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Specific Policy Actions


Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, May 26 2005

South Asia can contribute to the emergence of a 21 st century civilization by helping to establish a sustainable relationship between individuals, commodities and nature. In this article we will first outline an alternative perspective on development and then indicate a set of specific policy initiatives that can be undertaken to begin the process of actualizing the great human potential of South Asia.

An Alternative Approach to Economic Development

Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics propounds a relationship between human beings and commodities, which seems strange to contemporary economic theory but may be vital in building a new 21 st century perspective on economic development. Aristotle proposed that it is human functioning that gave richness to life and not commodities, which are merely useful. The Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen in his recent work has drawn upon Aristotle's proposition to go beyond the notion of living standards in terms of just income or goods. A.K. Sen proposes the concept of capabilities and entitlements whereby in addition to requiring certain goods and services for oneself one may also value one's capability to be socially useful . This helps to clarify that the issue of overcoming poverty is not simply ‘delivering' a certain quantity of food, but also providing complementary services such as drinking water, sanitation, health care and education. Thus A.K. Sen laid the theoretical basis of what has come to be known in the literature as “human development”. Sen argues that food, health care and education constitute entitlements of citizens since they are necessary for actualizing human capabilities.

It can be argued that Sen's capabilities and entitlements formulation is rooted in the premise that our sociality is essential to human functioning. If this indeed is the case, then could we not extend the scope of Sen's concept of entitlements to include high quality universities, hospitals, a free press, peace, human security and the entire range of political rights associated with democracy? These rights and institutions are surely necessary for human beings to fulfill the peculiarly human need to function in “a socially useful way”. If we could broaden Sen's concept in this way then the measure of “standard of living” in the theory of economic development would include not just goods and services but the whole set of social and political institutions that are necessary for what Aristotle called “human functioning”.

Concretizing the Vision

A vision is efficacious to the extent that it can be concretized. This requires bringing to bear the new consciousness of South Asian cooperation to undertake five specific policy actions for our new perspective on economic development:

1. Let the people meet

Visas restrictions should be eased to allow citizens of each country of South Asia to travel freely to enjoy the natural beauty of the region, and to participate in the social and cultural events of the various countries of South Asia. Tourism alone could make a major contribution to the GDP growth of the region. It would at the same time be pro poor growth since it would generate employment and incomes for every body from the porters, road side cafes, restaurants, hotels and transport companies. Such travel and social interaction would help in the rediscovery of the shared civilizational values and help build more pluralistic societies and strengthen democracy in the region.

2. South Asia Health Foundation (SAHF)

Ill health is a major trigger that pushes people into poverty and keeps productivity at a low level in South Asia. Therefore provision of high quality preventive and curative health facilities would be a strategic intervention for poverty reduction, human development and economic growth in the region. It is proposed that a South Asia Health Foundation may be instituted with the following objectives: (i) To set up district level general hospitals at the highest international standards in selected districts of each of the countries of South Asia. (ii) Each SAHF hospital would have a network of high quality basic health units and also reproductive and child health care clinics. The latter would provide pre natal and post natal care to mothers, family planning services and basic pediatric services to infants. (iii) Each SAHF hospital would initiate community-based campaigns for hygienic drinking water, sanitation, immunization and control of epidemics.

The doctors and staff of the SAHF hospitals in a particular country could be drawn from other South Asian countries to signify the commitment of South Asians to each other. The healing and humanity in these hospitals would stand as a living symbol of both the promise and fulfillment of South Asian cooperation.

3. South Asia Education Foundation

A South Asia Education Foundation may be instituted on the basis of a private-public partnership with contributions from multi lateral donor agencies. The purpose of the foundation would be to establish a network of schools as well as universities at the best international standards to help develop the knowledge base to prepare South Asia for its leadership role in the new world that is taking shape. The network of universities could enable students and researchers to interact intensively across international boundaries in South Asia and create a community of scholars that could produce new knowledge in the natural and social sciences.

4. Private Sector Joint Venture Infrastructure Projects

•  India, Pakistan and Bangladesh should cooperate closely in establishing gas pipelines in South Asia for transporting gas from Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan and even Myanmar. Specifically the ongoing official negotiations on transporting oil and gas from Iran through Pakistan to India should be brought to an early and successful conclusion. To strengthen the mutual inter dependence between India and Pakistan the recent proposal by Mr. Manishanker Iyer for transporting diesel fuel from Panipat to Lahore should also be taken up quickly. In the context of developing energy markets of these resources, power trading in the region calls for establishment of high voltage interconnections between the national grids of the countries of the region.

•  Facilitating private sector joint projects in building a network of motorways and railways at international quality standards through out South Asia. These modern road and rail networks would connect all the major commercial centers, towns and cities of SAARC countries with each other and with the economies of Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia.

•  Facilitating regional and global joint venture projects for developing new ports along both the western and eastern seaboard of South Asia, and at the same time up-grading existing ports to the highest international standards.

•  Facilitating regional investment projects in building a network of airports, together with cold storages and warehouses that could stimulate not only tourism but also export of perishable commodities such as milk, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.

5. Restructuring Growth for Rapid Poverty Reduction

Economic growth must not only be accelerated but restructured in such a way that its capacity to alleviate poverty is enhanced for given growth rates of GDP. In this context of achieving pro poor growth, three sets of measures can be undertaken at the country as well as the regional levels:

•  Joint venture projects need to be undertaken to rapidly accelerate the growth of those sub sectors in agriculture and industry respectively which have relatively higher employment elasticities and which can increase the productivity and hence put more income into the hands of the poor. These sub sectors include production and regional export of high value added agricultural products such as milk, vegetables, fruits, flowers and marine fisheries.

•  Regional network of support institutions in the private sector can be facilitated for enabling small scale industries located in regional growth nodes, with specialized facilities such as heat treatment, forging, quality control systems and provision of skill training, credit and marketing facilities in both the country specific and regional economies.

•  A SAARC Fund for vocational training may be established. The purpose of this Fund would be to help establish a network of high quality vocational training institutes for the poor. Improved training in market demanded skills would enable a shift of the labour force from low skill sector to higher skill sectors and thereby increase the productivity and income earning capability of the poor. It would at the same time generate higher growth for given levels of investment by increasing factor productivity.


If South Asia is to play a leadership role in the new world that is taking shape, then it must undertake specific initiatives within a new policy paradigm for pursuing peace, overcoming poverty and protecting the life support systems of the planet. However this requires that governments move out of a mindset that regards an adversarial relationship with a neighbouring country as the emblem of patriotism, affluence of the few at the expense of the many, as the hallmark of development, individual greed as the basis of public action, and mutual demonization as the basis of inter state relations. We have arrived at the end of the epoch when we could hope to conduct our social, economic and political life on the basis of such a mindset.

This is a historic moment when the people of South Asia have recognized that they have a new tryst with destiny. They are affirming that their security and well being lies not in inter-state conflict but in peace and cooperation. Let the governments hearken to the call of their people.


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