South Asia’s Incessant Conflicts

South Asia between the volatile Middle East and the relatively affluent ASEAN region remains an obscure area for most people from the West. Lacking the political as well as economic clout generally associated with global power polity, the region which houses almost one fourth of humanity has suffered interminably over the past half a century with a series of ethnic, cultural and socio economic conflicts afflicting virtually all countries of the region.

India, the largest of the states in South Asia, could act as a regional lodestone, but the imperfections of Partition of the country in 1947 and the inefficiencies of polity and governance in the largest democracy of the World has seen a number of simmering conflicts of low intensity gnawing at its roots. A variety of causes real and imaginary have led groups to take up arms against the state. In the peripheral areas of the country it is a crisis of identity of those at the geographical margins to acknowledge themselves with the larger Indian community, as either history does not strongly support their integration or as in Kashmir it is hijacked by religious fundamentalists. The greatest fester to the state however is the pro communist revolution popularly known as Naxalism, which is breeding in almost one third of it’s underdeveloped areas and threatens to proliferate. Ironically on any given day a visit to any of these affected areas would provide no clue to the visitor of the simmering revolution beneath.

Pakistan is India’s largest neighbor with which it is having a running feud for fostering terrorism since the 1980’s first in the border state of Punjab and later in Kashmir. While this has been brought under control, there are other insinuations against the country of sponsoring terrorism within India. On the other hand the internal polity and security of Pakistan is fractured. Sunni – Shia violence is common in this Islamic republic and at least one province, Balochistan has a simmering separatist movement. Pakistan is also allegedly the base for a number of terrorist organizations of varied hues from Osama’s Al Qaeda to the Taliban, who have had a safe sanctuary in its Western areas for the last few years.

Nepal, the erstwhile Kingdom and a people’s republic now is slowly recovering from a shock leftist insurgency which had rocked the Himalayan state for over a decade. While a power sharing formula between the ruling Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists has brought peace to the region, signs of internecine feuds within the Maoists, provides grist to the mill that there is a need for ample caution, before peace is announced in the country.

Bhutan nestling in the Himalayas is the only peaceful state in the region, but how long some skeptics say, for the Nepal Maoists are making inroads especially in its Terai region. The enlightened King however has succeeded in a political coup of sorts by promising elections in 2008.

Bangladesh is another area of great concern, because of lack of governance and the ills of a confrontationist policy with its larger neighbor, India; it has been frequently referred to as an economic basket case, a terror sanctuary and a base for Al Qaeda. The economic and demographic woes of the country with poor governance imply shades of anarchy as it goes for elections early next year.

Sri Lanka the most prosperous of the South Asian states with the highest per capita income and development index is however suffering from the longest running and deadliest conflict in the region, with casualties running more than 70,000. A new phase of war has just begun in the ethnic clash between the Tamils in the North led by Liberation Tigers for Tamil Ealam, (LTTE) the Worlds deadliest terrorist group believing in the cult of suicide terrorism and the Government forces, who have attained a temporary respite by a combination of massive air and artillery bombardments. There are no signs of a resolution to the conflict in the near future, as the ethnic divide continues to be irreconcilable.

The World at large continues to turn a blind eye to South Asia, for neither does it have the oil of Saudi Arabia nor economic clout of Japan. But unless there is external economic engagement in the region, this home to humanity’s largest slice of poor would continue to languish in anarchy, destitution and poverty.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is a Strategic Risk and Knowledge Management Consultant and writer with specific focus on defence and security, especially in South Asia.