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Knowledge gap widens gulf between South Asian nations
by Staff Writers
New Delhi, India (IANS) Mar 14, 2012

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People in the South Asian region have little knowledge about each other that widens the gulf between them, experts at a regional conference said Saturday. The experts from the South Asian countries stressed on more people to people exchanges, particularly between academicians and research scholars, in the region that would help reducing the knowledge gap that in turn could reduce the trust gap between them.

Over 30 scholars and experts participated in the two-day conference that began Friday and was organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and the Association of Asian Scholars at the Sapru House.

Partha S. Gosh, who teaches at the Centre for South, Central, Southeast Asian and Southwest Pacific Studies in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the knowledge chasm was one of the main causes that was impeding more integration in the region despite the regional grouping, the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) being more than 25 years old.

"We know nothing about each other. This is the reality," he stressed.

The professor said nations in the region know more about conflicts with each other than how they live their daily lives.

For example, he said, "We (Indians) know about the conflict between India and Pakistan. We know about the their nuclear rivalry. We know about the immigration from Bangladesh that triggered Assam agitation. We know nothing beyond that.

What the people in the region should know but don't know, he said, is "how federalism works in Pakistan and how local government works in Bangladesh".

He emphasized that visa regime for research scholars in the region should be eased so that they come to know about other countries and appreciate their view points, culture and problems better.

Pakistani speaker Huma Baqai, who is joint secretary at the Karachi Council on Foreign Relations, seconded Ghosh's views and said South Asian nations were "indeed suffering from a huge knowledge gap".

She said politics in her country was changing and people in India needed to be aware of it. She stressed there was a "paradigm shift" in Pakistan after a transition to democracy, which she hoped "is real this time". She said even the much blighted Pakistan military "is different today" and has shown "maturity of conduct" and fears of an army coup had been belied and democracy had survived despite tremendous odds and scepticism.

Baqai said Pakistan has almost decided on giving most favoured nation status to India even as there were misinformed voices against the move.

But she lamented that India-Pakistan rivalry has now shifted to Afghanistan and emphasized that Islamabad's fears of New Delhi gaining influence in Kabul were not for strategic interests.

"Pakistan has probably done away with strategic depth; but it cannot tolerate strategic vulnerability," she said.

The session on regional cooperation was also addressed by Omar Sharifi, director of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies, Matiur Rehman, editor of Prothom Alo in Bangladesh, and Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, former foreign and finance minister of Nepal.

Source: Indo-Asia News Service

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