2021 saw multiple instabilities emerging in South Asia. Nation States apart from Afghanistan and Myanmar muddled through with major disruptions - surge of COVID 19 Delta variant, economic challenges (Sri Lanka and Pakistan) and political turmoil (Nepal). Afghanistan and Myanmar underwent catastrophic fractures of the regime structures with the Taliban so called Islamic Emirate replacing Republic in Kabul on August 15th and a military coup upstaging the democratic experiment once again on February 01 in Nay Pyi Taw. Against this brief backdrop, what forebodes the region in 2022 and what are the key drivers for stability in 2022 needs detailed consideration.
The impact of COVID 19 is expected to continue across the board in South Asia with the Omicron variant which has made the presence felt in a marginal way but having the potential to spread rapidly as is seen from the trajectory in other parts of the World – South Africa, the United States and Europe. South Asia with high density of population and unacceptance of voluntary restrictions by the public may see the rise of Omicron which has the properties of immune escape. Looking at other drivers a country wise examination may be more relevant.
In Afghanistan Taliban’s acceptance of integration global and regional in all spheres from political to economic and security shedding isolationist conservative religious ideological blinkers will see the country emerge from the depths of humanitarian and economic crisis to a degree of low normalcy.
In neighbouring Pakistan relations between the Establishment (Military and the ISI) and the political class will be key drivers apart from economy. There are many sub plots in the first named vector which may need detailed examination and have been undertaken elsewhere.
In Sri Lanka management of the economy and debt burden will determine how the country emerges from the distress imposed by COVID 19 as well as fundamental decision making errors such as the sudden cap on chemical fertilizers undertaken by the Rajapaksa government. Maldives will need political harmony and containment of extremism which saw the first sign of manifestation on May 06 with attack on Speaker Mohammad Nasheed a well known secularist. Managing the India China relationship dyad will also be critical.
Further East in the Bay of Bengal in Myanmar State Administration Council (SAC) the civilian hat that has been donned by the military after the coup, reconciliation is the buzzword through cease fire with multiple groups and negotiations with the alternate political order the National Unity Government (NUG), this seems a chimera for now and thus more instability can be predicted.
Bhutan remains the only Shangri La in the region if not the World yet economic pangs and a boundary negotiation with China may find Thimphu facing some minor anguish. In Bangladesh even though parliamentary elections are some way off in end 2023 machinations towards the same with focus on formation of the Election Commission, managing the radical fringe and Rohingya bulge will remain critical with the Sheikh Hasina government looking confident with strong controls replicating authoritarian over institutions of the State.
India’s stability drivers are multiple but briefly stated these could be polity underpinning crucial state elections due in the first half of 2022 particularly Uttar Pradesh, management of the boundary and border standoff apart from Chinese belligerence, militancy, and terrorism in multiple forms, enforcing accountability of security forces, working economy through the Omicron and containing radical fringe which is tearing at constitutional foundations. All in all, there is a lot that could contribute to instability in India but state capacity will hopefully ensure that negative portends of drivers does not create a major fracture but remain straws in the wind for prompt redressal