Envisioning regional cooperation in South Asia through the Prism of Culture
Ulture is more emotional and psychologically affective in forging people to people contact which will provide a proper basis for the next level of cooperation which is political and economical.
Culture makes the empire work says Edward Said in his much acclaimed work Culture and Imperialism. The same proposition can be found in his other important work on culture and discourse titled as Orientalism. When coming to South Asia, the political and the diplomatic means of cooperation and coexistence has failed miserably due to a variety of reasons. The conflictual situation between India and Pakistan, the unresolved border issues, the refugee crisis, the water sharing problems, terrorism etc have led to a proper fostering of cooperation between the regional member states. Even though bilateral cooperation in the economic sphere has been somewhat successful (between India and Sri Lanka) the greater economic cooperation done under the auspices of SAFTA and SAPTA has failed due to again a variety of diplomatic as well as beaurocratic factors. Hence, effective political cooperation became a fools dream in the region due to the inability to solve the differences even after establishing SAARC which ironically does not allow political cooperation (due to the fact that bilateral or contentious issues cannot be discussed) possible which will allow the economic sphere to function stably and effectively.
In a sense, why has political cooperation and economic cooperation failed among the south asian states? Though it can be narrowed down to issues like the lack of political will, the lack of a proper political culture, the implantation of democracy (according to Gynar Mydral in The Asian Drama) a through looking into the factors which led to this needs to be addressed. In a sense, that is why I started with the statement which says the culture makes the empire work. It can be reversed as well as taken antithetically where one can point out that the absence of a proper cultural base which expresses commonality rather than differences have been made to be in presentia due to a variety of political, nationalistic and identity building issues within the region of South Asia which led to the fundamental problem of building barriers to proper cooperation within the region of south asia. Hence, before actually one can talk about diplomacy, the political cooperation, the democratic institution building and governance which will foster economic cooperation, the absent cultural commonality discourse should be given prominence to show that we all though coming from eight different sovereign nation states belong to one overarching identity called as south asia tied together by a closely knitted kaleidoscopic cultural setup and relations. Culture is more emotional and psychologically affective in forging people to people contact which will provide a proper basis for the next level of cooperation which is political and economical.
The lack of cultural commonality, though it is expressed in the modern day nationalistic discourse, actually was fostered by the colonial masters in their policy of divide and rule of the subjects. In the wake of decolonization and the post-colonial issues of identity building, the hitherto common spaces (in terms of physical regions as well as culture) began to be exclusively looked at and nation states began an enterprise where the whole process of identity creation was done on an exclusive nationalistic lines demarcating space as well as demarcating mine and thine in terms of cultural elements as well. The two nations theory which brought about Pakistan, the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka and its affect on Indo-Sri Lanka relations, the East Pakistan crisis, the problems of space in relation to Nepal etc have all resulted in a process of “othering” than forging ties. This creation of binaries within a space which was common have still led to the vast problems associated with forging effective regional cooperation within South Asian Countries. Hence, the time has come now to unearth the missing absences and look back to adjust and unearth the hidden binary based politics and reaffirm the cultural ties the region once shared which will effectively bind the people at a more fundamental basic level improving proper people to people contact (which is more psychologically binding) and start from that base to foster economic and political cooperation within the region. Hence, this paper is aimed at unearthing the hidden cultural discourse which were made to be absent due to a variety of political and socio-cultural reasons for petty hegemonistic, parochialistic reasons to promote regional cooperation better.