South Asia: The road ahead in 2021

Feature by South Asia Center    Atlantic Council

Related Experts: Irfan Nooruddin, Harris A. Samad

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Light illuminates a mountain range above the valley during sunset in Kathmandu, Nepal REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

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By Irfan Nooruddin

At long last, the year that seemed like it might never end is in the history books. While the record-breaking development of multiple safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is grounds for optimism that 2021 will be better—admittedly a very low bar after the year just completed—the shadow of 2020 is likely to loom large over the coming year for South Asia, which faces unprecedented economic challenges, deterioration of democratic norms and institutions, and the existential threat of climate change. Those challenges are hardly new, of course, but the last year starkly revealed just how unprepared and unable South Asia’s governments were to tackle them, causing tremendous suffering and distress for its almost two billion residents. Across South Asia’s capitals, intense scrutiny will be trained on Washington, DC to see how President-elect Joe Biden’s administration approaches the region. Will the United States advance more meaningful engagement with South Asia on its own terms, will its strategy be shaped by a narrower desire to counter China’s growing power, or will a United States traumatized by the pandemic and its brush with authoritarianism turn inward to heal its wounds? Chastened by 2020, a year we honestly confess we did not see coming, we do not pretend to know the answers to these questions, though we can say this: For South Asia’s almost two billion people, the need for humane, capable governance—domestic, regional, and global—is immediate and imperative. The year 2020 made clear that politics as usual are not good enough; the onus on the political class is to show that it can redeem itself in 2021.

Click here to read the South Asia Center’s 2020 midyear update on these governance issues and more.


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