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Decoding South Asia : Hope or hopeless?

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Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla is an Indian Author, Poet and Entrepreneur. His age is 16 Years. He is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He has authored 2 books. He writes on history, mythology, culture, global politics and Hinduism.

Introduction

South Asia is one of the most emerging regions of the globe, both politically and economically. When talking about South Asia, were considering eight countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan. These are broadly the countries that are also part of the Indian Subcontinent. Indian Continent can be assumed to spread from the Hindu Kush to the Indu Sagara (Sanskrit of the Indian Nation).

South Asia has a magnificent history to trace. The story of this region dates back to 3300 BCE when the Indus Valley witnessed the most advanced civilization of its time at the urban centers of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. But today the matter of discussion is the quest for democracy by South Asia after gaining independence from colonial powers. And yes, the colonial legacy is common across the region. India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh were under the direct control of the British empire. Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives were small monarchs but weren’t left out of the hegemony of the Brits. Therefore, the whole of South Asia shares scars of a colonial experience, and the common ground obtained from it.

India

India is arguably the most powerful nation in South Asia. This country of 1.3 billion strong is the second most populous and seventh largest in terms of land area. The global stature of India is growing unquestionably with the increased strategic Indo-US partnership. The Global Firepower Index 2022 has ranked India 4th out of 142 nations, just behind superpowers like the United States, Russia, and China. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has ranked India 3rd in terms of GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP). India is a nuclear state since 1998, which makes it even more powerful. But the country still lags in terms of HDI (Rank 131) and Per capita income (Rank 142).

Despite many turbulences, India has been successful in working under a democratic framework. Since its independence from Britain in 1947, India has never seen any attempts of a military takeover. Instead, India has demonstrated signs of a mature democracy, as the transfer of power has always been peaceful and warm in the country. But there are still question marks on the democratic system of India due to poor development, poverty, corruption, and poison of casteism. Nepotism and fierce regionalism are also a question of the democratic process.

Pakistan

Pakistan is the second most powerful country in the region. Since its inception in 1947, it has retained close ties with the US and the West. For the last couple of decades, its friendship with China is not to hide. The strategic location of Pakistan, connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean, gives it a unique opportunity. Both, the West and China need Pakistan to increase its influence in Central Asia, especially Afghanistan under the Talibani regime. Not to forget, Pakistan is a nuclear state and holds more nuclear weapons than India. The Pakistani army is ranked 9th on the Global Firepower Index. not far behind countries like Britain and France. But Pakistan has its problems.

Democracy is a failed dream for the country. Pakistan has witnessed military dictatorship three times under different leaders, most recently during 1999-2008 under Parvez Musharraf. Even when democratic leaders are in charge, the influence of the military in decision-making is prevalent. The country is very weak in terms of nominal GDP (Rank 44) and Per Capita Income (Rank 178). Performance in HDI is also unsatisfactory at 154th rank. Challenges of down-falling economy, terrorism, poverty, human rights violation, corruption, and increasing debt trap in curbing Pakistan, hence side-lining scope for a free democracy.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation in the Indian ocean. Sri Lanka is known as the “Teardrop of the Indian Ocean”. Sri Lanka has witnessed many challenges since gaining independence in 1948 – a majoritarian regime, ethnic conflict, civil war, and a humongous economic crisis. The civil war between the Sinhalese government and the Tamil rebels under LTTE claimed the lives of about a hundred thousand people. Despite such a serious threat, the democracy of the nation has survived all storms. Former Lankan PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the first female head of government in the modern world.  The country was successful in maintaining a boosting economy with strong economic indicators.

The HDI performance of Sri Lanka was seen as a miracle in south Asia given the unstable situation in the island nation. But after the post covid economic crisis, the situation in Sri Lanka is unfortunate. After getting into the debt trap, the economy and the Lankan state collapsed. President Gotbaya has fled his residence. The presidential palace is under the control of the protesting masses. Prime Minister has resigned. Markets are struck by hyperinflation. It’s complete chaos. The future of Sri Lanka is uncertain, and the present is dark.

Bangladesh

Next on our list is Bangladesh. This country came into existence in 1972 after the fierce Indo-Pak war. From 1947 to 1972, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan and was known as East Pakistan. This Muslim-majority region was partitioned from India in 1947 in hope of more liberty and democracy. But the Urdu-speaking elite of West Pakistan treated Bengali speakers of East Pakistan as second-grade citizens. Pakistani military unleashed barbaric genocide on the Bengalis claiming the lives of more than three hundred thousand people. This ignited the fire of dignity in the hearts of Bengalis, who fought for self-rule. This quest for democracy was supported by India, which sent its army to liberate what is today Bangladesh.

After liberation in 1972, Bangladesh witnessed turbulences as the family of Shiekh Mujibur Rehman was murdered and the military took over the reins of the country. But after protests, democracy was restored in the 1990s and has been working since then. Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies in South Asia and is performing well in development indicators such as GDP and HDI.

Afghanistan

The heart-wrenching story of Afghanistan is not unknown to anybody. Often referred to as the “Graveyard of Empires”, Afghanistan has witnessed invasions by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. All of them failed and had to retreat. After decades of hard-pitched confrontation between the US and Taliban, the Taliban succeded. The grand legacy of Gandhara civilization, to the hopes of the Afghan people, everything died. Afghanistan is going through a shameful period of human history, and the future is not so bright either.

Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives

Nepal, Maldives, and Bhutan all have a monarchical legacy in common. While Nepal and Maldives are republics now, Bhutan is working under a constitutional monarchy. These are small states, but of great strategic importance. Nepal and Bhutan are situated in the Himalayas between the powerful states of India and China. Both want their hegemony over the snow-laden mountains. The Maldives is located in the strategically important Indian ocean and that too on in close vicinity to the middle east and Africa. Nepal witnessed blood spilling struggle for democracy while in Bhutan it was a peaceful process. For the Maldives, it was a struggle with Britain and its Sultan.

Conclusion

Though there are internal conflicts between the states of South Asia on issues like internal security, border demarcation, river water sharing, and marine boundaries. There have been attempts to establish regional peace and harmony. One such attempt was the establishment of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) in 1985, with all 8 south Asian countries as member states. Though it’s not peaceful and cooperative like the EU, the quest for cooperation is still underway. And there is still hope in eyes of every south Asian child – for a better future.

“Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.”

– Gautam Buddha

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Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla FRAS
Arin Kumar Shukla is an Indian Author, Poet and Entrepreneur. His age is 16 Years. He is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He has authored 2 books. He writes on history, mythology, culture, global politics and Hinduism.
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