Security and Governance in South Asia
Dr Amit Prakash ·       

This book, edited by one of India?s leading security analysts, underlines that the concept of ?security? has evolved from its realpolitik connotations to include non-military and internal threats to a country. Chari notes that intra-state conflicts, rooted in persisting and sharpening ?ethnic, religious, communal and linguistic asymmetries? (p. 10), far outnumber inter-state conflicts world wide. The same is also true of South Asia. Besides, factors such as political polarisation of society along ascriptive lines, centralisation of power and the problems of socio-economic development add to the crises in the region. He therefore, offers a conceptual framework wherein ?non-military and newer threats to security? are encapsulated by concepts such as governance, human security and humane governance, and involve balancing the needs of state and human security.

Amena Moshin?s contribution, while offering a succinct overview of the political processes in Bangladesh since 1971, argues that factors such as Islamisation of Bangladesh, state-led creation of a Bangladeshi identity-based nationalism, partisan role of the administration, police and the electoral machinery, elitist nature of Bangladeshi public life, under-representation of various social segments in the national political life, etc., has led to an acute polarization in the polity and society. A combination of these processes had led to a situation in which ?the state, through its own actions, has jeopardized the basic security of its minorities, both ethnic and religious? (p. 31). Besides, the misgovernance of Bangladesh is compounded by the growing militarization of public life, which adds to the threats to human security in that country.

The paper by Meenakshi Gopinath examines the recasting of Nehruvian secularism and development paradigm since the 1980s and argues for engendering both, security and governance. She argues that contemporary discourse on security is inadequate to capture the vast gamut of threats to internal security from new factors and in the process, questions the false dichotomy of internal security and external security, while stressing the centrality of the paradigm of human security with the human person being the primary referent, not the state. Gopinath offers an adroit narrative of the main contours of the political process since the 1980s wherein democracy, cultural rights, community conflicts, Hindutva, and caste politics have combined with the paradigm of alternative development to offer an entirely new framework for the analysis of secularism, development and national security. The emergent analysis furthers the boundaries of social science understanding of these issues.

Lok Raj Baral addresses the inter-connections between plural society, governance and security in Nepal. He offers a historical overview of the Nepalese polity and stresses that the plurality of Nepalese social sphere is not reflected in the political sphere, leading to questions about depth of democracy and representation. Baral points to the lack of commitment on the part of the elite for respecting democratic norms and the entrenched feudalistic and vested interests. The slow progress of economic development and economic disparities within Nepal further compounds the problems, leading to undermining of human security in Nepal.

Shahrukh Rafi Khan examines the efforts at decentralization of power in Pakistan and examines the rationale behind devolution of power to the lowest tiers in terms of Hayek?s economic logic for decentralization. He delineates upon the limitations of the present model of decentralization, before offering an alternative five-tier model for decentralization for Pakistan, based on the principle of subsidiarity. While the model offered must be tested in the empirical reality of Pakistan, unfortunately, Khan sees decentralization as a means to an end, the end being higher efficiency. He does not recognize the political empowerment role of decentralization and in that sense, his model and analysis is dissonant with the framework of governance.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu?s paper squarely (and correctly) locates the concept of governance within the realm of the political and tries to correlate governance, ethnic conflict and security ? a linkage that is presumed but not been articulated clearly. Saravanamuttu examines the political process in Sri Lanka and argues that instead of being a nation-state, Sri Lanka is a state-nation implying the central role that state has been playing in the creation of a nation. The state-led and defined paradigm of collective goals, along with political populism, has led to a concentration of power at various levels leading to shrinkage of political space for plural politics. While offering a crisp narrative of the Tamil ethnic politics, Saravanamuttu argues for institutionalization of plurality and diversity for the resolution of the security dilemmas in Sri Lanka.


The concluding chapter by Chari collates the various threads offered in the five papers. He points out to a ?civilizational unity? whereby all the four South Asian countries studied suffer from ?an inadequacy of the governance process [which] constitutes a major security threat to the security of these states and their people? (p. 160). In this context, Chari identifies the processes of deinstitutionalisation of democratic institutions, alienation of minorities and the rising nexus between corrupt elements in the governing apparatus as the crucial elements causing a crisis of governance.

The major weakness of the volume is the tenuous link between the conceptual paradigm, delineated by Chari in the first chapter, and the analysis by the contributors. As far as the paradigm itself is concerned, the ?container? concepts of governance, human security and humane governance and their mutual inter-linkages have not been unpackaged and critically analysed. Such an effort would have substantially added value to the book. Nevertheless, this book is an important contribution to the literature for offering a non-military approach to security issues and redefining the parameters of security by shifting focus from the state to the individual in a South Asian context.