World Agenda: is South Asia falling apart?


Phat Cat
Super Mod
Feb 23, 2009
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World Agenda: is South Asia falling apart?

Rioting in the Punjab. A military mutiny in Bangladesh. The seizure and intimidation of a newspaper editor in Sri Lanka. Is South Asia falling apart? Is instability about to engulf a region that is home to a third of the world’s population?

In each case, the violence comes after a long period of mounting tension. In Pakistan, the clashes were sparked by popular anger that the Supreme Court has barred Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader and leading politician from Punjab, from holding office.

In Bangladesh, thousands of mutinous troops from the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles went on the rampage to demand higher pay, better conditions and longer holidays.

And in Sri Lanka, the police arrest of a Tamil editor attending a funeral came as government troops are on the brink of victory in the long-running war against Tamil Tiger separatists.

The causes of the violence differ. But there is a common underlying theme: in each case, anger is rising at the failure of government to cope with looming challenges. The consequences could be dire. Each of the three countries is teetering on the edge of breakdown. Rioting and popular demonstrations will only exacerbate the problems and the tensions.

In Pakistan, the violence in Punjab is directly related to the political turmoil unleashed in the final year of rule by President Musharraf and the chaotic conditions in which a civilian government succeeded him. The two largest parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, are regionally based, each drawing their strength largely from the country’s two main provinces — the PPP from Sind and the Muslim League from Punjab.

The rivalry between Asif Zardari, widow of the assassinated former party leader Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, the leader ousted by General Musharraf’s coup in 1999, is intense. They briefly formed a government of national unity as a way of forcing Mr Musharraf from office last August, but swiftly fell out over whether he should be prosecuted and all dismissed judges reinstated. Within weeks Mr Sharif withdrew his ministers and went into opposition.

Both leaders are now in a struggle for supremacy. But both feel vulnerable because of previous court convictions that have been set aside. Each party is therefore trying to use the courts, almost the only civil institution still widely respected, to gain political advantage. And few people in Punjab believe that the latest ruling, disqualifying Mr Sharif and his brother, currently the province’s chief minister, from political office is free of pressure by President Zardari.

The riots are a warning to the Government that it has already lost popular support, failing to tackle religious extremism, failing to quell the rebellions in the tribal provinces and, above all, failing to curb inflation, unemployment and economic decline exacerbated by the global downturn.

A similar perception of both political and economic failure now dogs the government of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. The mutiny was sparked by anger among the 42,000-strong border guard force at low pay and shorter food rations than the regular army. But it represents the general anger of many in government employment at stagnant or falling living standards.

This, too, is a warning to a civilian government that returned to office only in December. The previous military government had disbanded the two main parties and promised a clean-up of Bangladesh’s notoriously corrupt politics. Sheikh Hasina is one of the two “battling begums” — widows of murdered politicians who have divided the country in the long feud and who were both initially banned and investigated for corruption by the military government.

There is a real danger now that the mutiny, although brought to an end for now, will be echoed by the traditional rivals of Mrs Hasina’s party. The military coup was meant to end a culture of corruption. But if the result of the election has returned not only civilian rule but some of the discredited politicians to power, frustration in Bangladesh will grow — especially as the recession begins to cut the country’s already low living standards.

In Sri Lanka, the fear among the Tamils and many moderate Sinhalese is that the present Government, flushed with its victory over the Tamil Tigers, is seeking not reconciliation but triumph. There is a growing intolerance of any criticism of the military campaign, of the plans for dealing with Tamil refugees and of anyone still proposing autonomy for the former secessionist regions.

Many Sri Lankans are delighted that the 20-year civil war seems to be ending. But many are also deeply worried that the seeds of future conflict are being sown. The arrest and murder of newspaper critics are an ominous sign that free speech may be one of the casualties of the war, along with any hopes for a measure of autonomy for the Tamils.

The three conflicts are on the periphery of India, which appears far more stable and settled than its neighbours. But with a general election coming in May, tensions will inevitably grow there and political frustrations rise. India is immensely resilient, however, and has a deeply embedded tradition of democracy. Whether this is enough to overcome the looming economic difficulties or help its turbulent neighbours remains to be seen.


Daku Mongol Singh
Senior Member
Mar 7, 2009
Informative post Singh, here I would like to quote 'everything gonna be alright':D and the mantra for an ideal state (ram rajya) is a win-win attitude amongst the people around.

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