Barbs and Roses

Southasia - - Comment -

South Asia faced a broad range of chal­lenges dur­ing 2012. A dy­namic and com­plex re­gion, it suf­fers from lack of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity for the most part, yet it also of­fers op­por­tu­ni­ties for the growth of hu­man well-be­ing. Over the past half decade, the lines of con­cern in the con­text of Pak­istan have run through poverty, il­lit­er­acy, cor­rup­tion, ter­ror­ism, sec­tar­i­an­ism, restora­tion of democ­racy and lack of gov­er­nance, though not ex­actly in that or­der. The high­points in 2012 again were po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, eco­nomic de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, a ma­jor ter­ror­ist at­tack on an air force base, an al­most fa­tal at­tack on school­girl Malala, killings across the coun­try on the pre­text of al­leged Sunni-Shia con­flict and a na­tion­wide up­heaval across party lines and con­stituen­cies as the next elec­tions loom on the hori­zon.

De­spite its im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth, In­dia con­tin­ues to suf­fer from poverty and its at­ten­dant prob­lems. The coun­try is also be­gin­ning to feel the heat from across its north­ern bor­der as In­dian busi­nesses are be­ing threat­ened by im­port of Chi­nese goods. In the forth­com­ing global eco­nomic regime that should be in place by 2015, In­dia will face the prospect of com­pet­ing with sub­si­dized Chi­nese prod­ucts.

Mus­lims com­prise a ten per­cent-plus seg­ment in the Sri Lankan pop­u­la­tion mix. For some time, a feel­ing has been tak­ing root among Sri Lankan Mus­lims that they are be­ing tar­geted by the Sin­halese for al­legedly threat­en­ing Bud­dhism. While the government has been mak­ing ef­forts to dif­fuse the sit­u­a­tion, this could just prove to be a pow­der keg in the coming days, pre­cip­i­tat­ing a vi­o­lent cam­paign against the Mus­lims in Sri Lanka and adding to the coun­try’s pre­car­i­ous po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.

The Mal­dives has had its own share of prob­lems. It has not rested easy since its crawl back to democ­racy in 2008. Be­sides its po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic woes, it has to con­tend more se­ri­ously with the is­sue of cli­mate change – some­thing that could lit­er­ally drown the coun­try if not ad­dressed in right earnest. Ousted Pres­i­dent Muham­mad Nasheed suc­ceeded in bring­ing the prob­lem to world at­ten­tion but it seems to have been put on the back-burner again.

Bangladesh is be­ing touted as the next Asian Tiger. How­ever, de­spite its eco­nomic success, po­lit­i­cal mis­trust and the threat of con­fronta­tion run deep. The coun­try needs to im­prove its track record in terms of se­cu­rity and sus­tain­able democ­racy and the government and op­po­si­tion must en­gage in con­struc­tive pol­i­tics to re­solve is­sues.

Nepal has been caught in a con­sti­tu­tional im­broglio for the past four years and there is no so­lu­tion in sight. The un­cer­tainty comes from a fun­da­men­tal po­lit­i­cal di­vide on the na­ture of fed­er­al­ism and what should be in­cor­po­rated in the fi­nal con­sti­tu­tional text. Politi­cians there face the chal­lenge of bridg­ing the trust deficit and balancing mul­ti­ple con­stituen­cies. They need to har­ness all the states­man­ship at their com­mand to put the coun­try on rails as a fed­eral, demo­cratic repub­lic.

Afghanistan is ex­pected to tran­sit from NATO to Afghan lead­er­ship by 2014, which poses a ma­jor chal­lenge to Amer­ica as well as to key pow­ers in the re­gion, such as Pak­istan and Iran. Will this mean a fi­nal good­bye to US and NATO troops from the re­gion?

South Asia has been no bed of roses in 2012 – and there seem to be more barbs on the path to peace and pros­per­ity.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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