Region : General, know your place

Southasian generals nowadays seem to be present more in government secretariats than in barracks. And they are there not to listen to elected civilian bosses, but to displace them, or, alternatively, to exercise behind-the-scenes control. The messily evolving political processes in almost every country of the region certainly offer them opportunities to do so. But the history of Southasia has illustrated, time and again, that an active political role for militaries is a sure-fire recipe for an even messier, more violent and conflict-ridden landscape.

In Pakistan, the military has ruled, directly or indirectly, for almost the entire six decades the country has been independent – though at present, the institution arguably faces its most severe threat yet. The army likewise orchestrated a coup in Bangladesh soon after the country's liberation; now, a democratic interlude of a decade-and-a-half notwithstanding, it is back in the saddle as the real power behind the Dhaka throne. Burma, meanwhile, has become nearly synonymous with its brutal military regime. The army chief in Nepal seems itching to derail the peace process in that country, barely two years after the military and its principal patron, the monarch, were humiliated by a resounding display of people power. The continuous war in Sri Lanka certainly gives the generals and admirals an inordinate say in the affairs of Colombo. And even in India, the armed forces exercise more influence in policymaking than is often imagined – particularly with regard to 'disturbed states' in the Northeast, Kashmir and external affairs vis-à-vis the neighbourhood.

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Himal Southasian
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