Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

India can redeem South Asia

South Asia is increasingly referred to as ‘the most volatile area of the world’, as the epicenter, the ‘new locus’ of terrorism, as the venue of a resource-sapping and futile arms race and of a possible and devastating nuclear confrontation. This is, of course, true in significant measure, but it obscures another reality, an alternative and equally accurate picture. Where peace prevails, or where it has survived, or has been restored to a sufficient degree, this region displays a dynamism, a potential, and possibilities of a future that can be matched by very few in the contemporary world.

The realities of the present, however, are marred by a multiplicity of crises of political legitimacy, of unequal development, and of recurrent and escalating conflict in all the countries in the extended landmass beyond the conventional limits of what is conceived of as ‘South Asia’ - from the Malaysian peninsula to the unceasing turbulence of Afghanistan. The constant and increasing, preoccupation with proliferating strife has left governments in this region, both at national and sub-national levels, with limited resources, time and political will to address the critical challenges of development. Schematically, consequently, there are two conflicting trends, two opposing possibilities of evolution, and the extent to which the one prevails, the other is defeated. There is, thus, a clear dichotomy of choice between development and conflict. This is true of all the countries in this extended region, and it is now increasingly urgent that they come together in this common realization, particularly since the cumulative intra-state conflicts are translating themselves, with increasing frequency, into inter-state confrontations.

At the heart of South Asia both geographically and politically is, of course, the regional giant (or, according to some of its neighbours, the ambitious regional hegemon), India. India represents and reflects the complexities and contradictions that the entire region is heir to. A resurgent economy, led by sections of the hi-tech manufacturing and information technologies sector, has attracted significant and growing international investments and multinational participation. Much of this ‘globalisation’, though, is still within the category of speculation and predatory capitalism, rather than a deep structural reorientation or long-term commitment by international partners. India is also home to the largest pool of technical and skilled manpower in the world, though its quality may be somewhat uneven. Despite these drawbacks, the country’s potential to seize the opportunities of the new technological revolution is unquestionable. At the same time, unfortunately, India is the scene of widespread civil strife, of at least one high intensity conflict in Jammu and Kashmir, of bleeding wars in Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, in Bihar, and of sporadic violence in a number of other States.

India’s inability to translate its potential into reality, and to transform exacerbating discord into a movement for peace and development has primarily been a failure of leadership and vision. Both internally and externally, however, India is now positioned to play a critical role in lifting the entire region out of the fruitless cycles of confrontation and bloodletting that have bedeviled its recent history. To do this, it must accept the notion of its own centrality, not as hegemon or ‘big brother’, but in processes of genuine friendship and shared concerns with its neighbours. It has already displayed enormous resilience in its ability to absorb the impact of multiple insurgencies, largely as a result of the enormous space, both geographical and political, offered by its landmass, its population and its unending cultural diversity. It has also demonstrated that the many movements of terror and violence have a natural cycle that ends inevitably in a realization among the people – after the initial euphoria of their ‘struggle for identity’ and ill-conceived philosophies of separatism has waned – that the millennial visions of extremist leaders destroy their lives, their communities and the future of their children.

To communicate this reality to the many warring tribes and communities across South Asia is an enormous challenge, but one that India must address. Before it does so, it must also deal with the hostility and suspicion its initiatives and ‘interventions’ ordinarily meet with among its smaller neighbours. But it must do this well before the opportunities of the present are destroyed by the deluge of troubles and another widening technological gap that will deny it the gains of the current knowledge revolution, even as the advantages of the industrial revolution eluded the entire region. This will demand a cold, hard-headed assessment of the realities that prevail, not the unrealistic swing from a pseudo-socialism to pseudo-capitalism/liberalism that is being advocated. The inescapable realities of South Asia are that it contains 40 per cent of the world’s poor, though it accounts for just 22 per cent of the world’s population. Moreover, its share in the world’s income is a meager 1.3 per cent, and adult literacy in the region is now the lowest in the world. South Asia – and not, as is widely believed, Sub-Saharan Africa – is also where most of the world’s malnourished children live. The sheer magnitude of human deprivation, the abysmal quality of life experienced by the people here, the unprecedented degradation of the environment, and the shrinking opportunities that confront increasing numbers of the poor are a clear repudiation of the make-believe that many of the governments in the region are trying to market, both to the international community, and to their own people.

The message that needs to be carried abroad now, is that the future of all the peoples of this region is integrally and inescapably linked, that the detriment of the one will inevitably damage the others, and that mutually beneficial activities have multiple and expanding spin-offs throughout the region. At an intellectual and even diplomatic level, these ideas have already been accepted by national governments in South Asia. Several experiments to bring the region together on a single platform have, nevertheless, fallen by the wayside in the face of historical grievances and the mutual suspicion that comes in their wake. But there is a way out of this apparent impasse – leadership by example.

This is the role and the challenge that India’s leaders must accept if they are to take, not only their own country, but all of South Asia, out of the present morass and into a future as a global power. To do this, they will have to create new institutions and systems that establish transparency and accountability, both in government and in the private sector. They will have to destroy the regime of rampant corruption, of collusion and of progressive criminalisation, that has undermined economic development and the social fabric. They will have to create a culture of peace within the country, before they can become its advocates abroad, and will have to abandon the politics of exclusion, of confrontation, and of sectarian and communal mobilization. And they will have to forge new and efficient mechanisms of governance, and create the necessary infrastructure for the optimal utilization of the abundant resources – including human resources – that the nations in this region have been blessed with. And all these are, of course, predicated on a restoration of order, and of the legitimacy of government, in the enormous violence-riven parts of the country.

India’s success in achieving these transformations can form the basis of true regional cooperation. It is through the implementation of a successful model of development, of governance, and of social and political reconstruction within India that that this country can help the entire region out of its present difficulties, and create the basis of a new and mutually beneficial order in South Asia.

(Published in The Pioneer, December 23, 2000)





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.