Reshaping knowledge

Published June 8, 2024
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.

GEOPOLITICS and geo-economics are seen as parallel pathways to progress. When there is harmonisation between the two, the outcome is good; when political differences come in the way of economic cooperation, the result is increased political tension and under-optimisation of economic activity.

In developing countries, this negative feedback loop is to the detriment of the people, where poor social and economic indicators, worsened by escalating debt burdens due to climate change, are increasing hardships for people.

Politics drive all agendas, but political activity does not take place in a vacuum, nor does it operate in isolation. The changing alignments in the geopolitical landscape at the global level also affect politics in South Asia.

Right now, that world is divided in two camps. The bipolar world, which became a unipolar world, is headed towards a second Cold War theatre.

There is a glimmer of hope that comes from the youth cohort.

The competing ideologies of free market and state capitalism are at the heart of the divide. This battle of political estrangement is embroiled in a desire to create a world order based on the dominance of one system over the other.

This stand-off is not likely to change in the foreseeable future and will continue to shape global politics. South Asia will have to navigate its way deftly in this tug of war between the competing blocks.

As it is, South Asia has a conflicted history with countries born out of divisions. The partition of Pakistan from India, and Bangladesh from Pakistan, has left scars that haunt relationships. This wounded sentiment is exploited by political actors and is responsible for holding progress hostage to a history of hostility.

The inability to sidestep differences has come at the cost of undermining regional potential for growth and development.

Meanwhile, climate change is pushing the region towards the limits of its coping capacity.

Reshaping knowledge amidst turmoil and using this ecosystem can help convert outlived strategies into fit-for-purpose actions that can change the regional dynamics for engagement.

The last six months have seen elections in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. No mention or even an aspirational desire was expressed during the campaign for strengthening regional cooperation. This is largely because political ideology is deeply entrenched in emotions, and passions drive the agendas to the extent of making countries prefer remaining locked in perpetual acrimony over beneficial economic cooperation.

In this gloomy scenario, prospects may look dim, yet there is a glimmer of hope that comes from the large youth cohort, which may want to craft a future that does not carry the weight of history. As the quantum of challenges increase, there will be a corresponding need for elevating response to avoid a humanitarian crisis. The region desperately needs intellectual space for an alternative trajectory that allows for free flow of ideas and interactions.

Under the normative framework, the logical ask would be for revival of Saarc, activation of Safta, and making travel easier to facilitate cross-border communication. But none of this can happen despite the obvious advantages, because feelings of negativity come in the way of cooperation. The sad reality is that the region is trapped in the past and tied in a Gordian knot.

Moving beyond the status quo will req­ui­­re investing in the political economy of kn­­o­wledge to promote innovative thinking, dev­elop a new roadmap for engagement, and invest in regional integration. The youth and climate action offer the best chance for change. The young in South Asia outnumber the old, and climate is a common threat that respects no borders. Business as usual is no longer a workable plan.

Reshaping the kn­­owledge landscape and empowering the youth with decision-making hold the key to unlocking rusty doors, using the gateway to build bridges of hope. The scope for expanding regional knowledge networks is immense.

Politics is about power, and market forces drive the economy. As the global resource base shrinks, political alignments will converge more with economic interests, pitting vested interest groups against each other for grabbing critical resources. The ensuing demographic shifts will add to societal tensions and provide a hunting ground for populist leaders to exploit fear and scarcity for short-term political gain.

History tells us that science without humanity and politics without principles serve a limited purpose. Similarly, populism and the politics of hate also have a short shelf life, but like black carbon, can do great damage in a short time. This is a time for the youth to use knowledge platforms to change jaded narratives into hubs of hope and seize the opportunity for investing in a better future.

The writer is chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
aisha@csccc.org.pk

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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