Mirza Sadaqat Huda addresses the “energy, environment, and growth nexus” that is among the central concerns of contemporary global environmental politics (GEP). Huda recognizes that energy shortages are due to the widening gap between increasing demand for energy in the region and lagging supply. He argues that while regional demand for energy is due to economic growth, large and urbanizing economies and technical inefficiencies, domestic political conflicts, ineffective economic policies, and bureaucratic delays all contribute to insufficient energy supplies. These shortages impede education, health care, income, gender equity, and other social policy goals. The socioeconomic consequences for South Asian peoples render energy insecurity in the region a major nontraditional (human) security risk. Huda identifies regional energy cooperation as essential to the provision of adequate and affordable energy to communities throughout South Asia without undue environmental harm or social injustice.
The book responds directly to a relatively sparse literature on energy in South Asia that remains dominated by security-centric analyses. Huda argues that because the foundation of energy politics in Southern Asia lies in the region’s rapid economic development, maldistribution of economic and political power, territorial disputes, separatist movements and insurgencies, varied political systems and cultures, and weak economic and security integration, it is essential to incorporate environmental and social, as well as security, aspects of energy. This approach is consistent with the broader literature on regional governance of energy resources. This analysis is premised on the greater efficiency of regional, as opposed to national or bilateral, energy—that is, electricity and oil and gas pipeline—transmission infrastructures; regional energy market integration; and the regional impacts of air and water pollution and other environmental externalities associated with energy production, transmission, and local distribution. It also reflects the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s own recognition of the significance of energy among the organization’s other concerns, which include poverty alleviation, broader economic cooperation, and common security threats. These theoretical and practical concerns contextualize Huda’s effort to explain why, despite extensive and ongoing economic and technical cooperation and market-based initiatives, not one cooperative energy project has been completed in South Asia.
Huda argues that the political and security challenges to South Asian energy cooperation identified by GEP scholars and regional actors alike have not been thoroughly analyzed. The conventional geopolitical view fails to adequately incorporate nonstate and extraregional stakeholders, climate change and other environmental concerns related to ensuring energy security, and social justice. In response to this considerable lacuna, Huda develops a constructivist theoretical framework to guide a multimethod analysis of four cooperative energy projects in South Asia: the failure of the Myanmar–Bangladesh–India (MBI) gas pipeline; the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI or “Trans-Afghanistan” gas pipeline) to begin construction in 2021; the proposed Tipaimukh Dam; and subregional, Bangladesh–Bhutan–India–Nepal (BBIN), cooperative hydroelectric power initiatives. Constructivism provides a “conceptual umbrella” (37) for Huda’s use of subsidiary theories—stakeholder analysis, energy diplomacy, environmental peacebuilding, and cooperative security—to analyze these case studies of regional cooperation on gas pipelines and hydroelectric power generation. Together, these analyses illuminate multiple and varied obstacles to energy cooperation in South Asia that Huda argues might be mitigated by more effective and inclusive leadership and planning.
Energy Cooperation in South Asia succeeds in providing a comprehensive overview of the history and current state of energy cooperation in South Asia. Detailed case studies illuminate the ways that apparently extraneous issues—for example, hostility around historically normalized India–Bangladesh border crossings in the MBI pipeline case and food and human security risks associated with Tipaimukh Dam—have complicated and forestalled energy cooperation regarded as essential for meeting current and future demands for conventional fuels and electrical power in the region. Such deep and compelling substantive insights come at high theoretical price. Huda’s effective integration and evaluation of multiple international and subnational processes (stakeholder analysis and methods of reducing tensions to facilitate cooperation), tools (diplomacy to manage the transition to lower carbon energy sources), and strategies (environmental cooperation to build peace) demonstrate the value of constructivist analyses for understanding individual cases. This assessment substantiates Huda’s claim that weak systems of governance in South Asia undermine the capacity of any single, Western theoretical framework premised on the sovereign nation-state to account for lagging energy cooperation in the region. Yet it is easy to feel let down by the monograph’s failure to, at least, suggest a compelling regionally specific alternative.
Overall, the book provides a clear, concise history and analysis of energy cooperation in South Asia, featuring in-depth analyses of key cases that will be useful for researchers and practitioners concerned with regional governance of energy resources. The region’s political leaders and policy makers are likely to find Huda’s articulation of specific recommendations for improving leadership and planning to support successful energy cooperation in South Asia particularly important. South Asian specialists and GEP scholars will appreciate Huda’s critique of facile applications of realist and liberal theories to energy governance in South Asia and elsewhere, as well as his use of constructivism to elucidate pathways to energy cooperation in the region.