The Transatlantic Policy Network on Religion & Diplomacy (TPNRD) has released a new report on Pandemic Politics in South Asia. Authored by Matt Nelson, currently based in the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, the report argues that the coronavirus pandemic has not initiated new trends in the Muslim politics of South Asia but has instead fostered more intense versions of already-familiar challenges.
The challenges highlighted in the report include Hindu majoritarianism and Muslim marginalization in India, restricted civil liberties and demographic restructuring in Kashmir, anti-state protest and military encroachment in Pakistan, and Taliban mainstreaming in Afghanistan. What began as a quantitative shift—more events of greater intensity—has shifted towards a qualitative change: a decline in the quality of democracy.
Nelson finds that this decline in the quality of democracy is tied to uneven, segmented patterns of state legitimacy in South Asia, particularly with respect to socially and politically marginalized Muslims (India and Kashmir) or particular groups of Muslims (Pakistan and Afghanistan). Legitimacy gaps in elected regimes often undermine the capacity of those regimes to confront global challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Beyond the marginalization and securitization of Muslims, South Asian states have also turned to legal provisions that suspend democratic norms to deal with emergency conditions, using public-health justifications to replace restrictions usually based on public order. This has further reduced the quality of democracy in South Asia.
Nelson presented this paper at a recent virtual meeting of the TPNRD.