WHEN I longingly look at Europe having one visa, one currency (euro), stronger than dollar, and one parliament to reflect on the decisions taken by individual parliaments, my eyes woefully go to South Asia which is nowhere near normalization, much less cohesion. It is wracked by internal conflicts and outer dangers. The two main countries, India and Pakistan, are not even on speaking terms. The limited trade between Srinagar and Muzzafrabad was suspended a few days ago.
Not that the European countries, 27 of them, did not quarrel. They had, in fact, wars for hundreds of years and killed thousands of nationals of one another. But they were ultimately seduced by the idea of conciliation and cooperation which has brought them prosperity and stability.
But South Asia remains stagnant. It does not map tidily onto progress for their peoples. It is still stuck in distrust and disruption. Its leaders—leave apart the founders—have never risen above their pettiness and parochialism. It seems that countries in the region realized at one time that they could benefit through friendship and founded the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). But their ego and enmity towards one another are so strong that they have not allowed the organization to function. They simply cannot cast off their animosity to begin a new chapter.
The result is that South Asia has the largest number of poor and the illiterate in the world. The child mortality is the highest. Violations of human rights are in thousands. And the infrastructure that the governments should have built is the weakest. Whatever they earn they spend on armaments— the deadlier, the better. And they have enacted so many draconian laws in the name of security that they have even encroached upon the space of individual freedom.
What the rulers in the region do not realize is that governance has to be not through the police or the paramilitary forces, but through the willing consent of the people. Development is the key. The more people are better off, the lesser would be the tension.
India’s GDP is increasing by 8 to 9 per cent per year. But when 70 per cent of its people and the states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and the eastern UP do not have enough even to afford two square meals, what does the growth mean? The fallout has been the larger sway of Maoists who believe in the armed struggle to “free the masses” from poverty. In Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, the growth of Talibanisation has been primarily due to dire poverty. Those wallowing in it have come to believe that fundamentalism is the only solution to their problems.
The menace of Taliban can be fought provided the army is focused and supported by the joint front of political parties. But the Muslim League (Nawaz) has its eyes fixed on “some gain” from the turmoil. I was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif’s latest speech which deprecated the Asif Zardari government for not making amendments to the constitution to make it more democratic but did not have a word against the Taliban. He cannot ride two horses at the same time.
In Nepal, the government feels that it can reap a rich harvest if it plays the China card against India. The Nepalese prime minister has visited Beijing in the belief that if Kathmandu were to introduce a new factor, China, in its affairs it would end New Delhi’s ‘dictation’ The real malady is that different political parties have not learnt how to behave in a democratic set-up.
In fact, the point of concern for South Asia is the manner in which China is trying to act as a Big Brother in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Bangladesh. Islamabad is already on Beijing’s side. However some countries in the region wash off their hands with the argument that it is New Delhi which should worry because China’s strategy is to surround India. Yet Beijing’s real ambition is to dominate the region which is pursuing a different culture and is striving to establish a society that remains democratic, without following a doctrinaire line.
The responsibility of unleashing the forces of destruction lies on eight SAARC countries. Terrorism was the genie which the Pakistan government brought out from the bottle. Many gullible people still believe that the Taliban only want the true Islam to come back. Does it mean the killing of the innocent and the denial of right to education and freedom to women?
New Delhi has released the Frankenstein of balkanization by issuing its fiat at midnight that the government is proposing to take measures for creating the state of Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government’s flip-flop has reignited fires of individual identity throughout the country. Already in schools of some of the states songs exalting the regional idea have been introduced into text books. History books taught in lower classes have disclosed a marked tendency to exaggerate the past achievements of the dominant linguistic groups. The government may rue the day when it announced the formation of Telengana because it has led to a sense of frustration, with grave consequences, if similar demands are not met.
In Pakistan, there is a demand for autonomy by Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province and Sind. It looks as if the country faces a real danger of disintegrating. In contrast, Bangladesh has consolidated itself through present democratic government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has retrieved the disturbed Chittagong Hill tracks by giving it more authority. Decentralisation of power is the only way to keep nations together. No country in the region seems to realize this. I hope that Sri Lanka has learnt the lesson. Otherwise, some other elements from among the Tamils may rise and constitute themselves into another LTTE to demand for the right to rule themselves.
Busy as they are in politicking, which only means power and corruption, the governance in South Asia is practically non-existent. There is a nexus of politicians, the police and bureaucrats. India, although more democratic in the region, has small fires of defiance burning all over. More stringent measures, which are the only mantra that Home Minister P.Chidambaram has learnt, may build up resistance. This is a lesson for the rest of South Asia.
If countries in the region had a common union, they would have together fought some of the challenges they face—terrorism and backwardness. But they would rather shoot at the neighbour than cooperate. The cooperation may help the countries to extinguish the “prairie fires,” a la Che Guevara, raging within. At present, the countries are wasting all their energy in harming one another. This is the reason why South Asia remains a doomed region.