Without peace, the objectives of equilateral opportunities, egalitarian prosperity, all round development, universal freedom and non-discriminatory treatment for different religious denominations of the region cannot be achieved. And, with peace – which remains mostly elusive in the region in the real sense – achievement of these goals is possible, and with lasting peace, it can become easier.
All the issues and problem areas between the countries of the region make peace the first casualty and in absence of peace no worthwhile policy, scheme or a decision could be operationalised in the best interests of the people, or if they can be operationalised, the outcomes gained fall on a foreign place than the expected one. Lack of peace yields half hearted efforts and malformed road maps to deal with the basic problems affecting the people of the region. This absence of peace even makes those policy decisions ineffective which are sincerely reached at.
These countries forming South Asia accord topmost priority in trying to keep each other in check by their military power or otherwise by devising foreign policies which mould the behavior of other countries in their favor. In particular , the priority of all these nation shifts, from domestic to international in the region, when the relations between India and Pakistan are at their low and when they are engaged in a war of words and war seems imminent. Under such circumstances, the other countries feel nervous and instead of working towards operationalization of the policy decisions about their internal issues, and about the betterment of their people, they try their utmost to find out ways and means about how to convince these two countries not to go for war.
For example, the hostile conditions between India and Pakistan have given birth to an arms race in the region where even the weaker nations also try to give at least, a semblance of security to their countries. In order to achieve that they, including India and Pakistan, spend a large chunk of their budgets in defense and defense related logistics. Had so much of resources not been spent in defense, all the problems of the people in this region would have long back been solved. The extent of resources spent on defense can be gauged from the figures that the countries of the region have allocated towards defense and the related areas.
The Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, while presenting the Union Budget, 2017-18 allocated Rs. 3,59,854 crores( Indian Rupees) for defense. Pakistan has decided to expend Rs. 920.20 billion (Pakistani Rupees) on defense for 2017-18. For Nepal, this amount is Rs. 44.96 billion (Nepali Rupees) for the same year and for Sri Lanka it is Rs. 284 billion (Sri Lankan Rupees) for 2017. Bangladesh has allocated 257.5 billion BDT for the financial year 2017-18 and other countries also have fixed large sums, as per the size of their budgets, for the defense purposes.
These figures clearly indicate that these countries spend huge resources on defense. If their relations were cordial these resources could have been minimized appreciably to divert them in the areas which are more closely associated with the lives of the masses. Incredibly, a particular section of people in these countries are not satisfied with these sums and demand these to be increased even more to meet the needs of security. It is here where this section of people gets benefited either by brokering defense deals with the arms manufacturers or by some other means.
It is also surprising to observe that these countries allocate towards defense is not in accordance with the actual needs but to counter the allocations of the rival/neighboring countries. This means that if India increases defense allocations, Pakistan has to definitely increase the same irrespective of whether the available resources of the latter country could cope with that increase or not and vice versa. This is the story since their emergence as independent countries where every percentage point increase by one country is matched by the similar increase by the other and the cycle goes on without end.
The smaller, and weaker, countries in order to secure their countries, try to gain the patronage of some big country. This trend is replete with the possibilities of becoming a bone of contention between the major countries in the region and beyond. The recent Doklam standoff between India and China was the outcome of this sort of behavior by Bhutan. Similarly, the moving away of Sri Lanka from India and towards China, and even Pakistan, and that of Nepal giving more consideration to China against India are the examples where smaller countries in the region are fueling the big country rivalries. The result again is that peace is made a casualty.
Coming to the internal affairs of these countries, it can be said that a country which is internally stable and peaceful also tries to maintain peace in her international relations. Such country tries to resolve the disputes and issues which are there, if they are there. The internal affairs, and internal happenings, of the countries of this region are such that peace has been made precarious. These internal socio-politico-cultural conditions make the conditions worse inasmuch as most of the countries internally are not stable. There are movements of secession, there are rivalries between religions and regions and there are issues of elite versus laymen of these countries. These issues leave hardly a peaceful day with the rulers of the countries. All the energies, which are spared after those spent on the international issues, are spent to keep the regions, religions groups and movements in check.
Here, as already said, the real definition of peace has been forgotten and it is considered only in absence of violence, that is, they describe their countries peaceful when there is no violence , and if we take these countries in their entirety, there is not a single day which passes off without there being some or the other form of violence. People keep dying in these internal issues more than those who die in the rivalry and battles with the other countries and non-state actors. The painful fact is that these issues are tried to be exploited by the rival countries in the neighborhood, and beyond, to keep these countries engaged in maintaining law and order, so that their resources get drained and they always remain in a state of dependence. As such these internal issues, viz- communalism, regionalism, terrorism, illegal migration and refugee crisis, religious extremism and government apathy toward them all hurt the prospects of peace in these nations and keep them hurting.
Communalism is a major problem in India. In this country , the major religion has been a sort accorded the status of a state religion and the religions other than this, and the followers of these religions, are given a secondary treatment, if there is any fair treatment given to these religious denominations. The country is secular constitutionally but that is not reflected in the actions of the government, especially the one that is in power currently. The government seems in active connivance with the groups which are engaged in the illegal prosecution and persecution of the people of the minorities. Communal violence is reported daily in this country in one or the other part.
Ultra-nationalism is another big problem that this country faces in the current times which is closely related to communalism. In this type of nationalism, everyone who follows the practices other than those approved by the major religion are viewed with suspicion and are labeled as antinational. New methods and practices are made obligatory upon the citizen of the country to follow. These practices are nowhere there in the constitution. Their obedience is forced upon only the people who belong to smaller religions of the country and the Muslims in particular are subjected to this test. The recent sprouts in the incidents of violence against the minorities on this pretext can be cited as examples here. Even the people who speak for the victims are also given the same label of anti-nationals.
The movements of secession, like in Kashmir; the demands to create new states and the naxalism to change the country into a different type of governance and social structure are the once which keep the pot of violence boiling. These issues, on the one hand, consume precious human lives and on the other eat out vitals of the Indian economy. The outcome is that the peace of these areas remains elusive. There are no sincere efforts on part of the government to solve these issues once for all. No efforts and attempts are made to provide the much needed relief to the people of these regions; they are left in conditions of uncertainly and insecurity. The leaders of this country make use of these issues to the betterment of their persons, parties, clans and dynasties. With the other internal issues the story is more or less the same.
Pakistan faces its set of problems which are nowhere letting the country to move ahead on the ladder of development. She faces the biggest problem of sectarian violence which, at times takes, such an ugly shape that hundreds of people get perished in a single instant of time. This has heightened tension and rivalry between different sects of Muslims in that country. This violence has hurt the country economically so much that some people describe it as one of the most insecure countries in the world.
Pakistan also faces movements of secession in Baluchistan province. Though this country blames India for the trouble but the issue has some internal bearing which results in its aggravation. Had the rulers of Pakistan been sincere and prompt in dealing with the problems of the people of this region, and other regions, India could have never got a chance to exploit the situation and the problem would have been nipped in the bud. But , that is not the case and the problem has become complicated one. Likewise , there are many other problems where the prognosis so far has been disappointing.
Extremism and political violence in Bangladesh, the issue of Tamils and the internal war in Sri Lanka and Maoism and instability in governance in Nepal are some of the internal issues that these smaller countries in the region face. These issues have the same repercussions for these countries which India and Pakistan face due to their country specific internal problems. The resolution of these problems should have been the first priority but that is not the case.
The countries of the region need to resolve these internal issues along the external ones to move above on the path of development, progress and prosperity. There also is a dire need to deliver much needed justice which has been denied for ages to a large portion of the population of this region. And, to accomplish all these great deal of work is to be done but more important is to find out where that work needs to be done. There is no doubt that some work is being done by some sincere leaders and administrators of these countries but the problem is that this work is being done at wrong places and in an improper way, thereby, rendering the work to yield insufficient or no outcomes at all.
Therefore, there is a dire need to start from the places which will result in streamlining all the agencies, institution and governmental departments in order to accomplish the various indices of human development, poverty eradication, justice delivery, emancipation of the downtrodden, equilateral development, sustainable development etcetera. Some of them even need to start to make the governance and the structures of governance efficient. How that needs to be done is discussed in the third and final part of this write up.
—(To be concluded)
—The author can be reached at:[email protected]