Four of South Asia’s major nation states – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar are facing marked instability in varying degrees – the last two of these have declared emergency. Ironically all four have extremely high level of potential be it in terms of economy, energy, infrastructure and even security, yet structural fragility is leading to a crisis in varied forms. The World Bank identifies four criteria of state fragility to include economic management, structural policies, policies for social inclusion and equity and management of public institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has similar criteria with weak governance and legacy of violence as add on. Clearly when applied to the four states these factors are more than evident. Here is an overview-
Afghanistan has the potential due to geographic location of being the “Heart of Asia,” with energy transit and trade routes linking South, Southwest, and Central Asia. The mineral riches of the country are said to be in trillions of US dollars lying unharvested. Clearly the potential is immense by the country has failed due to the legacy of armed conflict stretching over four decades.
While for the first time an Indigenous government is in power yet lack of capacity for governance of the Taliban or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is leading to continuity of the legacy of fragility of the past. Requiring extensive development and economic support the Taliban is however wrapped up in an ideological bubble from which there is no escape. This has restricted the country from gaining from security stability in the past six months plus due to lack of acknowledgement of modern values and rights of women. The security dividend that acquired in the past few months may well be squandered away.
Further West – Pakistan is another state with immense potential be it in terms of agricultural wealth, mines, or human resources. Yet the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government in the country is now expected to be removed through a No Confidence Motion in the parliament. The bane of Pakistan has been the oversized role of the military in politics of the country thus marring the independence of political parties as well as other institutions including the media and the judiciary.
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With the Army’s shadow, no political leader feels secure. Another factor is endemic corruption of the political class with even newbies as the PTI impacted by several frauds including sugar exports. Even if the Army steps back, the capacity of the political parties for economic management and governance remains suspect as many leaders are looking at filling their own coffers.
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Down south Sri Lanka is a sad story of decline of South Asia’s most prosperous nation in terms of per capita income falling just behind tiny Maldives, lofty standards of education and life expectancy. While the three decade old civil war in the country achieved closure in 2009 with rout of the LTTE – representing minority Tamils, the potential for growth was flagged, but progressively flawed policy choices, lack of equity in a country with fragile ethnic and religious compact, polity dominated by one Family – Rajapaksa’s and endemic factionalism has led to the country having to declare emergency on April 01st this year as rioters surrounded the private residence of the President protesting high inflation, rising food and energy prices and lack to access to basic necessities. Clearly this is a crisis that would have been avoided through enlightened policy choices as there is good support regionally and internationally to Sri Lanka.
Towards the east the land bridge between South and Southeast Asia is Myanmar. A nation with wealth of resources, mines, minerals, timber, and potential for transit in the form of an Asian Highway. Here again an outsized role of the military and unwillingness to secede the same to a popularly elected party and government led by Daw Aung Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led to a coup in February 01.
What was not expected multiple mutinies in the form of People’s Defence Force (PDF) and Civil Disobedience Movement have broken out across the country and the last one year plus has seen a surge in violence leading a resigned ASEAN envoy stating after a visit to that country in March that they rival just want to kill each other or words to that effect.