South Asian Summary: September 7-10, 2021

With the announcement of a caretaker government by the Taliban, attention across most of the subcontinent is focused on the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China.

Taliban 2.0

The sheer volume of articles on Afghanistan and Afghanistan-related topics makes it difficult to document all the positions. But, there does seem to be something of a consensus forming.

  1. The Taliban is opting for a hardline government. Not many commentators found it ‘inclusive’. The high place given to the Haqqani network was viewed by many Indian commentators as being the consequence of Pakistani pressure, while some Pakistani commentators said that the Taliban’s hardening stance was a bad sign. Some said this was a gesture of defiance aimed at the US specifically.
  2. Afghanistan will collapse economically. There is still a handful of Pakistani writers claiming that “peace” in Afghanistan will finally allow for the realization of BRI-led South Asian-Central Asian unity and prosperity, but the numbers are diminishing. Some are anticipating waves of economic refugees following the previous waves of war and political refugees. No one seems to think Pakistan has the capacity to stabilize the Afghan economy, and China doesn’t have the will. The Taliban probably does not have the capacity to ensure security for any major economic projects.
  3. China (in Xinjiang) and India (in Kashmir) have been locking down with various degrees of repression their threatening Muslim-majority provinces. Pakistan (in Afghanistan and thus Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) has just set its restive provinces loose.
  4. The impression one gets from this is that if Afghanistan has been sucked into the maelstrom of Pakistani geopolitical considerations, Pakistan is about to get sucked into the maelstrom of Afghan anarchy. How will this impact Pakistani domestic politics? Will that threaten the PTI’s grasp on power? Will that upset the cozy relationship between the PTI and the military? Will Pakistan go to war with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP)? Will China put up with Pakistan’s ceaseless ideological-geopolitical games?
  5. China wants to needle India in Ladakh and would probably be happy to see India get tangled up with Pakistan in Kashmir. But, does China see an upsurge in instability along the Kabul River axis (the line that runs from Kabul to Peshawar to Islamabad to Srinigar) interfering with its plans along the Indus River axis in the shape of the CPEC? One would imagine that the Chinese value CPEC & Gwadar more than Kashmir or short-term gains in Ladakh. This question, however, never comes up in South Asian opinion pieces, and this might be related to the region’s (willful?) ignorance of Chinese priorities vis-à-vis Taiwan and the South China Sea.

India

Domestically, attention is focused on the BJP/Hindutva/RSS conglomerate and the attempts of the oppositions (if you will) to find a way to dislodge Modi and Adityanath and company out of power first in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and then in New Delhi. In UP, the Dalit-dominated BSP led by former Chief Minister Mayawati is trying to reconstitute a coalition between Dalits and Brahmans to break the BJP’s grip on the Hindu vote. The farmer protests in the west of the state suggest that alliances that break against the BJP coalitions might be possible.

A caste census seems to be attracting more and more attention as a tool for breaking up the Hindutva coalitions, but there have not been many strong cases made for precisely why a caste census is needed or, more to the point, what ought to happen once the castes are enumerated. In any case, Congress cannot seem to work up an appetite for the exercise (as it is allegedly dominated by high-caste members of various religious constituencies). It seems difficult to make a caste census the wedge issue without Congress leadership, since the regional parties, neither individually or collectively, have the wherewithal to coalesce around a common purpose.

What the opposition parties have been able to agree on, it would seem, is a need to embrace Hindutva symbolism and gestures, according to a number of articles.

Nepal

In Nepal, the Deuba honeymoon is already over, it seems. The PM is criticized for his single-minded focus on passing an ordinance that he objected to only months ago when he was leader of the opposition, a rule making it easier for parties to split.

Meanwhile, debate about the US-sponsored MCC agreement continues to swirl. Comments by American representatives that the MCC-financed developments were a part of the US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy seem to have been interpreted as an attempt to draw Nepal into an anti-China coalition while others have claimed certain provisions in the MCC agreement would abrogate Nepali sovereignty. According to some Nepali writers, the most virulent opposition has come from both the far (Maoist) left and the far (royalist-Hindutva) right.

Sri Lanka

Members of the opposition have questioned the need for emergency powers in order to deal with the food crisis caused by the depletion of currency reserves.

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