South Asia’s terrorism and militancy challenges are well known with many countries across the globe feeling the heat from the Af-Pak region. What is not so well known and internally threatening is the regional phenomenon of bankruptcy of political leadership from Afghanistan through Pakistan, Nepal down to Sri Lanka and Maldives with India having joined the list. Self serving greed and lack of vision marks the leaders of this region which rich in talent, natural resources as well as entrepreneurial spirit has failed to make the mark in the human development index over the decades. A quick survey of the current state of polity in the region may be instructive.
Afghanistan has had elections to the parliament in September; however the first meeting of the assembly is still a few days away. The reason is said to be the balance of those elected does not favour President Hamid Karzai and those who support him. Over 90 percent of the elected are said to be Mr Karzai’s opponents, which is likely to make it difficult for him to pass another four years of his Presidency. So a simple expedient of a Special Court to investigate allegations of election fraud which have already been thoroughly examined by an Elections Complaints Commission (ECC) was set up. The Court asked the President to postpone the meeting of the Parliament for a month and so the wheel went on, fortunately the United Nations and the Americans have put pressure for Mr Karzai to assemble the Parliament on 26 January but you can keep your fingers crossed.
The shenanigans of the political parties and leaders in Pakistan are legendary. This has enabled the Army to maneouvre its way to power many times in the country’s history as political parties have preferred the uniform rather than their rivals to take over. Such a moment had just come a few days back when the ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party surviving on the Bhutto legacy lost majority as two members the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) and the Jamaat led by Fazlur Rehman withdrew support the latter as its ministers were sacked from government on cases related to corruption in the holy Haj pilgrimage. The MQM’s leader Mr Altaf Hussain curiously calls the shots from London in self exile. The government had to back track on much needed fuel hike and sales tax to wean back the MQM and stay in power, but the result is an economy which is faltering due to huge deficit and high debt servicing.
Nepal is a classic case where there is a Caretaker Government in power for the past six months as a ludicrous drama of election of Prime Minister was conducted umpteen times even though it was clear that there would be no winners. The country is passing through a difficult phase of transition from a civil war to a republic having shorn of the monarchy without a constitution and a stable government for long.
Bhutan and Bangladesh are the exceptions with the former under a sage King who opted for electoral democracy before there was a groundswell of protests and the latter due to the overwhelming majority with which the Awami League trounced the traditional rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party two years back.
Down south, Sri Lanka has yet to evolve a satisfactory solution to the ethnic conflict even as over a year and a half has passed before the deadly Liberation of Tamil Tigers Ealam (LTTE) was defeated in battle in the South. While in Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed has been hectored by a Parliament in which the opposition party of old rival and former President of the country for 30 years Gayoom is in power. Mr Gayoom is back in the country and political sparks could be expected in the days ahead.
India which should provide the example to others is no better. The atmosphere of political confrontation between the government led by the Congress party and the main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is increasing with a number of issues coming up apart from that of holding up parliament proceedings till a Joint Parliamentary Committee is ordered to examine corruption in 2 G spectrum allotment.
The BJP – Congress confrontation in Karnataka where the governor owes allegiance to the Congress in the past has led to a stand off in the nation’s Info Tech capital, in the other IT Mecca, Hyderabad the ongoing Telangana agitation had driven many an investor away as the political leadership has failed to take a decision either way. Nepotism if not outright corruption to favour sons and relatives is reaching new highs in these knowledge centres across party lines.
In the North the hard won peace in Jammu and Kashmir after a summer of violence is set to be disturbed by a move by the opposition BJP to hoist the national flag in Lal Chowk in Srinagar on the Republic Day. The issue is now taken tones of a nationalist versus separatist clash. The separatists have opposed the move. Many see this as sparking a clash for political capital as flag hoisting ceremony will be taking place across the Valley in all the official functions including in Srinagar and the need of the hour is for all parties to join hands and be seen together.
So the list of woes of people in this region is long enough, bad political management, corruption et al. Power and accountability are separated in many cases for instance in Pakistan while Mr Gillani is the Prime Minister, the political reins are in the hands of Mr Zardari the President and the ultimate arbitrator the Army. In India it is well established that Dr Man Mohan Singh has limited political clout with the mother son duo of Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Rahul Gandhi the real power centres.
Similar complex structures of power exist in other countries in the region haplessly holding the people to ransom with endemic inflation, hungry children and rotting food grain. This state will improve only once the people are empowered enough to force the leadership to govern, that appears to be many years away.