March 13, 2015
Don't look now, but South Asia is getting its act together.
Nightmares of despair and disaster are an occupational hazard for those who follow developments in South Asia. But for once, the news from the region is not uniformly grim. Washington should take note.
National elections throughout the region have produced victors who, compared to their predecessors, appear to be agents of change. Elections last year in India and Afghanistan fit this pattern. But the starkest example is also the most recent: Sri Lankan voters, in an outcome anticipated by almost no one, summarily dispatched an autocratic ruler who had appeared entrenched for the long run this January.
The encouraging signs go beyond elections. By some measures, India has surpassed China to boast the fastest growing economy in the world. The new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has taken a meat cleaver to bureaucracy and venality. In Pakistan, the army’s offensive against extremists in North Waziristan has proved far more sustained than most observers had expected. The December 16 massacre of 150 people in Peshawar, most of them young schoolchildren, seems to have reinforced Pakistan’s commitment to combating terrorist violence.
Internationally, the region is experiencing a remarkable degree of change. The Modi government has demonstrated vitality and a capacity for surprise—Modi’s invitation to Pakistan’s prime minister to attend his inauguration, for instance. India-Pakistan relations remain glacial, but India’s top diplomat visited Pakistan last week. An early sign of thawing relations between the two states would be progress on long-stalled plans for cross-border trade liberalization.