HomeWorldAsiaAsian Century: Re-engineering SAARC Via Science Diplomacy

Asian Century: Re-engineering SAARC Via Science Diplomacy


Mirza Abdul Aleem Baig 

Europeanization occurred in the 19th century, followed by Americanization in the 20th. Now, Asia is emerging as the epicenter of global transformation at an unprecedented pace making the 21st century, the Asian Century.

With over half of the world’s population and covering about 30 percent of Earth’s total land, the region has swiftly transitioned from low to middle income, projecting to surpass 50 percent of world GDP and nearly 40 percent of global consumption by 2040.

Comprising 48 nations, Asia unfolds as a tapestry of diversity across five distinct subregions: Wester, Central, Eastern, Southern, and South-Eastern Asia. Each boasts unique economic structure, governmental frameworks, demographic profiles, and geopolitical features, underlining the multifaceted nature of the continent.

Established on 8 December 1985 in Dhaka, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) stands as a pivotal alliance uniting eight Member States: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. With its Secretariat established in Kathmandu on 17 January 1987, SAARC operates with a mission deeply rooted in enhancing the well-being of South Asian peoples, fostering economic growth, social progress, and cultural development within the region.

South Asia, characterized by shared challenges such as hunger, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, and underdevelopment, stands at a critical juncture where the adoption of “Science Diplomacy” (SciDip) could serve as an inspiration and hope for fostering cooperation and addressing these pressing issues for sustainable growth and development. Despite deep-rooted distrust and suspicion, particularly between India and Pakistan, the region’s structural rigidities can be dismantled through concerted efforts to leverage SciDip for a noble cause.

Regional cooperation mechanisms such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) can play a crucial role in facilitating dialogue, cooperation, and joint initiatives via SciDip. By leveraging existing platforms and mechanisms for collaboration, South Asian countries can overcome barriers to cooperation and harness the collective strength of the region to address common challenges and pursue shared objectives.

By prioritizing scientific collaboration and innovation, South Asian states have the opportunity to transcend political divides, harnessing the power of science to tackle common challenges and promote shared prosperity. From implementing sustainable agronomic practices to advancing healthcare initiatives and promoting education, SciDip offers a pathway towards inclusive growth and development.

By fostering partnerships among scientists, scholars, policymakers, and diplomats, South Asia can sustain the momentum of its growth rate while laying the foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous, and interconnected future.

The concept of SciDip, at its core, involves the use of scientific collaboration as a tool to build bridges, mitigate conflicts, and address global challenges. From combating climate change to promoting public health, SciDip offers a framework for countries to pool their resources, expertise, and knowledge in pursuit of common goals.

For South Asia, a region grappling with complex socioeconomic realities and longstanding geopolitical tensions, integrating SciDip into regional cooperation efforts could prove transformative. By fostering partnerships in scientific research, technology exchange, and innovation, South Asian nations have the opportunity to unlock new avenues for economic growth, enhance resilience to environmental threats, and improve the quality of life for millions of people.

In addition, investments in scientific research and technology innovation can drive inclusive growth and create opportunities for sustainable development across the region. By leveraging SciDip to promote knowledge transfer, skills development, and technological innovation, South Asian nations can harness the full potential of their human capital and natural resources to fuel economic progress and prosperity.

Yet, realizing the potential of SciDip in South Asia will require concerted efforts and political will from all stakeholders. Governments must prioritize science and innovation in their policy agendas, allocate resources towards research and development, and foster an environment that encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing among scientists, researchers, and policymakers.

The adoption of SciDip holds immense potential for South Asia to sustain its momentum of growth rate and advance towards a more prosperous and resilient future. By embracing scientific collaboration as a tool for diplomacy, South Asian nations can transcend borders, bridge divides, and forge a path towards collective progress and prosperity. As the region stands at a crossroads, now is the time to seize the opportunity and harness the transformative power of SciDip for the greater good.

Facilitating SciDip in the South Asian region necessitates a shift in both public and policymaker mindsets. The geopolitical complexity of the region, coupled with entrenched conservative social, political, and cultural attitudes, creates barriers and animosity among neighboring nations. Unfortunately, public awareness regarding the importance of scientific collaboration among South Asian countries remains limited.

Despite the willingness of some progressive scientists to contribute to the collective betterment of South Asian communities, they often face criticism from more conservative colleagues who perceive them as anti-nationalists.

It is crucial to promote the understanding that addressing shared challenges is more efficiently achieved through collaboration with neighboring countries rather than relying on partnerships with distant allies, which entail higher costs and longer timelines. Embracing a win-win mentality is essential to shifting the region from a mindset of competition to one of collaboration, fostering unity and progress for all involved.

To achieve comprehensive and robust SciDip among South Asian nations, it is imperative to foster effective engagement and partnerships spanning scientists, scholars, policymakers, and diplomats across all eight countries. Integrating SciDip into foreign policy frameworks holds the key to enhancing relationships and fostering collaboration within the region.

Likewise, the transformative potential of SciDip extends beyond national borders, offering a viable avenue for improving transnational relationships. In fact, it is recognized as an effective tool for regional diplomacy, capable of yielding success even in situations where traditional diplomatic approaches falter. Embracing SciDip as a cornerstone of regional cooperation holds the promise of transcending barriers and forging a path towards lasting peace, prosperity, and progress in South Asia.


*The author is a CAS-TWAS President’s Fellow at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

The Diplomatic Insight, Pakistan's premier Public Diplomacy Magazine, has been at the forefront of promoting Peace Through Informed Dialogue since its inception in 2009. With both print and electronic versions, this decade-old media house is offering research, analysis, and public diplomacy outreach to clients in Pakistan and across the globe. TDI is now offering Amazon Kindle Self Publishing Services to diplomats, ambassadors, political leaders, academicians, and other civil society leaders to be the next best-seller authors. With access to 11 global markets and the option to translate your work into 11 languages, you can reach up to 300 million readers worldwide and unlock your personal and country branding.

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