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BRIEFER: Converging Risks in South Asia: Is a Disruptive Transition on the Horizon?

SarangShidoreTNBy Sarang Shidore

South Asia spans multiple countries that were formerly either directly or effectively a component of British India. These include India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives. The subcontinent has had a traumatic history in modern times. Political partition in the wake of independence from colonial rule in 1947 left enormous death in its wake, particularly in the northwestern part of the region. Major conflicts such as the 1971 India-Pakistan war (which birthed the new state of Bangladesh) and bloody civil wars in Sri Lanka and Nepal added to suffering in the region. In addition, democracy has often been on the defensive in South Asia, with Pakistan experiencing multiple military coups and Bangladesh and India going through shorter authoritarian spells in the 1970s and 80s.

With a population of nearly 1.3 billion, India lies at the geographic and demographic core of South Asia. India’s future, perhaps more than that of any other country in the region, is likely to affect the rest of South Asia. The other countries of the region are also critical for regional security. Pakistan and Bangladesh have a combined population of close to 400 million, but often get less attention, namely because of the presence of their massive neighbor, India. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, though much smaller, impact the region in more subtle but important ways. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, the major historical challenges South Asia has faced are being magnified by a complex set of risks. These include earth systems risk (such as climate change and pandemics), economic risk, governance risk, and inter-state conflict risk; the latter also with a dangerous nuclear dimension. Moreover, two external and competing major powers are playing a growing role in South Asia’s future – the United States and China – with complex and uncertain impacts on security.

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