Will the Arab Spring ever come to South Asia?

Southasia - - Contents - By Ge­of­frey Cook The writer is a colum­nist for the Mus­lim Ob­server (U.S.A.) on in­ter­na­tional Pan-is­lamic po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

At the mo­ment, the strug­gle for Arab Democ­racy in the west of Dar al Is­lam, which has par­tially been suc­cess­ful, is termed the Arab ‘Spring.’ Spring, be­cause the his­tor­i­cal out­come is far from known. So far, Tu­nisia seems to have the most chance for suc­cess while Egypt is still ri­ot­ing against its in­terim mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. Libya is a big ques­tion be­cause of the fes­ter­ing sores of the Civil War. Ye­men has a good chance of a pos­si­bly ‘demo­cratic’ regime change, but tribal frac­tures there lead to many unan­swered ques­tions. Although Syria is al­most at civil war, the for­mer U.S. Am­bas­sador to both Is­rael and Egypt - at dif­fer­ent times, has told this writer that he did not be­lieve that the Da­m­as­cus Ad­min­is­tra­tion will fail.

In Tu­nisia and -- so far -- in the ex­tended Egyp­tian elec­tions, the Is­lamist Par­ties have or are dom­i­nat­ing the new po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Of course Turkey, that for­mer Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf had so ad­mired, has been led com­pe­tently by an Is­lamist party for sev­eral years and is in fact the only Is­lamic-ma­jor­ity NATO na­tion. Suc­cess­fully in­te­grated into Europe as well as an emerg­ing re­gional hege­mony, Turkey has tol­er­a­bly con­struc­tive -- but re­cently de­te­ri­o­rat­ing -- re­la­tions with Tel Aviv.

The re­ac­tion of Is­rael is crit­i­cally im­por­tant to the suc­cess or fail­ure of Arab Democ­racy, and, con­versely, the Arab ‘Spring.’ Omi­nously, Tel Aviv has al­ready stated that a gov­ern­ment formed by the Mus­lim Brother­hood would be com­pletely un­ac­cept­able

to them. This is lu­di­crous be­cause the Mus­lim Brother­hood is a demo­cratic party that sim­ply wishes to put the moral prin­ci­ples of their re­li­gion into their pol­icy and pol­i­tics. Hope­fully, Is­rael will re­act diplo­mat­i­cally, rather than mil­i­tar­ily.

How­ever, the gravest in­flu­ence of the Arab ‘Spring’ upon Is­lamic South Asia will be more strate­gic than po­lit­i­cal. Rad­i­cal ji­hadism arose in the Mid­dle East and was ini­tially di­rected against its own gov­ern­ments be­fore im­mi­grat­ing to South Asia. Con­tem­po­rary ‘vi­o­lent’ Ji­had re­asserted it­self in the his­tor­i­cally cen­tral ter­rain of the Mus­lim world as a re­ac­tion to the re­pres­sive mod­ern Post-colo­nial gov­ern­ments there. It grew out of Sunni Wah­habism that de­vel­oped the­o­log­i­cally in Saudi Ara­bia and arose to re­sist the Euro­pean Colo­nial gov­ern­ments in the Nine­teenth Cen­tury. In the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury, a Tak­fir sect broke off from the de­nom­i­na­tion of the Salafis de­vel­op­ing into non-na­tional en­ti­ties. For ex­am­ple, Al-qaida formed in the Mid­dle East and later moved to Afghanistan to fight the Sovi­ets dur­ing the 1980s.

If the Arab-is­raeli cri­sis moves to­wards a res­o­lu­tion along with suc­cess­ful de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of the indige­nous Semitic lands, ‘fun­da­men­tal­ist’ Arab mer­ce­nar­ies will migrate into the AfPak re­gion and Kash­mir the­aters be­cause any pop­u­lous sup­port for them in the Ara­bic-speak­ing ter­rain will have dis­ap­peared with the ad­vent of the suc­cess of the cur­rent un­fold­ing tran­si­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, the Arab ‘Spring’ might make South Asia less se­cure – es­pe­cially Pak­istan where its neigh­bor, Iran’s, nu­clear am­bi­tion to counter the Is­raeli arse­nal may even­tu­ally threaten Pak­istan, box­ing it in tan­dem with In­dia.

How­ever po­lit­i­cally, it is un­likely that a ‘Spring’ will erupt in South Asia be­cause most coun­tries in the re­gion ac­quired their form of gov­er­nance from mod­els based on their pre­vi­ous colo­nial mas­ters, ab­sorb­ing the will of the pop­u­lace. There­fore, democ­racy is al­ready a given, at least the­o­ret­i­cally, for most of South Asia. The ex­ac­er­bat­ing chal­lenges for civil so­ci­ety lie in cor­rup­tion, the mosque ver­sus the mil­i­tary de­bate, vot­ing re­form as well as wide­spread so­cial in­equal­i­ties. Such civil is­sues can be re­solved short of regime change with demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions in place -- ei­ther ac­tu­al­ized or en­vi­sioned through prin­ci­ple.

The foun­da­tion for a demo­cratic tra­di­tion by the heirs of the Bri­tish In­dian Em­pire with Sri Lanka and the Mal­dives tak­ing the lead have ex­isted over the ter­rain even be­fore 1947. Other na­tions his­tor­i­cally in­de­pen­dent from the Bri­tish, such as Nepal, re­cently had their own Rev­o­lu­tion – though un­for­tu­nately a bloody one – and were able to es­tab­lish their form of democ­racy highly in­flu­enced by their neigh­bors and China.

A feu­dal-like ar­range­ment is still to be found within In­dia, Pak­istan and Bangladesh – es­pe­cially in the ru­ral bor­oughs where sup­pos­edly demo­cratic groups are en­cour­aged to vote ac­cord­ing to the pref­er­ences of their tra­di­tional lead­ers. Block polling has led to the dis­cour­age­ment of the in­de­pen­dent new ur­ban voter who could re­volt for the de­nial of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity.

Many in the West con­sider Ti­bet to be his­tor­i­cally part of South Asia be­cause of its cul­ture and cus­toms. At the mo­ment, only 50% of Ti­bet is orig­i­nally Ti­betan. Sri Lanka has re­cently emerged from a bloody Civil War last­ing three decades, which ended with a bru­tal sup­pres­sion of Tamil hu­man rights. It is un­likely that the Tamil Tigers or a like-mind or­ga­ni­za­tion will rise again on that is­land. The same is true in the In­dian Pun­jab with the Sikhs – although the re­sis­tance has reached mil­i­tary sup­pres­sion. Kash­mir is in the midst of asym­met­ri­cal war­fare along-side indige­nous civil so­ci­ety re­sis­tance. Un­for­tu­nately, this is the sec­ond most dan­ger­ous flash point for a nu­clear war world­wide; an is­sue that de­mands the in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tive’s at­ten­tion im­me­di­ately!

What does the Arab ‘Spring’ in­di­cate for South Asia? The full re­sults are far from us. The Is­lamic West of Dar al-is­lam will cer­tainly have an im­pact upon Is­lamic and non-is­lamic South Asia. The like­li­hood of a ‘Spring’ break­ing out in South Asia, can only be de­ter­mined by time.

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