2021 has proved to be another seminal year for South Asia or in India’s neighbourhood. COVID 19 second wave swept the Subcontinent in the middle of the year with thousands impacted by the virus struggling for ventilators for oxygen support and ICU beds in India and beyond. An enormous international response to assist India with international organisations and nations – state and non-state actors led to mobilization of resources from far and wide with oxygen plants, medicines and ventilators transported by air and ship relieving the crunch. National resilience was also evident as people stood up to the crisis admirably and by the end of June the tide turned. Lessons learnt from the long episode saw a surge for vaccinations and one billion jabs were achieved by October in India. Other nations in the region from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka also went through similar COVID 19 waves and by end of November there is a perceptible drop in the number of cases and loss of lives have been averted. Bhutan remained the shining jewel in the South Asian crown with just three fatalities and over 2600 cases in a nation of well over 800,000. The remarkable success was led by the monarch His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who trekked on foot to raise awareness in the people of the need to protect from the virus. With generous availability of vaccines, the last Shangri la has attained near herd immunity. Yet there is uncertainty ahead for the region given the arrival of the Omicron variant discovered in the last week of November and highlighted as much more virulent than Delta which was the cause of the second wave of COVID 19 in much of South Asia. And also there are concerns over state of the economies in the region as resumption of normalcy was seeing an uptick but Omicron may be the spoiler ahead.
State and institutional fracture was another crisis that marked 2021 in the region. Afghanistan fractured most unexpectedly within a period of nine days – province after province collapsed from August 6 to 15 by when the Taliban usurped reins of power in Kabul as the President of the Republic Mohammad Ashraf Ghani hastily flew out in a helicopter from the palace grounds under unflattering circumstances to say the least. The Taliban declared itself as the Islamic Emirate as thousands of Afghans sought to leave the country by air, road and foot with many who had supported the United States and NATO forces to fight the Taliban fearing retribution. The Afghan nation continues to be in crisis with a crying need for humanitarian assistance even as focus of the so called Islamic Emirate is on gaining international recognition. At the last call on December 01 United Nations committee that approves grant of seat on the high table having deferred the decision. Never the less there is a will in the international community to provide much needed assistance but how it will reach the Afghan on the streets and in the fields remains to be seen? The war wrecked nation unfortunately does not have the capacity for recovery on its own for now and sustained international commitment would be necessary, how much will this be and in what form and what would be the outcome is indeterminable.
Myanmar on the other extreme of the Indian Sub Continent faced a similar fracture of institutions as the all powerful Myanmar Army staged a coup on February 01 alleging that the elections in the country that had taken place on November 08, 2020 were rigged by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung Suu Kyi which had got an overwhelming mandate. If the military expected that the people at large will accept the change through force of arms there was a shock of sorts as a spontaneous resistance movement which has turned violent has now plunged the country into a, “civil war,” with thousands killed and villages pillaged in air, artillery and attack helicopter assaults by the military. While the people of Myanmar have demonstrated enormous courage in resisting take over which way the winds blow ahead is unclear and uncertainty looms. Overcoming a 300,000 strong military which is brutal to the extreme even though international community is supporting the public uprising either tacitly or openly will not be easy, thus long bouts of violence await the hapless people who have already suffered the pains of multiple ethnic insurgencies.
There have been many other calamities in South Asia in 2021 but three – COVID 19, Afghanistan and Myanmar remain the most significant as we go into 2022 with hopes of a better future. Read on!