South Asia is a center of international conflict and a region rife with dramatic paradoxes. Home to India, the largest democracy in the world, it also is the center of religious extremism in the form of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hindu extremists, Maoist guerrillas and other violent quasi-religious organizations. Home to powerful women leaders like Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina, Khaled Zia and Sonia Gandhi, the region has suffered through assassinations of some of those female leaders, women rights violations and extensive girls’ illiteracy. The region, in its entirety, is ethnically similar; yet it is full of tribal and cultural differences.
While Pakistan and Afghanistan currently cover the front pages of newspapers, other counties in South Asia are also experiencing rampant turmoil. South Asian countries have histories of troubles that often spill over the region. Tamil expatriates from India started a civil war in Sri Lanka in 1976 which, according to many, ended recently in May 2009 after the insurgents were defeated by Sri Lankan army. The massive loss of civilian lives, for which both sides are responsible, is largely unaccounted for. Similarly, Bhutanese refugees who have been staying in Nepal since the early 1990s raise important security questions and are threat to political stability in the region. The civil war in Nepal came to an end on paper but not on streets. India and Bangladesh have not forgotten their animosity over the partition of Bengal. Last but definitely not the least, a nuclear weapons threat overshadows the India-Pakistan rivalry.
One thing has been constant in most of these troubles -- international intervention has not improved the corruption it gave rise to. Bangladesh and Pakistan are renowned for extreme corruption and Nepal is currently catching up. Foreign intervention has led to concentration of power in the hands of a tiny elite population who controls a big chunk of country’s assets. The ever widening gap between the ruler and the ruled is the reason we see unhappy people on streets and chaos everywhere. Foreign aid has rarely empowered people and, for all intents and purposes, foreign aid must be reformed.
Asia America Initiative was created seven years ago, after the 9/11 tragedy to curb the cycle of poverty and underdevelopment that feeds extremism. The lack of hope in many areas of the world is intensified by corrupt governments. We must go right where the problem lies and where the solutions can be found through local empowerment -- among common people, in their communities. Peace can only emerge when people feel empowered and can change their lives for the better. The articles below show the consequences of failed local governments and shortsighted or violence-driven international military intervention.