Comprehensive Security in South Asia
Happymon Jacob ·       

Even as the non-traditional security discourse is gaining currency in South Asian academic and policy circles, theoretical understanding of the discourse is still rare.Literature on the subject is piling up but most of it seems to be falling short of conceptual coherence, intellectual clarity and theoretical rigor.The book under review has not been able to escape these problems.

While traditional security studies (nuclear strategy, missile defense, force deployment etc.) received large amount of funding from both government and private organisations during the 'golden age' of security studies (during the Cold War years), post-Cold War years saw rapid promotion of non-traditional security studies and consequent funding for it.This has been a welcome move but the flurry of studies that have been done under these funding programmes have fallen short of adequate theoretical analysis and intellectual coherence.This, at one level, is the problem when funding dictates and guides research.

Moreover, comprehensive security is itself theoretically untenable and can't stand the rigors of theoretical scrutiny and the possibility of practical application.New notions of security such as human security, critical security, and gender aspects of security have their own critical and specific theoretical and/or policy implications.In contrast, comprehensive security, 'comprehensive' and thus all-encompassing that it claims to be, has its own definitional weaknesses and tends to collapse under its own definitional weight.It is a non-starter.

Any book therefore has to confront these daunting definitional and thematic problems and therefore it may be unsurprising that book under review cannot be said to have succeeded.While in an edited book no one expects that all authors should adhere to a single view of the theme under discussion, it is only reasonable to expect that all the contributors write their chapters relating to one single theme if the volume is to be coherent.While some authors are confused about the definition of comprehensive security, some others have not even bothered to look up as to what it entails.As a result, what we are left with is a collection of articles too varied in nature to belong to the central theme.Even as the book promises to explore the theme of comprehensive security in South Asia, what it offers, for the large part of it, is a description of bilateral relations in the sub-continent.The book also suffers from editorial errors.Besides spelling mistakes, the book does not seem to have adopted a uniform footnoting style.

That said, some of the individual chapters are well-written and most of them should have been part of another book thematically more related to them than to the one under review.I N Mukherji, for example, argues that while the present state of global trade liberalization does have the potential to improve human wellbeing, the level playing field is not the same for everybody.He advocates that the South Asian countries should work out strategies to protect their interests.Well argued, but he does not connect this argument with comprehensive security which perhaps is not all that difficult to do.B C Upreti has done a refreshingly good job at exploring the link between environmental problems and stability in the region, and the need to have regional approaches to environmental security.C V Ranganathan's article on Major Powers and South Asia is an untidy compilation of a large number of issues.It deals with issues ranging from India-China relations to energy security: let alone the fact that this has nothing to do with comprehensive security, it does not offer a good reading even under the traditional security paradigm.Farooq Sobhan's article 'Comprehensive Security in South Asia: A View From Bangladesh', though short, contains some important insights for strengthening comprehensive security in South Asia specially at the policy level.

Narayani Ganesh's analysis of the media-state relations in South Asia is a very well written piece, but the author has not taken the trouble to link it with comprehensive security.Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema's article entitled 'Religious Conflicts in South Asia: Their Impact on Security' is not only analytically deep and refreshing, but has also linked itself with comprehensive security.Another very well written article is Suba Chandran's 'Intra-State Armed Conflicts in South Asia: Impact on Regional Security' in which he aims to answer three inter-related questions about intra-state armed conflicts in South Asia and answers them.This is an independent standing article of considerable analytical depth which should have either linked itself to comprehensive security, from a theoretical point of view, or should have been part of another book: it is a well-written attempt wasted.Jaya Raj Acharya's article entitled 'Security and Governance in South Asia' deals only cursorily with the vastness of the subject matter.The same may be said about Mohan Lohani's article 'Comprehensive Security in South Asia: Problems and Prospects'.Nischal Nath Pandey's article on the refuge situation in South Asia is a descriptive piece that has brought out some very good thoughts for future research on refugee studies.One of the major contentions of the article is that whenever states negotiate the fate of the refugees in South Asia, the refugees are seldom consulted.

Ghani Jafar's article, 'Comprehensive Security in South Asia: A Pakistani Perspective', reemphasizes the allegation that India is the centre of Pakistan's foreign policy: Jafar's article, even as its mandate is to explore the dimensions of comprehensive security from a Pakistani point of view, focuses on the performances of India and Pakistan on bilateral issues.Seven chapters in the book discuss bilateral issues which do not really have any serious implications for 'comprehensive security', or the link is not convincingly established if there is one.

In short, one is left with no great understanding of comprehensive security after having read the book.One might also say that many of the articles in the book are very good and would have done justice to a different theme.