The inaugural edition of SA Perspectives highlights some of the major challenges facing countries throughout the South Asian region and provides suggestions for U.S. policymakers looking to balance support for democracy and human rights with geopolitical interests in the Indian Ocean Region. Common threads include the assault on press freedoms across the region as well as increasing trends towards authoritarianism. While the Biden Administration’s public commitment towards promoting democracy and human rights has elevated hopes in the region that these trends can be reversed, observers also point out that alternative approaches presented by China and Russia could frustrate American human rights initiatives. Policy makers in Washington and like-minded capitals will need to carefully balance incentives and sanctions available to influence developments in the region, while recognizing that some problems will likely prove resistant to even the best designed and implemented outside efforts.
On a micro level, our authors highlight the real impact that these anti-democratic trends are having on South Asia’s citizens, whether they be: journalists in India and Bangladesh; women and girls seeking education and employment opportunities in Afghanistan; those suffering from power outages as a legacy of decades of poor governance in Pakistan; or the victims of government excesses in Sri Lanka. In addition to governments and individual citizens, a survey of developments in the region highlights the important role being played by civil society groups. As we consider the future of the countries in the region it is important to keep in mind the role being played by those on the front lines of the struggle for human rights and democracy.
One key takeaway from reading these South Asian perspectives presented in our inaugural edition is the importance of the coming year as policy makers and citizens prepare for elections and face critical political and economic challenges. In future editions, we look forward to presenting a variety of perspectives on developments in the subcontinent. We hope you enjoy reading the articles contained in this issue and encourage you to engage with the arguments contained herein.