South Asia – the forgotten slice
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