South Asia’s False Spring

NEW DELHI – From the armed coup that recently ousted the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, to the Pakistani Supreme Court’s current effort to undermine a toothless but elected government by indicting Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on contempt charges, South Asia’s democratic advances appear to be shifting into reverse.

Nasheed’s forced resignation at gunpoint has made the Maldives the third country in the region, after Nepal and Sri Lanka, where a democratic transition has been derailed. The Maldives, a group of strategically located islands in the Indian Ocean, now seems set for prolonged instability.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has yet to begin a genuine democratic transition, because the chief of army staff remains its effective ruler. How can democratization begin if Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency are immune to civilian oversight and decisive power rests with military generals?

The Supreme Court’s move against Gilani makes matters worse. A constitutional – rather than a military – coup will be a win-win situation for the army and the ISI, allowing them to rule behind the scenes through a more pliable government, on which all of the blame can be pinned for civil disorder and economic turmoil.