In the New Year South Asia Must Seek Hope in Agenda of Peace and Justice

South Asia

Three of the largest South Asian countries share a remarkable similarity in the coming year 2024—all of them will be holding general elections in the first half of this year. These are widely regarded as very important elections for all the three countries—India, Bangladesh and Pakistan– and their results will be very keenly awaited.

Unfortunately these three countries also share another, a very unfortunate similarity. The relations between the ruling establishment and the opposition has deteriorated very rapidly in recent years. In Pakistan and Bangladesh this unfortunate trend is the most extreme; however even in the more mature democracy of India, which has seen quite amiable relations in the not too distant past, the situation has been deteriorating rapidly in the recent past and one hopes that this trend can be checked before there is further deterioration. 

In fact the problems of these countries are so serious that there is much greater need for cooperation among various political parties to resolve these in a federal structure, while endless confrontation among political parties diverts attention from the real problems facing the country.

In the entire region roughly the bottom half of the population faces increasing livelihood, subsistence and disaster or adverse weather related problems in times of climate change. In Pakistan the situation after devastating floods has become more serious at the grassroots and the government has not been able to respond adequately due to mounting economic crisis.

Pakistan has been receiving a lot of aid from such rich countries as the USA, Saudi Arabia, other oil-rich countries, China and also international institutions, but still faces an economic crisis and a debt crisis. This must be a warning, and countries in the region should learn not to get caught in the aid-trap while ignoring self-reliance.

Bangladesh is among the countries which are most vulnerable to climate change and related disasters. It has some important development successes to its credit, but on the while its prospects at political and economic levels remain grim.

India’s impressive statistics on poverty reduction should not lead to ignoring the reality that the bottom one-third of the population still faces grim prospects relating to subsistence and livelihoods.

Even a much smaller country like Sri Lanka which had been known for a long time for good human development indicators could not avoid terrible conflicts and a serious economic crisis. In the middle of increasing inflation and foreign exchange crisis people in the country have faced increasing difficulties in meeting several basic needs.

Nepal has seen several smaller development success stories, but years of civil strife and political instability also led to inability to tackle the high vulnerability of the country to climate change. A country which consists either of Himalayan ranges or their immediate foothills and terai plains is likely to be very vulnerable to climate change related problems and disasters.

However it is the people of Afghanistan who have suffered the most in recent years from a mix of war and strife, denial of human rights including gender rights as well as adverse weather conditions and disasters. To add to this, Pakistan has been forcing several hundred thousand Afghan refugees to return to Afghanistan in very difficult conditions.

Inter-faith harmony has been very important for the South Asian region but unfortunately conditions of inter-faith harmony have been either poor or else have been worsening further in by far the greater part of the region in recent years.

The difficulties of the bottom half of the population of South Asia, which includes a greater share of the minorities, can easily worsen in times of climate change, and disasters can become much bigger. It is clearly time for the South Asian countries to end avoidable internal and external hostilities and embark on an agenda of peace and harmony which can enable the maximum attention to be given to reducing poverty, ecological ruin and vulnerability to climate change and related disasters.

Across the borders South Asian countries, led by India and Pakistan, should seek a future of very stable and trustworthy peace. Within the various countries, the kind of civil strife which proved so costly for Sri Lanka should be certainly avoided. Various political forces, particularly the ruling establishments in these countries, should realize that democratic politics should not be pursued in such extreme hostility with opponents that the basic interests of the country and its people suffer badly. Hence basic conditions of certain levels of cooperation should be maintained and mechanisms established to prevent further deterioration. There should be increasing commitment to promoting inter-faith harmony and protecting the rights of minorities.

Economic policies should emphasize improving the welfare of the bottom half of the population and reduction of inequalities. Climate change mitigation and adaptation should get high priority too, with emphasis on reducing disasters after learning from past mistakes.

As 2024 is going to be a very important year for South Asia, it should be realized and respected by all countries of this region that following an agenda of peace, social harmony, justice and democracy is a must for resolving the many-sided serious problems of South Asia.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, Planet in Peril and A Day in 2071.       

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