic,and social reforms via newly strengthened governmental institutions. Peacebuilding represents a step forward from bilateral security arrangements and can be a regional security framework. The United Nations’An Agenda for Peace in 1992 was a second generation effort to build peace. This concept has transformed into contemporary peacebuilding, which includes an inclusive conceptualization of civil and military architecture, and the agenda has shifted its focus regionally rather than being solely state-centric.
Peacebuilding depends on the security, economic, and political dynamics of the region where it is being carried out. Challenges to global governance are immense and from a range of varying threats. State security and peace are threatened by non-representative regimes, foreign interventions, internal ethnic conflicts,natural resource disputes, deteriorating governance structures, and direct and indirect threats from non-state actors. Elements of this are present in South Asia, which is a diverse region with distinct conflicts and politico-economic subtleties.The region has a unique strategic significance—it connects Central Asia, East Asia, and the Middle East, and is close to the Indian Ocean—but is plagued by an amalgamation of traditional and non-traditional security threats, which it cannot deal with.
One such immense challenge is South Asia being home to one-third of the global population. Large sections of this population are impoverished, due to lack of adequate health, education, water, sewerage, and transportation facilities. Natural disasters are another challenge for the weak structural and institutional framework. This lack of access to basic facilities increases the probability of conflict. Thus, these nations are more vulnerable to cross-border terrorism, as well as ethnic and sectarian conflicts.
Extremism—not just associated with a single religious ideology but many— is a huge impediment to security in the region. It is perhaps the quest for security in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and now in Bhutan and Sri Lanka, which produces extremist retreat to religious fundamentals. In Pakistan, consolidation of Taliban in search of security became the basis of social extremism. The resurgence of Hindutva in India is also an endeavor to search for the lost cultural and national identity, giving superior right of rule in India to Hindus. This ideology declares Muslims and Christians to be foreigners.
Strained India-Pakistan relations since Partition, two nuclear-armed states, challenge the security apparatus of the region. The peace process between India and Pakistan has had encouraging moments but is continually derailed by acts of terrorism. Traditional rivalry between both states has taken new heights with nuclearization. Military competition between India and Pakistan, nuclearization, terrorism, and Afghan security attract most of the debate in academia. However, human rights violations are a graver threat. Gross systematic violation of human rights, religious extremism, ethnic conflicts, intra-state conflicts, and poverty are the source of the vast majority of threats to peace and security in the region.
However, with sustained peacebuilding, the focus can shift from traditional security centrism to non-traditional grave threats which provide ground to terrorism and extremism to flourish. Peacebuilding can reduce threat perceptions. And regional peacebuilding could ensure a sustained peace environment—multilateral approaches provide a better chance to retain peace, as the stakes of all states are embedded in that peace structure.
Intellectual impoverishment is also a major obstacle in addressing the more challenging threats of the region. The region’s intelligentsia is unable to move forward and develop a narrative to deal with fresh challenges. The fundamental factor of regional problems lies in weak state structure. As South Asia is part of the Third World much of the region did not get ample time to evolve into mature state units. This short time did not allow for enough opportunity to South Asian nations to incubate themselves fully, to become socially and economically coherent states. Thus, social and cultural contradictions inherently challenge state cohesion and consolidation. Peacebuilding may provide ample opportunity to share institutional frameworks among states of the region. The resolution and maintenance of peace through such sustainable frameworks may open avenues for long term cooperation.
Research on South Asia has been more focused on traditional security threats. Peacebuilding in South Asia is a continuous and unfinished agenda,since the points of focus are military campaigns, terrorism, nuclearization, and insurgencies. The root causes of these threats are ignored. Poverty, class differences, extremism, ethnic conflicts, disputes over natural resources, denial of basic human rights, and flailing state structures are fundamental loop holes. Without addressing these challenges, peacebuilding in South Asia will continue to be a dream.