Of terror, violence and political unrest | South Asia in 2023

Social tensions and domestic unrest continued to challenge the subcontinent with a surge in  terrorism and violence in the year gone by. For many South Asian countries, 2023 was dominated by either elections or campaigning, as it was an election year or the penultimate year before elections. Amidst these political developments, the region continued to face challenges ranging from economic and political instability to humanitarian crises. A look at the major developments —

Pakistan | A year of crisis for economy, politics, security

The Pakistani rupee hit an all-time low, crossing the PKR 300 mark against the US dollar in August 2023. The country’s foreign reserves with the State Bank of Pakistan (SPB) also dropped to an alarming level — at $3.1 billion in January 2023. The Islamic nation finally reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF on a $3 billion “nine-month Stand-by Arrangement (SBA)”.

In May 2023, the country saw the arrest of a key political leader — Imran Khan. He was accused of corruption, unlawfully selling gifts from foreign dignitaries and leaking state secrets among several other charges. Khan was disqualified from contesting the upcoming general elections in Pakistan.

Massive protests and violence had followed Imran Khan’s dramatic arrest in Islamabad. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI) announced that its founder and jailed leader would contest the 2024 general elections from at least three seats despite his arrest.

Former PM Nawaz Sharif ended his four-year-long self-imposed exile in October.

In another dramatic move, former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan in October 2023 after a four-year self-imposed exile to lead his party in the general elections. Sharif is again gearing up to contest the 2024 elections from the Mansehra region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Several terror and suicide bombing incidents rocked Pakistan this year. At least 271 militant attacks took place in Pakistan during the first half of 2023, resulting in the loss of 389 lives and injuring 656 individuals.

Three earthquakes hit Afghanistan in the month of October alone.

Afghanistan | 2 years after Taliban takeover

Afghanistan continues to grapple with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. In 2023, a staggering 28.3 million people – or two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population – required urgent humanitarian assistance to survive. Over 17 million people faced acute hunger in 2023, including 6 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity – one step away from famine.

To add to its woes, three catastrophic earthquakes struck western Afghanistan in the month of October alone, including one 6.3-magnitude on 7th, one 6.3-magnitude on 11th and a 6.4-magnitude earthquake on 15th. Almost 1,400 people are reported to have been killed in the first two major earthquakes.

Taliban authorities have continued to deny women and girls their rights, including to education, work, movement, and assembly.

Thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan were evicted as part of the country’s campaign to expel all ‘illegal’ foreigners in the country. The move has largely been seen as one targeting around 1.7 million undocumented Afghans in the country. As of December 26, up to 500,000 Afghans have already been expelled.

Violent street clashes were witnessed in the poll-bound country.

Bangladesh | A year of turbulence

The nation’s politics was extremely volatile throughout the year in anticipation of the general elections of January 7, 2024. Violent street clashes between police and protestors, and between activists from both incumbent and opposition parties, rose alongside widespread arrests of opposition leaders and demonstrators. The government scrapped the controversial Digital Security Act and replaced it with a new law called the Cyber Security Act, which will reportedly limit freedom of expression.

Nepal | Setting the bilaterals right

Nepal witnessed much-needed political stability this year that enabled Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to focus on improving relations with its two important neighbors – India and China – even as he faced the regular staple of Himalayan problems – earthquakes, corruption scandals, and air crashes.

India emerged as the strongest ally of the island nation.

Sri Lanka | On the road to economic recovery

Sri Lanka’s economy showed signs of stabilisation in 2023 after the worst economic and political crisis since its independence in 1948. The remarkable change during 2023 can be traced to decisive policies by President Ranil Wickremasinghe’s new government, formed in July 2022, after mass protests forced then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign. The country is set to go to polls in September this year. India again emerged as a steadfast ally of Colombo, playing a pivotal role in the debt-trapped island nation’s steady economic recovery.

Bhutan and The Maldives

In the tiny landlocked kingdom of Bhutan, the first round of National Assembly elections took place on November 30, 2023. This will culminate in a runoff between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) scheduled for January 9, 2024.

In the Maldives’ presidential elections on September 30, Mohamed Muizzu of the People’s National Congress (PNC), in alliance with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), emerged victorious

Images courtesy of theprint.in, livemint.com, X@VOANews, bdnews24.com and X@narendramodi

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