From a geostrategic point of view, today’s world treads an unorthodox course of socio-politics and economics coupled with security and securitization concerns emating out of not just the effectiveness and sustaibility of anti-terror methodologies but also the varied fincial tsumis of sorts. It is no wonder, therefore, that Southeast Asia, which indubitably faces terror threats but must rise as a pan-regiol conglomerate, should begin to accentuate its policy framework to respond to the changing and trying circumstances. Here comes the paramount role that groupings such as the 10-member Association of South East Asian tions (ASEAN) – comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietm and the Philippines – can play in projecting the region to the rest of the intertiol community apart from working out new paradigms to resolve inter-ASEAN issues right from terrorism to tourism. India has a dialogue partnership mechanism with ASEAN, this year being its 25th anniversary. Prime Minister rendra Modi was in the Philippines capital Manila on November 14 to address the 15th India-ASEAN Summit that was attended by all the ASEAN leaders. In his address, apart from harping on the need for India and the ASEAN tions to come together and cooperate to destroy the monstrosity of terrorism – now in its more diabolic form with the advent of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), besides regulars like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Pakistan-based, Pakistan Army-dictated Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) – the Prime Minister also touched upon the much-touted Act East Policy (AEP), which is the new avatar of the earlier Look East Policy with great implications for India’s Northeast. He said that AEP was “shaped around ASEAN” and its “centrality in the regiol security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region is evident”. He also said that the “wide-ranging agenda of cooperation” under the Third ASEAN-India Plan of Action had “progressed well covering the three crucial pillars of politico-security, economic and cultural partnership”. Earlier in the day, Modi addressed the 12th East Asia Summit, a premier forum of ASEAN member states and eight other countries – Australia, Chi, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the US – that provides the leaders of the countries concerned to deliberate on issues such as traditiol and non-traditiol security threats (chiefly terrorism), maritime cooperation and non-proliferation, including the new-age chemical weapons mece.
An ASEAN-AEP Amalgam
What is of abiding interest to us here in the Northeast is the marriage of interests stemming from 1) ASEAN’s potential for the Northeast to exploit to the latter’s great advantage for economic leap, and 2) the Northeast’s own potential to evolve into a growth-and-prosperity juggerut, given the inherence of its huge untapped resources, including its possibility to mutate into a major tourist destition, not just domestic but intertiol as well. Is such marriage possible? The AEP outlook replies in the affirmative. Strategic affairs alysts of the critical kind would, however, point to the inherent intricacies of a meaningful AEP vis-à-vis ASEAN in terms of policy decisions in a more holistic and Northeast-centric framework – decisions which can be implemented for the benefit of a long-neglected, development-starved region as this. Air-conditioned semirs and conferences are one thing, policy pragmatism and implementation on the ground quite another. Therefore, an informed AEP rrative is the need of the hour, and the advantage now is that we have a Prime Minister who is forward-looking and Northeast-focused, aware as he is perhaps (going by his discourses) of the imperative to develop the Northeast for the country to develop as a whole. As experts in the field have often pointed out, there are four broad domains for a meaningful ASEAN-AEP amalgam to take shape (and we here are primarily concerned with the benefits that would accrue to us, given the growth and development exigency of this region): 1) people-to-people contact; 2) flow of ideas – religious and spiritual, cultural, ethno-sociological, political, economic, and educatiol, including scientific; 3) trade and commerce, with huge implications for the growth-craving Northeast; and 4) tourism, whose potential in the picturesque Northeast cannot be overemphasized.
That said, what might spring up as a stumbling block? As one discerning observer of Northeast India puts it, “security anxieties might stand in the way of a robust Look East Policy that includes the vision of a transtiol region” (Sanjib Baruah, “Beyond Durable Disorder”, Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India). The US-based political scientist has rightly urged the governce and administration architecture to effect a “paradigm shift” so that “rather than controls at intertiol borders (where no foolproof mechanisms can be in place, given the ture of the borders), security will have to be tightened within the transportation and logistics system so that the risk of anyone in the transportation chain serving as conduits for crimils is reduced”. It is possible that if there were transparency in commercial flows, both regiol and global, it would be possible for the happening of “virtual audits of inbound traffic before it arrives”, to quote him again. Now the question is whether the Government of India, regardless of the party in power, has the strategic vision (and how it strikes us here that the government has been so very short on strategic vision of the right kind all along!) to make a paradigm shift happen – a shift in the security and securitization policy framework towards achieving the goal of an AEP bolstered by the windows of avenues that ASEAN tions could be interested to open up to the people of Northeast India for the latter to bloom in the glory of inclusive growth. This remains to be seen. And we shall wait.