Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism in South Asia
South Asia is home to more than one-fifth of the world’s total population. Approximately 1.7 billion people currently populate this geographical area that consists of 8 countries; India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and the Maldives. Although there is a great deal of social, economic and political potential for the countries of South Asia, Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism are collectively hindering the overall development and quality of life for the people of this religiously diverse, populous region. As a result, South Asian society is facing grave consequences, specifically in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. An estimated 200 million South Asians are living in slums experiencing intense poverty and severe living conditions. This area is also one of the least integrated in the world causing citizens to face extreme varieties of social exclusion and substantial infrastructure gaps along with the larger countries confronting more and more inequality. When looking into the history of South Asia, it can clearly be observed that communalist ideologies began to be more prominently adopted by various religious groups such as the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in the time leading up to the end of British colonial rule in the region and thereafter. As anti-secular ideologies continued to propagate amongst the different parties, toleration of diversity began to vanish causing oppression of certain ethnicities and religious minorities through the use of militancy and terrorism. To understand the causes and effects of Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism in South Asia, it is necessary to briefly analyse the ethnical and political pasts of each sub-region in the area before explaining these terms in greater detail and what they mean for the sub-Himalayan area today and in the future. Once these factors have been elaborated upon it will be feasible to discuss some of the potential possible approaches South Asian countries can utilize together to vastly dilute these ideologies and practices in order to promote and implement further regional cooperation along with improving political, economic and social development.
A Brief History of Politics, Ethnicity and Religion in South Asia
To have a better understanding of the causes and effects of communalism, militancy and terrorism in South Asia, a short analysis of the region’s political, ethnical and religious past is essential. In this region there are 5 major religions that the people are faithful to: Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Christianity amongst many others. In South Asia, ethnicities and cultures vary from country to country and even within each separate nation. Revisiting the history of these nations will demonstrate how the lack of toleration to diversity has affected the overall political, economic and social developments of the area.
Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban
Afghanistan became an internationally recognized independent nation, as a monarchy, on the 19th of August, 1919 after the Third Anglo-Afghan War, when the Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed. In 1973, the country became a republic, with Daoud Khan as its first President. Khan then began pushing relations with Pakistan aside in order to gain a closer relationship with the Soviet Union. This proved to be successful for Daoud Khan at the time as the Soviet Union assisted in the development of Afghanistan far more than any other country. In April of 1978 Nur Mohammad Taraki and the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which used a Marxist, communistic platform, seized power from the Afghani government, resulting in the 1978 Saur Revolution. Soon after, opponents of communism and the PDPA began an uprising in the Eastern area of the country that quickly spread throughout the whole of it causing a civil war that brought many communalistic acts by several parties along with it. The PDPA viciously suppressed any opposition to their government, arrested thousands and executed up to 27,000 political prisoners. By December 1979, the PDPA had lost all territory in the country besides the major cities and open rebellion was present in most areas. In fear of losing total control, Taraki called upon the Soviet Union and their army for help. The Soviets agreed to support the Afghani army with advice and covert troops but on December 24th, 1979 the Soviets deployed their army to assist socialist rival Babrak Karmal to stage a coup against the PDPA and in the assassination of Nur Mohammad Taraki. This brought insurgency to the country and the international community began to heavily frown upon the Soviet presence in Afghanistan so much so that they passed a resolution for the immediate withdrawal of the Soviets. Insurgents (mujahideen) began to receive massive amounts of military aid from countries such as Pakistan and China funded by the USA and Arab gulf countries. The Soviets fought back in the air by destroying vital natural resources and denying innocent civilians safety. By the mid 1980’s the Soviets had deployed more than 108,000 troops to Afghanistan and the fighting reached an all-time high until 1987 when Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration decided to completely withdraw their troops. The Afghan-Soviet War officially ended on February 15, 1989 when all troops had been removed from the area. The Soviet War caused more than one million deaths and over six million Afghani refugees to flee to Pakistan and Iran. Mikhail Gorbachev also convinced Babrak to step down from presidency replacing him with Mohammad Najibullah who was highly respected by the Soviets. Najibullah lead Afghanistan from 1989-1992. Although Soviet occupation in Afghanistan ended in 1989, its civil war raged on. In 1990 in an attempt to gain more support he claimed the nation Islamic within the constitution and removed all references of communism from parliament but he did not end up gaining support of the people and the demise of his government coincided with the end of the Soviet era in Russia in 1992. After the fall of Najibullah, the Peshwar Accord was created as a peace and power-sharing agreement between all Afghani political parties. As most parties united, the Hekmatyar who were supported by Pakistan, did not creating a new phase of war in Afghanistan. More Afghan militias began to develop with the support of Saudi Arabia and Iran causing a lot of instability once again bringing the country back into a full force war. This prevented things such as law enforcement services, judicial systems, and working government departments essential to the nation’s core from forming. Communalistic acts and aristocracy were committed by the individual groups causing chaos and lawlessness in the capital. This meant that for civilians there was no escaping the brutalities of rape, murder and extortion. More than half a million people fled the country. The Taliban, a movement that originated from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam run schools for Afghani refugees in Pakistan took partial control of Afghanistan in 1994. In 1996 the Taliban took full control of the country and named it the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan imposing a strict form of Sharia law with violent force. In 1997-98 the Northern Alliance tries to defeat the Taliban and fails. Militant groups like al-Qaeda and Ayman al-Zawahiri also operated in the region from 1996 to 2001. After the September 11th, 2001 attacks the USA invades Afghanistan and works together with allies to overthrow the Taliban.
Pakistan and India
Prior to 1947, the regions that are now India and Pakistan were colonized and ruled by the British Empire. On August 15th, 1947 the British Indian Empire (India) was partitioned into two sovereign states, Pakistan and India. Land and assets were also divided up between the two new countries. Included in this partition was also the division of Pakistan into West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Two large Indian provinces, Bengal and Punjab were also divided to India and Pakistan. During the partition of India, approximately 14 million people of various ethnicities and religious backgrounds were displaced causing the largest mass migration in history. 500,000 people were massacred. As a result of this, communalistic ideologies began to be adopted by various religious and political groups causing the retributive genocide of up to two million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims. The Partition itself was implemented partly due to the communal acts and violence between the Muslims and the Hindus in the region pre-partition. Since the partition, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in the area have not been able to tolerate each other’s differences which created a deadly recipe for communalism, militancy and terrorism in this sub-region. Another area in the region that is important to pay attention to is Kashmir. The fight for Kashmir between India and Pakistan could be considered one of the world’s oldest unresolved conflicts. Before British rule of the Indian subcontinent, Kashmir was ruled by Buddhists, Hindu’s Muslims and Sikhs. After British rule ended with the India Partition, Kashmir was left as on its own as a disputed territory. In August 1947, revolts against the Maharaja in Poonch by supporters of Kashmir joining Pakistan caused the Maharaja’s forces to burn and demolish villages along with the massacres of many. After India and Pakistan’s independence, a stand-still agreement was made with Pakistan and rulers of Princely states were encouraged to join either Pakistan or India. The Maharaja of Kashmir, however, delayed his decision in hopes to make Kashmir into an independent state. This set the stage for the first Indo-Pakistani war in 1947 and 1948. Pakistan sent Pashtun militia to Kashmir in attempts to capture it from India while looting and killing in the process. Two more Indo-Pakistani wars over Kashmir followed the first. One in 1965 and the other in 1971. Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties up until this very day, Kashmir continues to be a disputed nation in an ethical and religious battle fought over by India and Pakistan.
Bangladesh was born out of a bloody war with the Pakistani regime in 1971. More than three million people were killed and two hundred fifty thousand women were violated by the Pakistani Army and their local collaborators. After the war, Bangladeshi nationalism became significant while most were in favor of rejecting Pakistani nationalism. The first draft of the constitution promoted secularism and not too close of a link to Islam in the government. All ethnicities were able to live in a relatively peaceful manner until 1977 when secularism was removed from the constitution. Secularism would eventually be added back to the constitution in 2011 but Islam remained as the state religion. Bangladesh has come through several military coups and changed ideologies of the constitution and governance.
Bangladesh had to face a famine in 1974 which resulted from mismanagement of food grain distribution and refusal of committed food aid of 2.2 million tonnes food grain by the USA. About 1.5 million people died from starvation and disease from famine including post famine conditions.
Bangladesh was shocked, and its development hindered, by the brutal killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation and Leader of Independence Struggle, and his family members and later the jail killing of four national leaders of the new country, in 1975.
After two long spells of military regimes ruled by active and retired generals, and a couple of so-called democratic periods, the country got back the taste of democracy again in 1996, through a free and fair national election under a newly formed and later constitutionally approved, Care Taker Government, after the fall of General HM Ershad’s regime. Even after getting back its democracy, disputes arose on who would take the helm of Care Taker Government, its duration and mandate after the army backed two years long rule of the Care Taker Government in 2006-08. The country lacks an effective opposition party because of the boycott of the major political party in the last National Elections in 2014.
A Brief History of Sri Lanka
On February 4th, 1948 Ceylon (Sri Lanka) became an independent dominion with D. S. Senanayake being the first Prime Minister. Communalistic ideologies are not largely recognized to be present in Sri Lanka until 1972 when the country became known as the Republic of Sri Lanka. Sinhalese and Tamil leaders used communal emotionalism as weapons in election campaigns causing tensions and Tamil militancy in the North. In 1977 J. R. Jayawardene’s government takes power in Sri Lanka and introduces a new constitution. Insurgencies against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began in 1983 creating ethnic tensions in the area. The LTTE launched an attack on 13 soldiers resulting in riots against the Tamil race itself. This caused over 150,000 fleeing Tamil civilians to seek asylum in neighboring countries. India attempted to neutralize the LTTE in 1987 after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. In 1990 the LTTE expelled all Muslim Sri Lankan Moors from the island. In 2002 the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government agreed to a ceasefire but the fighting resumed in 2006 following the deadly 2004 Tsunami that devastated the country. The Tamil insurgents and the Sri Lankan government were unsuccessful in 4 peace talks taking place between 1985 and 2006. Separatism ideologies within the Tamil communities began to evolve.
Defining Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism
As we enter into the topic of South Asia today, it is important that the terms Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism are clearly defined.
Communalism in South Asia can be defined in basic terms as “religion vs. nationality” overlapping with ethnicity. It often involves the use of religion for political mobilization and involves horrible acts against civilians such as dehumanization, genocide, torture, and ethnic oppression. Beliefs that all people from the same religion have common secular interests exist in communalism along with intolerance of diversity. Militancy, as it is observed in South Asia, can be defined by examining the specific groups in the region who are aggressive and rapidly active in support of a specific cause or movement. These groups are also usually engaged in some type of warfare or battle to promote and implement their movements. Militancy corresponds with Terrorism which more specifically pertains to the actual acts of terror, violence, intimidation and control militants use to fuel their movements.
Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism in present day South Asia
It is evident from examining South Asia’s political and ethnical past that communalism, militancy and terrorism are constantly growing factors in the social and economic developments of the region. Each country in the area has its own unique examples of this, however the effects and consequences always seem to be the same in the end. Understanding each South Asian country’s specific situation currently will allow for grasping how the belligerency and violence effect the region as a whole.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, they would spend the next decade in an insurgency to regain control of Afghanistan. Since then, the ISAF and Afghani forces have made several attempts to defeat the Taliban but have never completely succeeded in doing so. A large part of the blame for the present economic and political situations in Afghanistan can be given to the Taliban and their insurgencies. Throughout the Taliban Era the Afghani population suffered many losses in almost every aspect of life, especially due to the American invasion. With the assistance of the ISAF and donor countries, Afghanistan’s development improved slightly post-Taliban but nowhere near to its full potential. In 2009 the Taliban can be observed forming another government in parts of the country which shows their presence was never fully removed and is still present in Afghanistan today. War related deaths in Afghanistan surpass 90,000 since 2001 and Afghanistan remains one of the poorest nations on the globe. On the 28th of December, 2014, NATO officially closed its operation in Afghanistan. The US is pondering delaying the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan to support the new Afghan government in fighting ISIL and Taliban.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K, Wilayah Khorasan), a branch of the militant Islamist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), declared its commencement in Afghanistan in January 2015 and appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan as its leader. According to a UN report, about 710 ISIL members came to Afghanistan to form the core group there and they have created a pool of 1,000 to 3,000 fighters. According to State Department, it is based on the “Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas and the recruits are mostly former members of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban.”
Sporadic Taliban attacks on the allied and government forces are still going on with the loss of lives. In a January 24, 2016 Press TV report, the Afghan government claimed 3,200 people were killed with another 1,800 wounded in Taliban attacks in 2015 and the report comments that they would step up their attacks in 2016 with increased number of casualties. On January 4th, 2016, terrorists attacked the Indian consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif.
With a current population of over 1.2 billion people and approximately 1,500 languages and ethnic dialects it is clear as to how ethnically diverse India actually is. In India today, quite a bit of communalism can still be observed stemming from some of the issues that have been previously discussed in regards to India’s history. Communalism in India can be directly connected to politics all the way back to the beginning of society after the British colonial era and the Partition in 1947. The issue of Kashmir between Pakistan and India still exists today and it is still a greatly disputed territory. Thousands have been victims of communalism and terrorism as a result of their ethnicity and religious backgrounds. In other areas, basic religious and human rights are denied due to a class system. Secularization is affected by communalist emotions. Nationalist ideologies in politics are also contributing. Controversial roles of police in dealing with militancy and terrorism e.g. there are reports on the dubious roles of the Gujarat Police in the incidents of Muslim massacre in 2002. ‘Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011’ to combat communalism in India failed to pass in the parliament.
Pro-independence Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) was founded in 1977. One group of Kashmiri wanted independence the other union with Pakistan who provided moral and diplomatic support. The winning mujahideen in Afghanistan with the arms and ammunitions left by the Soviet infiltrated into Kashmir while India alleged that Pakistan Military supplied arms and provided training to the mujahideen.
From January to May 1999, General Musharrof, the then Pakistan Army Chief presumably without sharing their complete plan invaded Kashmir and captured a chunk of Indian occupied Kashmir at Kargil may be from their unhappiness of capturing the whole Siachen glacier by the Indian forces. This led to a further rift between India and Pakistan. Pakistan’s Army was forced to leave Kargil for disconnection of supply lines and pressure from the USA.
Examples of communalism, sectarian violence or riots and discrimination and degradation of dalits are common in India. The minorities there feel more vulnerable in the presence of an extremely right wing political party in the central government of India.
Currently, India has enough on its plate to deal with in regards to communalism and sectarian intolerance in addition to the major terrorist threat generated from Kashmir conflict. In addition to Kashmir issue, it has been dealing with separatists in the North-Eastern states. Another important issue is Maoist insurgency in the deprived indigenous people’s regions of the country e.g. Jharkhand.
It is being observed that under the BJP’s rule since their winning the General Elections in 2014, the minorities feel insecure. The politics of separatism and intolerance has gained currency rather than creating unity and brotherhood among the minority and vulnerable indigenous and dalit communities under the incumbent regime. There was also a huge rise in Communal violence ahead of the 2014 elections.
The Social structure of India is based on a caste system that puts groups into hierarchical categories. Higher caste members of the society have greater social status than people of the lower caste. Though law prohibits discrimination based on caste, the system prevails significantly especially regarding marriage. A 2005 survey found that 11 percent women married men from different castes.
Manusmriti, Sanskrit texts on Hindu law, written between 200 BCE and 200 CE, widely respected as the most important and authoritative book, “acknowledges and justifies the caste system as the basis of order and regularity of society”. (BBC)
The system has ancient roots. Two million BC Sanskrit texts tells about the practice of dividing people into social groups based on “varnas” which suggests colour also. Four main classes in descending order are: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras. According to Indian Mythology, these groups were created from the mouth, arms, thighs, and feet of an ancient person named Purusha.
The system gradually became more complex coalescing into Chatuvarnya which was strengthened by the British Raj and it still persists. There are more than 3,000 castes in India and even more the sub-castes. The most significant ones are: the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, the Shudras, the Adivasi, and the Dalits.
Communalism is still widespread in Pakistan, especially in Baluchistan and the Northern Border and the areas that surround them. A vast amount of fighting has erupted between the Shias and Sunnis, the Baluchis and Punjabis and between other groups, such as the Taliban and Jamaat-e-Islami. Religious nationalism is still a common ideology. Pakistan is still in a cold war with India over Kashmir where the long-time fight between the two countries is still a very harsh reality. The Taliban also has a strong presence in Pakistan’s Punjab Province (Tanveer, Allbritton and Popeski). There have been several accusations in the media recently of banned organizations being allowed to operate under different names. When looking at the year 2015 alone it can be seen that communalism, militancy and terrorism still exist in Pakistan today. On the 30th of January 2015 at least 60 people were killed in bomb blasts in Shikarpur. On February 13th, 2015 20 people were killed in an attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar. May 13th, 2015 43 Shia Ismailis were killed in a bus attack in Karachi. Political parties seem to be failing to stop communal attacks based on religion and ethnicity. On July 29th, 2015 Malik Ishaq was killed due to pressure from the public and the media to punish sectarian militants. On the 16th of August 2015 Punjab home Minister Shuja Khanzada was killed in a terrorist attack. The Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi islamist group has claimed thousands of lives in terror attacks and killings of Shia Muslims in Pakistan. North Waziristan has also long been considered a high terrorism area as it stands currently.
There are several separatism and sectarianism issues that are still in operation in Pakistan. The conflicts and violence between Shia, Sunni and Ahmadia are rife there. And several Islamic religious institutions have been producing people with the ideology of Taliban and help exporting to other countries of the region.
The Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL) is also said to have begun to make its presence felt in Pakistan. For example, according to Superintendent of Police of the Counter Terrorism Department of Sindh’s police force, Omar Khattab, Islamist militants linked to the Islamic State were behind the May 2015 Safoora Goth incident, in which 43 Ismaili Shia people were killed; it was one of the most significant sectarian killings in Pakistan in recent years. (Zahid)
Discrimination with the ethnic people and regions has come to a severe state in Pakistan, the case of Balochistan is one of the prominent ones. Their demand for equal development and treatment have been denied. Their leaders were brutally tortured and killed.
There are allegations from the Hindu communities worldwide that the small group of Pakistani Hindu population are being persecuted and forced to convert or face brutal consequences in the hands of local thugs. According to 1998 census, there were 2.5 million Hindu living in Pakistan. As an example, the case of a Hindu businessman from Sindh may be shared. He needs to pay extortion money on a monthly basis to ensure the safety of his wife and daughter. (TNS, May 25, 2014) The Christians and Ahmadias are not spared also. There are even reports of excavating and vandalizing their graveyards.
The people of Balochistan province feel economic and political deprivation and they want autonomy from Pakistan. Resources of the province are exploited but little are the people are getting.
Gen. Ziaur Rahman allowed religion based politics after capturing power in 1976 which was banned earlier by the Awami League government after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Since 1971 there has been a growing trend among the Hindu population leaving Bangladesh for India unofficially resulting in significant decline of Hindu population from 18.5 percent 1961 and 13.5 percent in 1974 to 8.5 percent in 2011.
While the nation’s vast majority is Muslim, there are Buddhists, Hindus and several other minorities and ethnicities living within its borders. The rise of Daesh or ISIS in the Middle East and the launch of Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent have helped revive militant groups in Bangladesh such as Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). Groups such as these have an undeniable desire to enforce extreme Islamic law in Bangladesh. Many of these militant groups have begun to pledge allegiance to Daesh since its 2014 declaration of the ‘caliphate’ and some even have direct links to the dangerous terrorist networks. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) and Ansar al Islam Bangladesh are also up and coming militant groups that threaten terrorism in Bangladesh.
There was a rife of militancy in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) which have fortunately been resolved through the CHT Peace Accord, 1997 between Bangladesh Government and Parbottyo Chattogram Jonosonghoti Somity (PCJSS). Still there is an opposition to the Peace Accord in CHT led by UPDF, an indigenous sectarian group when the Accord has not yet been fully implemented.
Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh came into operation in the late 1990s in Bangladesh starting its militant activities to transform Bangladesh into an Islamic Sharia based nation. Successive governments of Bangladesh have been able to deal with them and neutralised them to a great extent. In recent times Ansarullah Bangla Team claimed responsibility of killing several bloggers and free thinkers. The cases are yet to be resolved finding out the leaders of the operatives.
There were no large scale sectarian violence occurred since its independence in 1971 but still there were some. Important among them are: attacking temples in the aftermath of demolishing Babri mosque in India, after winning National Elections, 2001 by Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is famed to use religion in the politics in collaboration with few other Islamist parties including Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, and there was a recent incident of attacks on the Rakhaine community and their temples in Patuakhali and Barguna for taking away their land property by some local miscreants.
Today in Sri Lanka, tensions between the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims still exist. In 2014 Muslim shops and houses were stormed by organized Buddhist attackers in the Aluthgama and Beruwala areas. 3 Muslim youth in a fight with a Buddhist monk BBS rally took place. On June 22 2014, a large Muslim retail clothing outlet was burned down in Panadura. Campaign by the Sinhalese to ban halal foods lead to the destruction of another popular garment chain. Discrimination against Muslims for wearing the niqab and hijab. 6 years after Sri Lanka’s civil war widespread ethnical communalism can still be seen. For example the Tamils in war ravaged Jaffa are still suffering. Farmers are being deprived access to their land and efforts to rebuild the area are slow moving due to financial reasons, even water can be considered a luxury in Jaffa. Alleged war crimes from the Sri Lankan war are also currently being investigated. Accusations have been made saying the 2015 election was dominated by corruption and authoritarianism.
The Effects of Communalism, Militancy and Terrorism on South Asian Society
It is now definitely evident that communalism, militancy and terrorism have played a major role in the underdevelopment in South Asia. Because of this, most countries in the region are facing unbearable consequences such as extreme poverty, social inequality, religious and ethnic intolerance, poor infrastructure and trade within the region’s nations, very high unemployment rates, poor quality of life, unstable political systems and irrelevant judicial systems. While this sub-continent is rich in its vast natural resources lack of desire to negotiate on common issues collectively, often for communal reasons, shatters all chances for faster, more efficient development in the area in the future. Sadly, the victims of these tragedies are usually innocent civilians.
Afghanistan has suffered more than most of the word’s nations since its independence. The Western invasion of Afghanistan led by the United States has causes that trace directly back to terrorism and militancy groups with communal ideologies such as the Taliban. Citizens of present day Afghanistan are facing the consequences of war and will for many years to come. Afghanistan may be able to build itself faster and more efficiently if it were to improve relations with the rest of the South Asian countries.
More recently in India, after the throne of Delhi was taken over by the BJP in 2014, sectarian tensions have been increased. The people of India should ponder to ameliorate the situation for the sake of the development of the people not of India but South Asia as an integrated community. Millions are living unnecessarily in poverty due to the lack of development.
In Pakistan, religious nationalism can be used as a synonym for communalism; however even with the majority sharing the same religion, different sectors are still not able to get along. This is paving the way for up and coming militant movements of terrorism. Due to Pakistan’s redundant tensions with several South Asian countries, it is unable to develop at the level it should.
Bangladesh too faces more and more threats of up and coming militant movements and acts of terrorism by Islamist extremists. The lack of a strong opposition in parliament also contributes to the violence, under development and poverty in the country.
A small group of fundamentalists in their religious belief with twisted mindset in present day Bangladesh believe in communalism. And there are some influential opportunists who eye the land and the property of the vulnerable minorities. There are a few Islamic parties who exploits religion for political gain. After the emergence of Gono Jagoron Monch, several bloggers and free thinkers have been killed. The killers often claimed that they are ISIS but the government threw away their claims. Often we learn that ammunitions and fundamental idealistic printed materials are found from the hiding of the Islamist activists. The law enforcement agencies so far have failed to arrest or identify the real people behind the heinous crimes of killing the free thinkers and funding the operatives.
Twenty six years of Sri Lankan civil war was a severe effect of communalism in South Asia. The Sinhalese and Tamil in Sri Lanka are yet to get along as fellow citizens that can contribute to an integrated society. Militancy generated from the idea of establishing Islamic sharia based nations are eating up the development prospects of several countries in the region with the severity prevailed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Areas in South Asian nations ravished by war are facing economic and political issues in rebuilding their cities, towns or villages. Lack of funding from various sources due to communalistic ideologies are leaving many without the necessary means of life.
Possible solutions for a new and improved South Asia
- First and foremost, all differences in religion and ethnicity must be put aside along with compromise and peaceful diplomatic negotiation in regards to any conflicts and issues within the area. The secularization of all states is necessary for further economic, political and social growth. Talks between nations about lower trade costs and the sharing of natural resources within the region are also necessary.
- Religion based politics should be banned from all the countries of South Asia to secure peaceful conditions for living and cooperation amongst themselves for a healthy, prosperous and vibrant society. People to people interaction and movement should be free to build understanding and confidence.
- All possible channels of communication should be enhanced and opened for smooth movement of people, goods and services resulting in optimum trading between the countries of South Asia.
- The SAARC should play a greater role in smoothing up the free visa regime, along with communication and cooperation among the member states. To achieve this, Pakistan may either be kept aside from talks until bilateral issues between India and Pakistan can be worked out or they may proceed while keeping the Kashmir issue aside to progress on other fronts. But to attain the latter goal, they must build confidence among each other first, as the author believes.
- Confidence building measures are necessary between the Tamil and Sinhalese to have an integrated Sri Lanka that may contribute to a vibrant South Asian society.
- The system of caste among the Hindus should go away. Though this is not legal now, it is still widely accepted by the communities especially in India. Religious, social and political leaders must play greater roles in resolving the issue to make a vibrant South Asia.
- Eradication of poverty and distribution of wealth are important issues to be addressed along with treating each of the communities and individuals with dignity by the government and the community leaders.
- The complete exclusion of all abuse of religious identities for political goals is also important for South Asia’s future. The media’s role in this too needs to be ended so the people can develop their own beliefs and mindsets towards their lives and the governments they want ruling their states.
- Growth of population should be brought to zero for better development of the living people and for society to flourish.
The complicated situation in South Asia, largely stemming from communalism, militancy and terrorism, is very complex and even more so are the answers to the questions of a better future in the region. The tensions, violence, and aggressiveness will only continue to increase the anguish for many South Asians if these major political and economic quandaries do not get resolved. Cooperation and acceptance of religions and ethnic groups along with secularism in all countries are two of the key elements for further economic, political and social progress on the Indian subcontinent. Even though the tasks at hand may appear to be tremendously unachievable, all nations must somehow find a way to obtain a desire to set aside their cultural and religious differences or the overall development of the region will only continue to spiral downwards. The current circumstances with communalism in South Asia have created the perfect environment for militant groups and terrorism to thrive and as the population of South Asia continues to swell, so do the levels of poverty and underdevelopment. It is unjustifiable for innocent human beings to be deprived of their basic needs for living daily life for any reason and the people deserve imminent solutions. The inquiry of concord should no longer be responded to with ferocity and bigotry but instead with an open mind for tolerance and a greater aspiration for a new and improved quality of life for the worthy citizens of South Asia.
The authors M Masud Hossain Khan is a writer, editor and a development professional and Carrie Domitin is a freelance writer from Canada. They may be communicated at [email protected]
Note: This article was published in the Daily Kalerkantha English online.