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Major Powers and Greater Asia: The New Game

The Fourth Annual Social Sciences Conference was held at the Lahore School of Economics from the 17th to 18th of March, 2016. The second day of the conference was dedicated to discussion on political and international relations and brought together leading analysts and academics of Pakistan. The title of the conference was “Major Powers and Greater Asia: The New Game”, and the talks were centered around the role of major powers like US and China in South Asia and how Pakistan features into their politics. 

The keynote speaker was Ambassador (Retd) Riaz Hussain Khokhar, who has served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan as well as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, China and India. The topic and context of the conference was introduced by Prof. Sajjad Naseer, Senior Fellow, Department of Social Sciences. He said that the principal actors in the region were burdened by the weight of territorial disputes, including China, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan with no resolution insight. Additionally, Russia is pursuing aggressive policies towards Ukraine to secure its immediate border and the Chinese posturing, and its soft power projection through “One Road, One Belt” is raising disturbing issues. In view of the above, the conference focused on the competing perspectives of the major actors to make sense of the emerging reality in the region.

The speakers for the first session included Prof. Dr. Hassan Askari Rizvi, Professor Emeritus and Defense Analyst, Dr. Saeed Shafqat, Director and founder of the School of Public Policy at Forman Christian College University (FCCU), political analyst Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and Dr. Adil Sultan Director at the Policy, Doctrine and Strategy (PDS) Branch of the Strategic Plans Division (SPD). 

Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi tackled the topic of American Policy in Asia. He said Pakistan can learn from economic and societal development in the Asia-Pacific region and how different countries in the region resolved their bilateral and regional problems. Dr. Saeed Shafqat’s talk was titled “China’s ‘New Silk Web,’ How is it impacting Iran, Pakistan and Beyond?” and focused on how Pakistan, Iran in particular and India in general are adapting to China’s rise. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa spoke about the “India- Pakistan Puzzle” and said that more than any other country in the world, India is what defines Pakistan. She said, “This is a relationship that may not have a positive future nor is there any knowledge of the prime enemy state. There is not a single India expert in Pakistan and visa versa. This knowledge gap and a linear perception trajectory may not benefit Pakistan as regional dynamics change.” Lastly, Dr Adil Sultan spoke about “Nuclearisation” of South Asia and said that the lessons of the 1999 Kargil conflict and the 2001–2002 military stand-off reinforce the idea that war was no longer a feasible means of achieving political objectives.

The second session was chaired by Prof. Sajjad Naseer and the first speaker was Dr. Hussain Shaheed Soherwordi, Professor at the University of Peshawar. Professor Soherwordi spoke about the TAPI pipeline, as a new silk route and energy regime. He said that the pipeline is not only transporting gas, but also connecting one of the most economically disconnected regions, with unending border disputes and geopolitical conflict between India and Pakistan, as well as trouble on the two sides of the Durand Line.

The other two speakers for the second session were Dr Moonis Ahmar, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences and Meritorious Professor at the University of Karachi and Ms Kushboo Ijaz, Assistant Professor at Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore. Dr Ahmar brought the European perspective to the discussion and said that European thinking is compartmentalized. They see South Asia not as a region but as a group of countries to be separately analyzed. Ms Ejaz spoke on Gwadar and the Maritime Belt of Pakistan. Her research suggested that the development of Gwadar port under CPEC will be a game changer especially for Pakistan and Baluchistan and for region at large. Pakistan Government has to revisit its “land-lock thinking” in order to sensitize people about benefits of the maritime belt and resources. 

The conference ended on the note that the South Asia Region in the larger context of “Greater Asia” is pulsating with changes and opportunities. Many initiatives are undertaken, which at present time deny clarity but fuel speculations and conspiracy theories and scholars must make an attempt to understand and clarify these issue.
Day 1

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 3/18/2016 05:06:00 PM,

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