Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | South Asian Perspectives
May 21 , 2009  |    Washington, DC  ·  Moscow  ·  Beijing  ·  Beirut  ·  Brussels

Editor's Note:

This edition of South Asian Perspectives assesses a momentous fortnight in South Asia. India handed a strong mandate to its oldest political party, Congress. Many expect a stable Indian government to be a boon for the world economy and security in volatile South Asia.

Sri Lanka ended a three-decade civil war, killing the entire Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leadership and its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Pakistani Army moved some of its forces from the Indian border and launched a military offensive in Swat, which many have interpreted as a decisive change of strategy.

Pushpa Kumar Dahal "Prachanda", leader of Nepal's Maoist party, resigned as prime minister after losing support from the Communist Party in a political crisis triggered when he fired the army chief.

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India Chooses Congress

In an unexpected and decisive win, the Indian National Congress won 201 out of 543 seats, the most won by a single party since 1991. No exit polls predicted a win of this magnitude for the Congress and the ruling coalition, United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The resurgence of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, India 's most populous state, and the losses of the BJP and the Left parties in their strongholds were also notable. Many commentators welcomed the emergence of a consolidated coalition after the tortuous policy making that plagued the previous UPA government. Indian stock markets jumped by 11 percent within seconds of opening on May 18, with traders expecting the strong mandate and the defeat of the Left to translate to a renewed push for economic reforms.

Bharat Shining, Congress Smiling, Left Whining

Swaminathan Anklesariya Aiyer attributes Congress' success to strong performance by Indian agriculture in the last five years. Good monsoons, high food prices and rapidly rising incomes generated strong support for Congress-led UPA among the rural poor, known to vote out governments which do not benefit them.


Congress Won Because It Moved to Ideological Center

India can only be governed from the political center, writes Sanjay Baru . The Congress won because it recaptured the center, which it had ceded to the BJP before the 2004 election.

Obligations of the New Mandate

In the last UPA term, coalition partners ran ministry departments independently of the rest of government because the Congress did not have a strong mandate. Harish Khare writes that the Congress' resounding win should lead to a reassertion of the prime minister's authority in the cabinet.

Left is Out But UPA Foreign Policy May Not Swing Right

The Left, which opposed a close India-U.S. relationship when part of government, was decimated in the elections. But this may not necessarily result in a further warming of U.S.-India ties, given India 's fear that Washington's current Beijing policy will strengthen China and negatively impact India, writes Siddharth Varadarajan.

Talking to Pakistan, ASAP

India must engage with Pakistan and restart the peace process halted after the Mumbai attacks, writes the Hindu. The absence of anti-Pakistan rhetoric in the election campaign and Pakistan 's new recognition--demonstrated by its decision to move troops from the Indian border to Swat--that India is not its primary threat make the timing ideal for talks.

Prabhakaran Killed, LTTE Routed

On May 18, Sri Lanka announced that LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran had been shot dead, ending the 26-year-long civil war. While many are celebrating the end of the conflict, the challenges of rehabilitating those displaced by war and reaching a political solution which satisfies aspirations for Tamil self-government remain.

End of the War

The Hindu writes that Sri Lanka defied conventional wisdom by finding a military solution to an armed secessionist movement. Now, it needs to find a political solution which ensures Tamil self-government in Northern Sri Lanka.

Norwegian minister Erik Solheim, who brokered the 2002 peace agreement between Sri Lanka and LTTE, warned that if the Sri Lanka government does not offer self-government to Tamils, “the struggle for Tamil aspirations will find new forms.”

A Monster Laid to Rest

Sri Lanka is too small to divide along ethnic lines, editorializes the Island, rejecting the call for Tamil autonomy within Sri Lanka.

Options For a Post-War Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka should learn from Colombia 's post-conflict experience and create a reconciliation commission, try soldiers involved in human rights abuses, and open up to international scrutiny, recommends Jehan Perea.

Pakistan's Offensive Displaces 1.45 Million

The Pakistani army's offensive in Swat has resulted in a displacement of close to 1.45 million people, a situation Prime Minister Gilani describes as the country's worst refugee crisis since the Partition in 1947. The UN estimates that $455 million is needed to assist the refugees.

Malakand Priorities

I.A. Rehman warns that the people fleeing Swat could become radicalized if the Pakistani government fails to provide employment and social services to them.

More Than Just Militancy

Job creation and economic growth would provide the Pakistani government with the political capital necessary to carry out military offensives despite high humanitarian costs, argues Cyril Almeida.

Kerry Lugar Bill: Still Seeking Control Over Pakistan

Shireen Mazari criticizes the Kerry-Lugar bill for linking aid to Pakistan with its performance against terrorism. The bill also includes provisions which could link aid to revealing the location of nuclear assets, indicating that the United States seeks eventual control of Pakistan 's nuclear arsenal, she writes.

Prachanda Resigns, Madhav Kumar Nepal to be New PM

The simmering political crisis in Nepal came to a head on May 4, when Prime Minister Prachanda resigned. The Maoist-led government lost the support of a key coalition member, UML, over the removal of army chief General Rookmangud Katawal, who opposed the integration of Maoist army units into the Nepali Army. The Maoists have since blocked the formation of a new government under UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has the support of 22 out of 24 Nepali parties, and criticized India in street protests for not supporting Prachanda.

India Should Have Defended Civilian Supremacy in Nepal

In a two-part interview with Siddhartha Vardarajan, Prachanda explained that he fired the army chief as a response to his refusal to integrate Maoists in the army, a “challenge of civilian supremacy”. By not supporting Prachanda's defense of civilian control, India strayed from its tradition of supporting democracy.

Nepal's Maoists Cry Indian Foul Play

India 's frosty relationship with Nepal 's Maoists is linked to Indian fears of the Maoists' growing ties to China, M. V. Bhadrakumar explains. India should overcome this fear because the Maoists are likely to remain a strong political force in Nepal.

Meanwhile, a leaked tape of a January 2008 Prachanda speech is the subject of much speculation about the Maoists’ motives. In the speech, Prachanda said that army integration into the Nepal is only a step towards a full capture of the state. He also boasted about fooling the UN mission in Nepal into believing the Maoist army was much smaller than it actually was.

In the second part of his interview with the Hindu, Prachanda defended his speech saying that he was simply boosting the morale of his troops at the time and the context is different after elections and coming to power.

Reading the Tapes

Pramod Mishra dissects Prachanda's body language in the tape and concludes that he was trying to quell simmering discontent in his troops, not articulating his genuine thoughts.

Karzai Emerges Stronger in Afghanistan

On May 4, President Karzai named Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a Tajik leader, and Karim Khalili, a Hazara leader, as his vice-presidential picks for the Afghan elections to be held in August. With a strengthening of the Karzai ticket and the opposition in disarray, analysts predict an easy win for the incumbent.

Karzai Gains Credibility From Western Criticism

Western criticism has made a second term for President Karzai more likely, explains M.V. Bhadrakumar. Afghans see other presidential candidates as American puppets.

Meeting a Dead End

U.S. airstrikes in the Farah province of Afghanistan killed 147 civilians in the first week of May. The following criticism of the U.S. led to the easing of American pressure on President Karzai during the Trilateral Summit in Washington, writes K.P. Nayar.


Conference: Finding the Right Grand Strategy in Afghanistan, May 12, 2009

On May 12, the Carnegie Endowment hosted a one-day conference on the future prospects for Afghanistan and the region. Said T. Jawad, Afghanistan 's ambassador to the United States, Senator Joseph Lieberman, and a panel of leading regional experts discussed the strategies needed for military success and lasting political stability in Afghanistan, and the challenges facing the international community in Pakistan.

Testimony: Reframing Counter-Narcotics Policy in Afghanistan, April 24,2009

The narcotics industry in Afghanistan and surrounding countries fuels domestic instability and increases the terrorist threat emanating from the region. In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 24, 2009, Fabrice Pothier argued for a regional and multi-faceted solution.

About Us

Produced fortnightly, South Asia Perspectives provides views and opinions from leading South Asian media and policy circles. Visit the Carnegie South Asia website for further information and resources. We welcome comments and suggestions. Please write to the Editor at

Editor: Ashesh Prasann, Junior Fellow, South Asia Program.
Assistant Editor: Mary Kate Aylaward, Communications.

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