South Asia Summary: August 24-27, 2021

There has been a tremendous flood of articles about Afghanistan in South Asia publications over the last three days.

In India, attention is focused primarily on countering the threat the country imagines arising from AfPak in the wake of the Taliban victory there, particularly in Kashmir. Domestically, attention is focused on the growing movement for an assessment of caste-based demographics, something that some believe could threaten the coalition of high- and low-caste Hindus put together by the BJP. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) seems to be gaining national stature as rising stars in Congress defect to the West Bengal-based party. The BJP, however, has won its first court victory in a case asserting that the TMC was to blame for the death of BJP party workers during this spring’s election battle in West Bengal.

Some in India are excited about the prospects of Chinese investment in Afghanistan: It is now only a matter of days, after the change of power in Afghanistan, that China would be given the requisite of the foolproof security by AT[Afghan Taliban], to help run the country, and moreover, China is also to run its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to reach to Central Asian republics…AT are handicapped when it comes to aerial-defense and intelligence, surrounding intelligence and security etc, all which comes through drones and radars, and it is here, where China might take up the platform, which is going to be a further scourge to US and NATO allies!

In Pakistan, the former Interior Minister and (currently) PPP Senator Rehman Malik wrote a fascinating article claiming that President Karzai had, during his tenure, offered to request that the US stop sponsoring terror attacks in Balochistan in exchange for Pakistan returning the Taliban leader Mullah Ghani Baradar to Afghanistan.

Kabul wanted Mullah Baradar to be deported to try him in the alleged murder case [the assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in a suicide bombing in Kabul in September 2011]. Eventually, we allowed 20 investigators from Kabul to come and interact with Mullah Baradar and interrogate him about this murder incident in the presence of our investigators. He was proven to be innocent, hence Pakistan declined to hand him over to Kabul. We endorsed all the reports showing the innocence of Mullah Baradar. The combination of Siraj Haqqani and Mullah Baradar has been a lethal one…Pakistan had been doing a lot of work to bring peace to Afghanistan but the then Afghan government and India’s Raw [intelligence agency] kept on sabotaging the peace process. Peace in Afghanistan does not suit Indian interests, which is why it keeps making efforts to ruin it…I will be looking forward to a handshake between President Karzai and Mullah Baradar soon. It is a lesson for us that time keeps changing but the values do not change.

Many commentators in the Pakistani press are still reveling in the glorious future awaiting them once the Belt and Road Initiative paves the way for Pakistani power to reach through Afghanistan into Central Asia, bringing peace and prosperity in its train. Gwadar will be the most developed and beautiful city in Pakistan, which will probably outperform Singapore, one dreams.

Jamaat Islamiyah, which associates itself with the Taliban, has something to say to Indian fears of the AfPak threat to Kashmir: The JI’s struggle for the Kashmir cause has always been widely acknowledged by the leadership of the region of Jammu and Kashmir, currently divided between Pakistan and India. It is because of JI’s efforts that the issue of India-occupied Kashmir has key importance on the national agenda and successive governments in Pakistan dare not to compromise on it despite massive international pressure.

In Bangladesh, some worry of the Taliban making their way to their country, as well. The Taliban, in my view, will not limit its activities to only within Afghanistan. Soon it will aspire to expand its sphere of influence to other countries. Pakistan may be its next target. The Pakistani prime minister has already uttered supportive words to the Taliban. So the door is open. At one point in time, it may turn its attention to Bangladesh as well.

One wonders if anxiety about a rising tide of Islamist extremism could be exacerbating Bangladeshi frustrations about the fate of the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. There has been a growing influx of articles on the social and economic burden Bangladesh has been under. Bangladesh continues to scramble for resources to meet this enduring crisis. This cannot be a long-term solution. The Rohingya, ultimately, must be repatriated to their homeland in Myanmar, and the army that brutalized them must be held to account in front of the world.

In the Maldives, there is a growing debate as to whether the country should switch from a presidential system to a parliamentary one. The impetus for this move appears to come primarily from the former president (and current parliament speaker and member of the powerful Judicial Service Commission), Mohamed Nasheed. One publication questions whether further concentration of executive and judicial powers in the head of the legislature would help the country: Which system better protects minorities and subverts majority mob rule? Which system best serves nation as opposed to party alone?

In Sri Lanka, some are worrying about the country’s fiscal position, damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and abrupt changes in the country’s agricultural policies. Bond holders are being repaid, but this means that foreign exchange that could otherwise have been used for imports are now being used to pay bond holders instead…avoiding the IMF does not mean we can escape the inevitable austerity that will follow. Austerity is in fact already upon us, in the form of restricted imports. The restrictions are denying essential inputs to the local economy and medicines and food to citizens. These restrictions work in two ways:  1. The outright restrictions on imports  2. The shortages of foreign exchange in the market.

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