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Securing A Peaceful South Asia

Prithvi Ram Mudiam

South Asia, in geographical terms, is one of the most clearly delineated regions in the world with the Himalayas in the North and the Indian Ocean on the other three sides. Historically, the region enjoyed a modicum of unity under the Mauryan, Mughal and British Empires and can boast of some sort of cultural similarity and affinity, if not, unity. Nevertheless, as one scholar put it, South Asia remained a ‘region without regionalism’. India’s overwhelming presence in the region, the fears of India’s smaller neighbours of India’s cultural absorption if not military conquest, bilateral disputes among states of the region and the negative role of extra-regional powers are some of the major reasons cited to explain this curious phenomenon. However, the rise of transnational terrorism, the nuclearization of the region and its increasing attractiveness as a huge market in the emergent global economy brought South Asia back into international focus in the years following the end of the Cold War.   The book under review, apart from an introduction, has three important parts which focus on democratization, peace and security and regional cooperation in South Asia. It avers that the discourse in the region on these critical issues has been dominated by a ‘state-led’ framework which has often neglected the ‘people’. (p. vii).   Kanti Bajpai argues in favour of democracy in South Asia though the process of democratization in the medium term could be destabilizing and create uncertainties. Democratic states do not normally fight each other (though they are prone to conflict with non-democracies) and democratization of South Asia could create a regional environment conducive to relative peace. Democratization could also lead to more harmonious societies within the South Asian states by creating a more participatory and egalitarian domestic milieu which, in turn, could contribute to regional peace and stability. He defines democracy as a political order where people can choose their leaders and hold them accountable for their actions and also in which people enjoy basic civic and cultural freedoms. However, he identifies inequalities, hyper-nationalism, emergencies and calamities and great power interference as four major threats to democratization in South Asia.   Sumaiya Khair points out that ‘arbitrariness in governance, absence of accountability, impartiality and transparency in decision making, partisan and weak law enforcement and a confrontational political culture’ have impeded the democratization process in Bangladesh. Political parties are personality-oriented, lack inner-party democracy and characterized by centralization and ...

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