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South Asia has to find out ways to work together and sink differences: Jamia Vice Chancellor Professor Najma Akhtar

Professor Najma Akhtar, VC, Jamia Millia Islamia (centre); Bangladeshi author Syed Badrul Ahsan (left); Professor. Mohammed Muslim Khan, HoD, Department of Political Science (extreme left) and Atul Aneja, Editor, India Narrative (extreme right) at a session on Movement of History in South Asia (Photo: Rahul Kumar)

Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) Vice Chancellor Professor Najma Akhtar said that all South Asian countries need to work together to develop the region. She said that the nations will have to find out how to work together. She said that the countries have to reduce tension and overcome long lasting disputes.

Prof. Akhtar was speaking at a discussion on ‘Movement of History in South Asia’ with noted Bangladeshi author Syed Badrul Ahsan. The event was organised by the political science department of JMI along with India Narrative.

She added that development is a need in South Asia as the region has considerable poverty, malnutrition and unemployment.

Talking about one of the most debilitating events for the world, she said that the pandemic has divided the world into before and after. “India has set an example. It has developed the vaccine and has provided it to the needy countries… Being the biggest in the region has to set examples. Hum bade bhai hain is liye example set karange“.

Prof. Akhtar said that South Asia is one of the most culturally diversified and significant areas of the world. The people inhabiting this diverse culture have a shared culture and belief even if they hail from different faiths.

The JMI VC said: “If we have to understand South Asia we have to read its history”, adding that the way we understand South Asia now is not how it has been.

Speaking at the event, Ahsan, who has been interacting with Indian intellectuals and journalists over the past week, said that Bangladeshis still look upon India as home. “Bangladesh and Bengal have a lot of affinity but it reduces as you move west towards Delhi. Here the Indo-Pakistan narrative takes over”.

Talking about Bangladesh history, Ahsan said: “Our history took a tragic turn when Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his family were assassinated. That assassination was a setback for us as we had started as a secular and democratic nation”. He added that 17 members of the family were killed. Later the army officers who had participated in the Bangladesh liberation war were assassinated by the military officers who organised the coup.

He added that when we see the rise of India we feel that countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as the Muslims in the region have lost in terms of development and growth.

Talking about the development and growth of Bangladesh, he said that India has an important role to play. We need more imports from India so that our industry can be galvanised.

Editor India Narrative, Atul Aneja who moderated the session said that the countries in South Asia have to hold a free and frank dialogue so that they can find out their common interests. “If the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is not working, can we have a new South Asian organisation”.

Ahsan said that South Asia as a regional bloc has not developed as the countries have bilateral differences. “India and Pakistan have problems. Bangladesh and Pakistan have their own set of problems. I feel the countries have to tackle their own bilateral problems. If we open up the economy, like the European Union, where goods can flow to and fro, we can move from bilateralism to multilateralism. The traders on our borders are happy as they see the economy booming”.

Aneja said that we need to bring about collective development for the region. Highlighting the challenges before South Asia, he said that the rise of radicalism and the intrusion of China into South Asia is a challenge for India, which the country is tackling in its own ways.

Highlighting the importance of Indo-Bangladesh relations, he said that Bangladesh will play an important role in the development of North-East India.

Towards the end of the discussion, Aneja said that the upcoming elections in Bangladesh are important for the region as the outcome will give a direction to development and democracy in the country.

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