The ongoing two day Margalla Dialogue in Islamabad promises to distinguish itself from the conventional academic conferences in Pakistan. With national and international policy-makers, area experts and academics as the key participants, the dialogue focuses on peace and development in South Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia (SAMECA).

The emphasis is on establishing workable frameworks of regional cooperation and institutionalizing collective responses to developmental and security challenges. Such dialogues are held regularly in many countries of the world; IPRI has taken the lead in pioneering this initiative in Pakistan with the resolve to hold it annually.

In the post-Cold War era the decline of conventional military force as a policy tool and the rise of economic interdependence has increased the likelihood of enhanced inter-state cooperation. The very concept of international security has expanded to include not only military threats but also ideological, ethnic, sectarian and environmental threats to human security.

Today, what happens in one part of the globalized world can directly impact a number of other countries. For instance, climate change and the attendant problems of water and food scarcity transcend national boundaries; so does the transnational threat from violent non-state actors.

Globalisation is a double edged sword. Even as it has widened the North-South gap and is currently driving economic discontent and populism in advanced countries, it is also the force behind integration.

Technological advancement has ushered in an era of unprecedented exchange of political and cultural ideas between members of diverse societies. The freedom to express themselves on social media has encouraged ordinary people to actively participate in political debates, policy issues and transnational movements for justice and peace.

New and faster modes of communication and transportation have opened up new cultures and traditions of hitherto far-flung areas. While this has given rise to collective paranoia and hyper-nationalism in some countries, it has also become a conduit for better cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

The 21st Century has ushered in an era of enhanced importance of the SAMECA region against the backdrop of major regional and international realignments. With the gradual shift in power from the West to the East, an economically stronger China and a resurgent Russia appear to be challenging the post-WWII world order.

Some international relations theorists are of the view that during times of power transition the likelihood of great power conflict increases manifold. The status-quo power views the rising state as a serious challenge to its global economic and military prowess and resorts to containing its potential competitor. In response, the rising revisionist power pushes back, creating tensions in the international system that can escalate into armed conflict. This so-called ‘’Thucydides Trap’’ creates ambiguity at the regional and global level.

The SAMECA region is a reflection of such uncertainty where great power rivalries, unresolved disputes and regional tensions have undermined peace and development. Endowed with abundant natural and human resources, SAMECA has been in the grip of military conflict, political and socio-economic and governance problems in the post-9/11 world.

That said, rapid technological advancement continues to be the driving force behind complex interdependence. Interestingly, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is geared towards achieving this neo-liberal ideal. It aims to connect Asia, Europe and Africa, the three interlinked continents that Halford Mackinder perceived as a combination of the largest, richest and most populous region of the World.

Within BRI, the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project that promises prosperity and stability through regional and global interconnectivity and economic interdependence. SAMECA can take huge advantage of this opportunity to ameliorate the lives of millions of its denizens. CPEC has the potential to alleviate poverty and capitalize the true economic potential of our region.

Of course, for development to happen, regional security is indispensable. Unresolved conflicts between are a threat to regional peace and prosperity. One such debilitating conflict in South Asia is that of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the two nuclear armed neighbors. The problem has festered for more than seven decades and there is no sign of conflict resolution on the horizon.

The recent abrogation of Article 370 and 35A has added fuel to fire. This measure is not only a contravention of UN Security Council Resolutions but also violates the Indian Constitution. Long drawn curfew and lockdown in Indian held Kashmir is almost a hundred days old. The silence of the international community in the face of this humanitarian crisis could lead to a horrendous outcome.

Unresolved disputes undermine multilateral efforts. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is one such example. It was created to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia through accelerated economic growth, collective self-reliance and social progress; to ensure human dignity and to provide the opportunity for all to realize their potential.

Unfortunately, SAARC has been held hostage by the largest country in the region, India. New Delhi’s animosity towards Pakistan has often eclipsed the ideal of regional welfare and prosperity through collaboration and good-will.

The devastating conflict and great power intervention in Afghanistan since 9/11 has impacted regional security. A stable Afghanistan is crucial to the success of integrated regional structures that can stimulate economic growth, multiply economic corridors and strengthen regional connectivity.

Margalla Dialogue is providing the platform for not only discussions and debates but, more importantly, pragmatic recommendations to minimize conflict and devise cooperative mechanisms for regional development.