This week (Tuesday and Wednesday), Pakistan and India are celebrating their conjoined independence days. Their rivalry has sabotaged India’s tryst with destiny as a global power and Pakistan’s ambition to be the leading light of the Islamic world. Will 2047 mark 100 years of solitude in bilateral relations on which hinge the fates of all South Asians? Or can they sublimate their conflict to the vision of a future of shared prosperity and stability?

A turnaround in relations will have to be based on a grim appreciation of the costs of continued enmity as weighed against the gains from cooperative friendship. It will also require a quality of visionary national leadership conspicuously lacking today.

The position of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is extremely weak and precarious. With real power lying in the hands of the three “Ms” — military, militants, and mullahs — the civilian president and prime minister are of little consequence in setting Pakistan’s foreign and security policy. Their weakness is echoed across the border by the most ineffectual prime minister since independence. While Time magazine recently dubbed him an “underachiever,” Britain’s Independent queried whether he is Sonia Gandhi’s poodle.

But imagine if by 2047 everything that can, has gone right. There will be a South Asian economic union: a single market with no tariff or nontariff barriers to the movement of goods, services, capital and labour. South Asia will have regional regulatory norms, instruments and institutions to ensure a level playing field for producers, manufacturers and consumers; cross-recognition of qualifications, skills and certifications, with common professional governing bodies for tradesmen, engineers, doctors and lawyers; and domestic supplier status for businesses in procurement tenders for all countries. There will be standardized labor and industrial laws and policies among all countries to facilitate entry and exit of workers and firms, with market forces determining business decisions.

There might be a common regional currency — most likely the rupee — although the eurozone crisis gives pause as to whether currency union is feasible without full fiscal integration or even political union. A powerful and independent South Asian Central Bank will have the responsibility to ensure that member countries’ monetary and fiscal policies do not stray outside agreed bands. There will also be tough enforcement of competition and anti-corruption laws and norms and common prudential and surveillance instruments to stop the market from running amok.

Economic integration will spur market efficiencies, scale economies, specialization based on factor and other comparative advantages, and a shift to more productive, innovative and balanced national economies. The size of the aggregate regional market will attract considerable investment capital. The advanced infrastructure, good governance norms and institutions, and highly skilled, educated and mobile labour force will underpin rising productivity and prosperity.

The South Asian common market will be undergirded by affordable social safety nets for the poor and underprivileged. Government policies will keep in check inequalities between individuals, castes, religions, regions, and countries. Consequently, South Asia will have climbed dramatically up the U.N. human development ladder.

The human security advances will be reinforced by progressive human rights machinery that seamlessly integrates national and regional norms and institutions — including a South Asian Human Rights Commission to advocate and defend human rights, and a South Asian Human Rights Court to enforce human rights laws and verify that national laws and practices comply with regional and global norms. There will be an appropriately mandated and adequately resourced High Commissioner for National Minorities and Tribal Peoples. Other regional institutions will include variations of a South Asian parliament, commission, president and foreign minister.

To be poor and female in South Asia is to be doubly cursed. Like women, children are acutely vulnerable to abuse. Human trafficking — to service the sex trade, the adoption industry, the begging-for-alms industry — is a problem across South Asia, with women and children its biggest victims. South Asia is also a major source of migrant workers to many Middle Eastern countries. By 2047, to combat women and children-specific social ills, South Asian countries will have complementary advisory and investigative services to protect the rights and ensure the welfare of one another’s citizens working and travelling abroad.

They should also have common environmental norms, laws and institutions backed by a South Asian Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, there will be South Asian regional bodies to regulate waterways, manage river systems, establish water usage and distribution norms, monitor water tables and pollution indices, control deforestation and oversee reforestation, encourage biodiversity and preserve ecosystems.

Owing to improved security relations, the line separating Indian from Pakistan-administered Kashmir will have become irrelevant for all practical purposes. Their defense forces, substantially reduced, will be engaged mainly in national, regional and international constabulary, peacekeeping and disaster relief operations. Indeed, South Asia will be a major node of peacekeeping best practices and lessons learned. South Asian countries will also have stopped being the haven for basing, financing or arming one another’s terrorists, and instead will have initiated measures of regional cooperation against terrorism, drug trafficking and other manifestations of transnational uncivil society.

The abatement of the risks of terrorism and war will produce a boom in regional tourism. No other region in the world can compare or compete with South Asia — with its wealth of natural wonders and historical legacies, architectural monuments, human diversity and enticing cuisine — for internal and international tourism. By 2047, there will be an active and highly visible South Asian Tourism Development and Marketing Board to promote joint tourism. Such tourism — and business more broadly — will have been greatly facilitated by the adoption of a passport-free travel throughout South Asia.

All we need is leaders with the courage, conviction and drive to turn this dream into reality.

Ramesh Thakur is director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.