People to People Contact in South Asia
Sonika Gupta ·       

The Regional Centre for Security Studies (RCSS) in Colombo, in an attempt to explore alternative approaches to peace in South Asia, encourages people-to-people dialogue between academics, researchers, and journalists. This book, published under the auspices of the RCSS, outlines the hurdles in building popular contact among citizens of different South Asian nations.� Though there are a number of studies on South Asian politics and many on SAARC, this seems to be the first attempt to specifically focus on people to people contact in South Asia. However, the narrow focus of the book has been its undoing. It is not clear what audience the book wishes to address. The book does not sit comfortably either in the category of an academic analysis of people-to-people contact nor is it merely a report on travel related procedures in South Asia. It does contain policy recommendations towards simplifying and encouraging travel among South Asian nations and as such might be of interests to policy planners.

The book is an appeal to South Asian nations to realize the potential of SAARC in fields of commerce, tourism, and popular contact. The authors are of the view that the tension between India and Pakistan is largely responsible for truncated SAARC efforts to evolve a regional approach towards conflict resolution and economic development.� It is also noted that South Asia has a tremendous potential for intra-regional trade and commerce which is not tapped given political tensions between rival nations. India?s pre-dominance in the region and the corresponding economic and military fears of smaller countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan contribute to rigid governmental approaches towards intra-regional interactions.

The basic assumption of the book is that the interests of the governments and that of the people are not always the same and greater people-to-people contact facilitates a more peaceful approach towards conflict resolution. However, this assumption is not argued out in the book but rather taken for granted. The assertion that a free flow of goods, services, and information is beneficial is established and an appeal is made for creating opportunities for intra-regional trade.�

The four chapters in this book, written by an Indian, a Sri Lankan, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi, each investigate the problems faced by the travelers in their respective countries in trying to secure visas to other South Asian countries. As such, most of the book is an account of visa procedures and related SAARC attempts to encourage popular contact between South Asians. Navnita Behera?s chapter also explores the potential of a people-centred rather than state-centred South Asian polity that lays less emphasis on interstate conflicts and works towards a cooperative developmental approach. However, this is a stand-alone piece as these concerns are not explored in the rest of the book nor discussed in the context of specific bilateral relations in South Asia. The information on SAARC attempts at encouraging travel in South Asia is replicated in three chapters. This is rather unnecessary and gives the impression that the book is a hastily put together collection of essays.