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11 May, 2009

Lessons from the subcontinent’s history


Ask Indian newspaper readers or television viewers what was the biggest event of 2008, and most of them will mention 26/11. So strong is the impact that the Mumbai terror attack of November 26 made on the Indian mind. It was no doubt a decisive event. In South Asia, there were other equally decisive events, too, last year. The throwing out of the military regime in Pakistan through a popular movement was one such. The elections held in that country yielded a government, which, though weak, has a democratic character. In Bangladesh, too, there was change of regime through elections. Also last year, the President of the Maldives, who had survived some coup attempts, stepped down following electoral defeat. In Nepal, the Maoists who were leading an armed insurrection participated in elections, emerged as the largest single party in the country and came forward to head a coalition government. Sri Lanka, like India, has kept alive the electoral process even in adverse circumstances. In the armed struggle that the Tamils of the island nation, who suffer from a sense of injustice, have been waging since long, the government gained the upper hand for the first time. In short, democracy never had it so good in South Asia.

How fast the scene changed! Within three months of the new year, the regimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh faced severe challenges. Taliban fighters from Afghanistan established themselves in Pakistan’s northwestern border. The Pakistan government was forced to sign an agreement which allowed them to enforce the Sharia law in the Swat valley. This development and the daring extremist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore raised concern over the country’s future. The possibility of the army or the extremists seizing power in the country cannot be ruled out. The revolt by paramilitary forces in Bangladesh, which resulted in the massacre of many officers and their families, points to the possibility of that country slipping into anarchy. Here, we may also take note of the fact that left extremist movements are posing a strong challenge to established authority in some Indian states.

To understand the gravity of the problems that India and its neighbours face, we have to take into account certain geographical and historical facts.

These are the opening lines of an article which looks at the South Asian experience of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.

To read the article in full, please click on "Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind

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