Barbs and Roses
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