The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) hosted it’s first-ever two-day flagship project Islamabad Conclave 2021 on December 9, 2021. The Islamabad Conclave 2021 was inaugurated by the Chief Guest the Honourable Patron In-Chief of ISSI Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Patron of ISSI the Honourable Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi was also present at the event. PM Khan congratulated Director General ISSI Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary for conceiving such an idea and highlighted the pivotal role played by the think-tanks in policymaking. PM Khan also appreciated DG ISSI for bringing national as well as international scholars and intelligentsia closer to policymakers. Earlier, the DG ISSI welcomed the honourable guests and distinguished national and international audience. The DG ISSI briefed about the aims and objectives of Islamabad Conclave and stressed the importance of “Peace and Prosperity in South Asia.” The Foreign Minister Qureshi lauded the initiative and prayed for its success.

The first working session of Islamabad Conclave 2021 entitled “Quest for Peace and Prosperity in South Asia,” and was hosted by the India Study Centre (ISC) at the ISSI. The Director ISC Dr. Saif Malik welcomed the guests and quoted a famous saying that ‘peace at home is peace in the world’. Dr. Malik stated that the ISSI has organized a two-day conclave on highlighting the importance of “Peace and Prosperity in South Asia.” The latter houses one-fourth of the world’s population and it has diverse yet somehow similar ethnic, cultural, and religious settings. However, unfortunately, South Asia is one of the least integrated regions of the world and is now confronted with non-traditional security threats such as climate change, food security, and water scarcity. Dr. Malik stressed to resolve the unfinished business of the partition i.e., the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Ambassador Riaz Khokhar, former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan congratulated the ISSI for organizing the Islamabad Conclave and said that Islamabad Conclave is very timely as international order is in a state of flux, confrontation between major powers is growing by leaps and bounds. The South Asian counties are adjusting themselves to geo-political and geo-economic realities. Sadly, trust in the United Nations has been depleted as burning issues are pending in the UN. The basic foreign policy of Pakistan was set by the founder of the country Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah; he desired that Pakistan should have a friendly relationship with all its neighbours including Muslim countries and the rest of the world and especially India. Jinnah hoped that Pakistan’s relations with India would be like the US relations with Canada. Seeking peace, development, and prosperity were the main component of Jinnah’s vision of foreign policy. Pakistan currently follows the trajectory of Jinnah, and it wants peace prosperity in the region. Pakistan must seek for peace but must not beg for it, Khokhar concluded.

Dr Nishchal N Pandey, Director, Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS), Kathmandu, Nepal pointed out the challenges faced by South Asia. He said that the world’s three most geopolitical powerful players and leading military powers the US, China, and Russia are currently in a complex triangular relationship. There is the war of words, we do not know when this war of words will turn into a full-blown crisis. Smaller countries of South Asia are told to take sides. It is for the first time, the US-China, the US-Russia, China-India, and Pakistan-India are embroiled in bilateral tensions simultaneously. Pandey said that Covid-19 accelerated the economic woes of the region caused frequent lockdowns. Some experts say that SAARC is dead; if it is dead, we need to give new life to it. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are the top contributing countries in UN peacekeeping missions. Nevertheless, there is no peace in the region. Our region is in a state of crisis. South Asian crisis needs to be seen both as challenge as well as an opportunity, Pandey concluded.

Prof. Dr. Rupa Chanda, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and Director, Trade, Investment and Innovation Division, UNESCAP, Bangkok, argued that South Asia is among the least integrated regions in the world, with intraregional trade accounting for only 6.1% of total trade in 2015, compared to 27.4% in ASEAN. Although several integration frameworks are in place, progress in dismantling barriers and expanding trade and investment flows has been limited due to trade barriers, infrastructural deficits and connectivity constraints which raise trade costs, lack of trade facilitation measures, poor supply capacity, asymmetries among countries, and political differences. There is scope to expand trade and related flows of capital and persons in segments such as tourism, healthcare, education, IT and IT-enabled services, business, and professional services. Dr. Rupa said that there would be several regulatory and policy challenges, but a starting point could be to discuss services which are less sensitive, require less regulation, and of mutual interest and benefit. Post-pandemic opportunities in services due to digitalization need to be examined and can provide a meeting ground for integration.Ms. Laura Schuurman thanked the ISC and ISSI for providing her an opportunity to reflecting her thoughts. She stated that the Fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021, to the Taliban forces did put enormous pressure on the already tense geopolitical environment confronting Pakistan. She said that Pakistan and India are in a state of constant conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir since their independence in 1947. Ms. Laura argued that the absence of sustainable dialogue between the two nuclear-armed arch-rivals brought them close to a full-scale war in February 2019 after the unfortunate Pulwama incident. She briefly highlighted the history and the chronological events happened in Kashmir and between India and Pakistan since the independence. Ms. Laura lamented the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A by the Indian Government in August 2019 and bewailed the lockdown that followed which suspended civil liberties and communications of all sorts. Ms. Laura condemned the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and called it as the remnant of colonizers. She stressed dialogue between India and Pakistan, and to include the Kashmiri people in such an endeavour.