Will the Arab Spring ever come to South Asia?
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.