At South Asian Voices, we pride ourselves on publishing diverse perspectives from across the subcontinent on important and often contentious issues related to the politics, security, and economics of South Asia. Below are the SAV editorial team’s top picks of 2021:
The Political Role of Sufi Mystics in Afghanistan
Fizza Batool, September 14
Fizza Batool charts a history of the political role Sufis have played in Afghanistan in light of the August U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover of Kabul. She observes that Western actors have long misinterpreted Sufism—a tolerant, mystical form of Islam that emphasizes inner purification and rejection of the self—as more aligned, in its political form, with liberal democratic ideology than with Taliban-style theocracy. Batool argues that Sufi orders could influence a Taliban-led government to embrace a more tolerant, pluralist, and accommodative approach towards cultural practices while still rejecting secularism and supporting a religious role in public life. Her analysis is timely as the Taliban seeks internal political legitimacy and international recognition while purporting to have moderated its repressive ideology.
How the CAA Shapes India’s Afghan Refugee Response
Rushali Saha, November 19
Rushali Saha examines how the Citizenship Amendment Act hamstrings India’s ability to lead responses to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The CAA—which lays out religious criteria for Indian citizenship—is a cornerstone of government-led Hindu majoritarian politics that seek to reshape India’s national identity. Saha wisely notes how the CAA bridges domestic identity politics and foreign policy, arguing that India cannot play a leadership role in South Asia via “neighborhood first” if it discriminates against Muslims seeking refuge from conflict. Her analysis also points to how fragile and interwoven borders, religious, and national identity are in a region experiencing major internal and external migrations.
Hazaras in Afghanistan Face Genocide Post-US Withdrawal
Jumakhan Rahyab and Meena Yakobi, August 6
Written as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was ongoing, Jumakhan Rahyab and Meena Yakobi detail the potential genocidal consequences of a Taliban-led Afghanistan for the Hazara ethnic minority. After chronicling the historical pattern of violence that the Hazaras have faced in Afghanistan, Rahyab and Yakobi make a powerful case for why the international community should exercise their power to prevent further ethnic cleansing. Though their analysis was published before the Taliban assumed control in Afghanistan, their arguments ring all the truer for Afghanistan today.
In this series, SAV authors from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka write about how their respective countries can and should adopt a gender-conscious approach in their foreign affairs and geopolitics. These analyses went beyond the conventional narratives of standard strategic issues in South Asia, from Avasna Pandey’s discussion of gendered citizenship in Nepal to Zainab Najeeb’s exploration of Begum Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan’s diplomatic career to model present-day policies for Pakistan. In particular, Sharanya Sekaram’s application of a Feminist Foreign Policy in Sri Lanka highlights how intersectional approaches are necessary for effective post-war transitional justice. This series provided fresh takes on ongoing issues in the region and creative policy proposals to tackle them.
Reflections From Afghanistan
August 20-November 5
It was—and is—impossible to understand the desperation needed to latch on to a moving plane. But as Afghans fell from the sky in August, their families lived on with horror, with the nation anxious about what their future holds under Taliban rule. South Asian Voices provided a space for Afghan contributors to reflect on their country’s past, present, and future during a momentous transitionary epoch through a series on “Reflections from Afghanistan.” The reflections we received—from students, ex-government officials, public sector employees, and an anonymous contributor—were sobering reminders of who stands to lose—and gain—from the fallout of, and response to, the aftermath of the longest war waged in the past two centuries.
Climate, Water, and Conflict in Pakistan
Faiqa Mahmood and Jumaina Siddiqui, January 21
Faiqa Mahmood and Jumaina Siddiqui discuss how the commodification of water by the landowning class, a lack of implementation of existing laws, and the disproportionate effects of climate change in South Asia leave millions of Pakistanis in peril. They argue that domestic legal frameworks are moving in the right direction by making it illegal for landowners to extract groundwater underneath their land—although implementation remains an operational challenge. They warn that the situation is ripe for resource-related domestic conflict as climate change threatens more and more Pakistanis by the day. The strength of their essay lies in the recognition that security is not limited to protection from external adversaries, strategic maneuvers, and large militaries–but contingent on the resolution of pre-existing domestic fault lines that strike at the very core of what it means to survive.
This series, run in April 2021, features analytical responses to Nina Tannenwald’s Stimson Center policy paper: “23 Years of Nonuse: Does the Nuclear Taboo Constrain India and Pakistan?” In the series, former senior analyst in the U.S. intelligence community Harry Hannah expands on Tannenwald’s argument, looking at the role that informal institutional relationships between the United States and the USSR in the Cold War played in strengthening the taboo, and the concerning lack of similar institutional interactions between India and Pakistan. Manpreet Sethi presents an optimistic view of the nuclear taboo’s strength, arguing that the taboo has been and will continue to be a constraining factor for India and Pakistan. Sannia Abdullah, meanwhile, stresses the factors—including nationalism and warmongering—that have continued to make escalation more likely.
Social Violence: The Making of Mob Terrorism in Pakistan and the Jim Crow-Era United States
Ejaz Haider, December 15
In this article, Ejaz Haider looks at the drivers of mob violence in response to blasphemy allegations in Pakistan and during the Jim Crow era United States. Using these two case studies, Haider explores the devastating impacts of violence that is concealed within existing democratic systems. “The basic methodology of mob violence is the same,” he notes, “Someone commits a real or imagined social transgression—like Aasia Bibi drinking water, or Kumara allegedly tearing off a sticker—and they are mobbed or forced to flee the country. To those who remain the message is clear: if you transgress an imaginary and arbitrarily defined boundary you will be mobbed, exiled, beaten, or otherwise subjected to unbearable social and legal sanctions.”
Strategic Stability & Restraint in South Asia and India’s Strategic Challenges and Prospects for CBMs in South Asia Brigadier Imran Hassan and Lt. Gen Balraj Singh Nagal, July 22 – November 5
SAV’s mission since its founding in 2013 has been to push for frank and constructive dialogue on strategic issues in Southern Asia. Brigadier Imran Hassan (Pakistan) and Lt. Gen. Balraj Singh Nagal (India)’s perspectives on deterrence, each state’s threat perceptions, regional dynamics involving the rise of China, as well as prospects for future confidence-building mechanisms in South Asia do exactly that. While these conversations can often be difficult and contentious, Brigadier Hassan’s and Lt. Gen. Nagpal’s articles reveal the importance of clear-eyed assessments that advance nuanced understanding of the region and highlight room (even if limited) for risk reduction.
India’s New Consulates and Subnational Diplomacy in South Asia
Constantino Xavier and Nitika Nayar, August 31
As part of SAV’s joint series on subnational diplomacy with 9DashLine, Constantino Xavier and Nikita Nayar discuss the impact of India’s thirteen new consulates in its immediate neighborhood, reflecting its expanding capacity, role, and interests in the region. They outline how these efforts further India’s economic diplomacy, connectivity, development cooperation, and community engagement efforts in the region. Xavier and Nayar’s piece is the kind of granular, empirical, data-based research we need to improve our understanding of the region and to push for effective and informed policy decisions.
Image: Stuart Rankin via Flickr