South Asia – the for­got­ten slice

Southasia - - Comment -

South Asia is home to 22% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and is one of the fastest grow­ing re­gional economies. Un­for­tu­nately, the re­gion is also home to some of the worst forms of de­pri­va­tion, poverty and con­flict. It has the high­est lev­els of il­lit­er­acy and a high in­ci­dence of dis­ease and mal­nu­tri­tion. And this is not all as the re­gion is also iden­ti­fied with some of the world’s worst con­flicts and tow­er­ing scan­dals. Cor­rup­tion has emerged as a hor­ren­dous re­al­ity in both In­dia and Pak­istan. Re­cent scan­dals have cast a highly neg­a­tive light on the ac­tiv­i­ties of ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions in In­dia and their shady re­la­tion­ships with politi­cians. In fact, so large is the prob­lem that it is dent­ing for­eign in­vestor con­fi­dence and threat­en­ing In­dia’s rapid eco­nomic growth.

For its part, Pak­istan con­tin­ues to suf­fer from a long se­ries of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic prob­lems. The coun­try faces a dire law and or­der sit­u­a­tion which is badly un­der­min­ing its eco­nomic growth while the govern­ment and the bureau­cracy are mired in deep-rooted cor­rup­tion which re­stricts its ca­pac­ity to ar­tic­u­late or im­ple­ment pol­icy. Added to this is the coun­try’s role in the war against ter­ror and the huge price it is pay­ing in terms of hu­man loss and eco­nomic de­struc­tion. A rapidly grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, along with po­lit­i­cal ten­sions, both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal, and an econ­omy trapped in a cy­cle of debt, all serve to pre­vent Pak­istan from at­tain­ing progress and mov­ing for­ward.

Sri Lanka may have come out of a long and bloody civil war but it has not taken cred­i­ble steps to en­sure ac­count­abil­ity of al­leged war crimes. The govern­ment is not seen as mak­ing ef­forts to rec­on­cile the coun­try’s eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties af­ter decades of po­lit­i­cal con­flict but is fur­ther cen­tral­iz­ing its power, ex­pand­ing the role of the mil­i­tary, un­der­min­ing civil­ian au­thor­ity and politi­ciz­ing in­sti­tu­tions that should up­hold the rule of law. In fact, it is now be­ing ar­gued that such trends may again lead to a re­turn to vi­o­lence. In Bangladesh, the run­ning ri­valry be­tween sit­ting Prime Min­is­ter Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Min­is­ter Khaleda Zia has neg­a­tively im­pacted pol­icy and de­ci­sion­mak­ing which could re­verse the im­pres­sive eco­nomic progress that the coun­try has achieved in re­cent years. The Awami League govern­ment, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on good gov­er­nance, is busy in petty po­lit­i­cal squab­bling or set­tling per­sonal feuds.

It is clear that South Asia is fast emerg­ing as a re­gion of strate­gic in­ter­na­tional in­ter­est for the world. China and In­dia are set to be­come ma­jor eco­nomic pow­ers in the fu­ture. Pak­istan and Bangladesh too have the po­ten­tial to ac­quire the sta­tus of sig­nif­i­cant re­gional play­ers. With its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, Pak­istan should, in fact, be play­ing a key role in any new strate­gic re-ar­range­ment in South Asia. How­ever, re­moval of poverty and hunger and res­o­lu­tion of con­flicts across the re­gion are the most im­por­tant ob­jec­tives that must be ad­dressed to im­prove eco­nomic growth and make a pos­i­tive im­pact on this large chunk of hu­man­ity. This re­quires holis­tic and con­sis­tent poli­cies which all coun­tries of the re­gion must con­trib­ute to. They must co­op­er­ate through a cred­i­ble frame­work rather than be­ing left be­hind as a for­got­ten slice of hu­man­ity.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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