Indranil Banerjie | Can South Asians work together, announce a better 2022?

Desperation was the dominant theme of the South Asian subcontinent in 2021. It was a time of untamed Covid-19 pandemic, stories of death and tragedy, shrinking economies, growing division, armed conflict and inspiration dried up. Can we expect 2022 to be any different?

The pointers are mixed and not without positive points. On the one hand, despite the looming specter of a new strain of Covid-19 in the form of the Omicron variant, one could reasonably expect the pandemic to ease further in the new year. The newer variants, while highly contagious, do not appear to be as deadly as the previous strains.

Responsible behavior, strict local government controls and ongoing mass vaccination campaigns could significantly reduce its impact. This decline can only have a positive impact on all the economies of the region. As it stands, signs of recovery are apparent in many parts of South Asia.

India is leading the recovery in all respects thanks to its massive public spending on infrastructure, including expensive road, rail, port and airport projects. It is an effective policy that dates back to the depression years in the United States under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its Works Progress Administration program resulted in so much infrastructure spending that it not only got the U.S. economy back on track, but served the country for decades as well.

All of this, however, is overshadowed by the growing division in many parts of the region, including India, where religious intolerance shows no signs of abating. Community and partisan conflicts are sure to intensify in 2022 due to the major national elections in India as well as the preparation for general elections in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Politics in Bangladesh continues to be violent as the 2023 elections approach. Local elections in rural areas of the country in 2021 have led to at least 85 election-related killings, while at the same time the country witnessed another round of bloody brutality in October where the Hindu minority community was targeted, killing and destroying several people. temples.

Pakistan is more precariously placed. Like Bangladesh, there will also be elections in 2023. Recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling party was forced to admit defeat in local elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province considered to be its stronghold. The defeat has been largely attributed to its declining popularity as voters grapple with soaring property prices and job losses.

Pakistan’s decisions to continue fueling the jihad, maintain a huge army, and operate with the Chinese Communists are proving disastrous for its finances. Reports suggest that the country’s powerful army is seeking alternatives to Imran Khan, the horse they once supported, who must be sacrificed now that the IMF will not bail out Pakistan without strict conditions. Imran Khan’s government is already in the minority in the National Assembly and could easily be overthrown whenever the military wants.

The anti-India card continues to be the mainstay of key political leaders in a number of countries in South Asia, including Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives. They have all tended to pit China against India. This drove their fortune into a cul-de-sac with few escape routes.

This is of particular concern as the subcontinent remains one of the most militarized regions in the world, with its impoverished member states spending disproportionate sums on armaments and combatants.

The main reason for this is the historic quest of nations such as Pakistan and the region’s gigantic neighbor, China, to change territorial boundaries and remove internal sub-nationalities. The result, unsurprisingly, has been persistent hostilities which have increased in recent times, resulting in increased expenditure on arms and troops.

This trend is expected to continue until 2022.

Pakistan is heading for difficult times and cannot afford advanced weapons as in the past and increasingly has to rely on radicalized irregulars. The capacity of these groups is limited, but will undoubtedly keep the conflict alive in places such as Kashmir and the Afghan border regions.

China, meanwhile, is still on the rise, although it has been hit by Western economic retaliation, rising debt and slowing growth.

Despite this, the communist giant continues to increase its military capabilities and produce advanced weapon systems at almost lightning speed. It is also building a formidable infrastructure in areas close to potential points of engagement with India. Further tensions and even conflict with India are inevitable.

The shadow of the Dragon on the subcontinent will affect this region in another way. This concerns countries which have chosen to rely on Chinese investments to develop their fragile economies. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are two countries which are now discovering that they have no money to pay their loan sharks in China.

Although it is common knowledge that Pakistan is bankrupt, the plight Sri Lanka finds itself in receives less publicity. In August 2021, Sri Lanka announced a national emergency because it lacked $ 80 billion in state revenue. Foreign investors withdrew billions from the local stock market as Covid-19 and disastrous government decisions resulted in unprecedented economic contraction and plummeting foreign exchange reserves. This has caused a historic food crisis in this country.

Countries that have succumbed to China’s infrastructure development offers will inevitably find themselves in dire financial straits in 2022, and some may even default on their debt commitments. This will add to the collective woes of the subcontinent.

The greatest threat to the well-being of the subcontinent, however, does not come from interstate conflicts but from the poisoned ecology of the region. This region, which happens to be the most densely populated in the world, has been devastated by over-farming, overgrazing, poor water use, land degradation, deforestation and all other forms of abuse of the land. ‘environment.

Today, in most parts of the region, the air, water and land are dangerously polluted.

Water scarcity and the reduction in arable land are a huge threat, especially if they are politicized as in Pakistan, where India is held responsible for the decrease in river capacity.

The portents are therefore mixed. If we continue to harbor ill will towards our neighbors, the fan divide, ignore the realities of Covid-19 conditions today, and poison our environment, then the future will be no different than bleak 2021.

If, on the other hand, we act as if the peoples and nations of the South Asian subcontinent are not islands but are among the major ones, that they share a common destiny, then we can expect a radiant 2022, remembering the gray and gloomy years that were 2021.

Maria D. Ervin