South Asia’s Peace Imperative-I
The Indian subcontinent politically consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives as per the broader consensus. The collective population of these countries is around 1.75 billion, according to the World Bank and United States Census Bureau for 2016(India, 1.324; Pakistan, 0.1932; Bangladesh, 0.163; Nepal, 0.0289; Bhutan, 0.00797; Maldives, 0.00417 and Sri Lanka, 0.0212 billion). This makes it 23.44 % of the total world population. This is a gargantuan population for the underdeveloped, and developing, region with scarce, and untapped, resources to cater its needs”
Such magnitude of population makes this region beset with greater number of problems, requirements and challenges, than many of the other regions of the world. You name a problem it exists in the Indian Subcontinent, and exists in plenty. There is Poverty and hunger; underdevelopment and uneven development; communalism and corruption; under nutrition and over nutrition; infant mortality and maternal deaths; regionalism and exploitative regimentation of the societal structure; lack of basic facilities and lack of life supporting health care; and, dependency as well as the anti democratic elements, forces and agencies which are eating out the vitals of democracy, if that exists in this region in the real form.
India alone, in this region, has the highest number of poor (224 million), living under the international $1.90 a day poverty line (World Bank figures for 2016). If these numbers are taken together with the number of poor in the other countries of the subcontinent, this region may be in possession of more such people than any other region of the world. Though some of the countries in the region are moving up on the ladder of development yet its pace is so low and uneven that it might take ages before any worthwhile change can be observed in the statistics related to the poor and poverty of the Subcontinent.
This magnitude and extent of these problems should normally leave no spare time for the governments, and leaders, of these countries to think of anything else. Their entire time, resources and energies should ideally be devoted to find solutions to these problems. The rulers of these countries could hardly afford to take their eyes off these problems and launch themselves and their countries on some adventures which eventually might turn out as misadventures. Their first and foremost priority should be to improve the conditions of their lot of people; they should put in right place the people and institutions of their countries and raise the living standards of their people. Unfortunately, most of them seem wanting on this respect, they accomplish not what they are mandated to accomplish.
In no way can they afford to resort to any form of rivalry with any of their neighboring countries. They cannot afford to keep the internal conflicts of their countries unattended. They cannot let the hard earned democracy and democratic institution to deteriorate to the dismay of the entire population in the subcontinent. They cannot allow those self-centered and party centered politicians and people to ruin the resources and manpower in fighting wars and maintaining conflicts. They are expected to act as real democrats inasmuch they are democratically elected.
But, the painful reality is that the leaders, and governments, hardly do anything which is expected from them. They do abundantly that which is not expected to the least bit from them. They resort to rivalry and animosity with their neighboring countries, they let the internal problems and conflicts unattended to gain something which is by no way in the interest of their countries. And, they seem not hesitant of going to wars if their safety is not threatened by such wars, and if their personal interests are not met.
The politicians, and the people in power, in these countries are least concerned about the poverty, they care not about hunger, they remain unaffected when their people suffer, their feelings stop working when there is exploitation and discrimination, their senses give up when crime is on rampage and criminals are ruling the roost, their eyes remain shut and mouths closed when corruption, communalism, regionalism and exploitative regimentation of the social structure are openly resorted to hurt the countries and the region along with their people. They given no thought, or effort, to the growing inequality between the rich and the poor, instead they make this inequality profitable and fulfilling for their personal interests.
The standards of governance, governing and the governors in these countries have stooped so low that the solution and resolution of the chronic and acute ills in these countries seems to be impossibility. These problems have been made as the business enterprises, and entrepreneurial establishments, for the elites of the region. The helplessness of the people is the raw material and manipulating the sentiments and emotions of these people is the fuel for the machinery of discrimination and exploitation. The natural and unnatural deaths of the people are investments towards making and shaping the political careers of the elites. The conflicts, and problems areas with the neighboring countries, are instruments of political mileage and that mileage is gained whenever the power centers in these countries feel so necessary to remain in power. And, with every other problem benefits are made to accrue to the ruling elites.
Where there is no conflict the rulers generate one to keep benefiting and gaining. Where there is already one they take least interests in its resolution. In many cases, it has been observed that these ruling elites actively encourage the people to remain engaged with the conflicts and never let the parties to the conflict to reach to a common ground. They work on the Machiavellian principle of making conditions with the neighboring countries hostile if the rulers internally face any threats so as to divert attention of the masses. It seems the rulers of different countries of the region work coordinately, and inclusively, to serve each other’s interests.
To exemplify this, India and Pakistan, two major countries in this region, have many issues between them which they can solve easily, there are some which may require a thorough thought processes and in case of the rest great and sincere efforts are required along with few compromises and sacrifices. But, nothing of such sort is done. Pakistan is a blank signed cheque book for the Indian ruling class to encash the cheques wherever and wherever required to exploit the emotions and sentiments of their people. The story about the Pakistani ruling elite is more or less the same, they use India and Kashmir card as per their interests and behave not as mature, and sincere, politicians and statesmen do.
Not only between India and Pakistan but there are contentious issues between and among the other countries of the region. There are many issues between India and Bangladesh like water sharing, border disputes, issue related to maritime border and territorial water, illegal migration, security issues, drug trafficking etc. which are not being addressed adequately to settle them once for all. Likewise there are some issues related to border and river(s) between Nepal and India which should have been settled now. Between India and Sri Lanka – though their relation have remained cordial and friendly for most part of their recent history – there are some areas of concern like the fishing disputes but the moving of Sri Lanka closer to China can become an area of major contention, if it is not already so. Besides these, there are issues between the smaller countries of the region for example strained relations of Nepal and Bhutan due to Bhutanese refugee crisis. These problem areas, between the smaller countries, may seem minor but the issues between two main countries of the region are such that they may swipe peace and prosperity from those areas also which currently seem peaceful and progressive in the region.
The irresolution of all these issues and areas of conflict make the fact hard to believe, that is that, the countries of the region are ruled democratically, at least on paper. In democratic countries the interests of the ruled are of primary importance but in case of these countries they seem not primary, not secondary, rather, they seem of no importance at all. Everything in these countries has been made subservient to the whims and wishes of the ruling elites. They manipulate democratic institutions in such a way to give it the semblance of democracy without changing actual form and working of these governments.
The democratic theory of peace excludes this region from the existence of any conflict or possibility of a war. But, conflicts exist in this region, and about war they are not fought either because some of the countries are too weak to fight against the big powers in their region or there is the nuclear deterrence which prevents at least two of the countries, India and Pakistan to go for war. Prior to this deterrence they have already fought three wars and even with this deterrence they have fought a minor war, Kargil War. These conflicts and issues of the region have taken the attention away from the main issues concerning the people of the region.
In order to deal with the chronic issues of poverty, hunger, underdevelopment etcetera the rulers of the region need to go to the basics and fundamentals of a democratic form of government. They need to make their governments in the best interests of the ruled, and the popular sovereign. It is then and then only these countries could be justified to be called as real democracies. In their current forms they at the most are pseudo-democracies, formed by people in the interest of the elites. How that should be achieved would be discussed in the subsequent part(s) to this write up.
—The author can be reached at: email@example.com
—To be Continued…