The Region is characterized by India’s role as regional power, the antagonism between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan and the situation in Afghanistan.
The transition phase in Afghanistan started in July 2011. The afghan government is supposed to take over security issues while ISAF retreats. All foreign troops are scheduled to have left the country by the end of 2014. The international engagement in civil issues will nevertheless be continued. Apart from the security situation, effective governance and economic development are the most pressing problems. On December 5, 2011 – the 10th anniversary of the first Bonn-Conference – another international conference on Afghanistan (Bonn-II) took place. The conference “From Transition to Transformation” acknowledged the international community’s continued support after 2014.
India has become a regional key-player and is on its way to become a global one. The focus of Indian foreign policy lies on strengthening relations with its neighbours, resuming civilian nuclear trade and economic rapprochement to superpowers. India is striving for a close partnership with the US mainly in the joint fight against terrorism and civilian nuclear cooperation. As a regional superpower in South Asia, India – increasingly competing with China – tries to stabilise its crisis-shaken neighbours. India is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the years 2011/2012. The congress party under Sonia Gandhi won the elections of 2009 – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opted for a coalition government for his second legislative period. Since 2007 President Pratibha Patil is India’s first female president. The economy shows high growth rates and has managed the financial and economic crisis well.
Pakistan plays an important role for security and stability in the region regarding the fight against terrorism and extremism. Both India and Pakistan aim for confidence-building measures and improvement of bilateral relations in the détente process between the two countries. Bilateral relations are determined by the Kashmir conflict.
After the military victory by the government of Sri Lanka over the separatist Liberation Tigers by Tamil Eelam (LTTE)in May 2009 the country still faces the difficult challenge of finding a political solution to the decade-old conflict between the Tamil minority and the Singhalese majority population. The peace and reconciliation process remains the government’s most important task. The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission was set up to achieve that goal. A report published by an UN experts panel in April 2011 talks about human rights violations by government and LTTE troops in the last months of civil war.
Approximately 158 million inhabitants make Bangladesh the most densely populated country worldwide. Because of a low-level coast it is most vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. Domestic policy is dominated by the fight against corruption and coming to terms with the war crimes of the 1970s. In working towards the Millennium Development Goals, Bangladesh shows good progress and aims at becoming a Middle Income Country by 2025.
The Kingdom of Bhutan continues the Kings “Gross National Happiness” government programme. Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland are the most important partners in development cooperation. An Austrian coordination bureau for development cooperation exists since 1994 in Thimphu.
In 2008 Nepal abolished the monarchy after 240 years of being in power and at the end of a 10-year civil war with over 13.000 victims. The most important task for the young Republic remains to work out a constitution and advance the peace process by integrating and rehabilitating former rebel fighters promoting a satisfactory division of power across all parties. The UN mission UNMIN whose mandate expired in January 2011 provided assistance to that peace process.
The Maldives still try to advance the democratic opening of the Muslim island state after thirty years of sole rule by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The first free presidential elections took place in 2008. Important issues in the democratic process are the fight against corruption and the investigation of past human rights infringements.
Austrian and EU engagement takes places in various forms: A strategic partnership EU-India, EU-Pakistan summits as well as development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Austrian President Heinz Fischer paid a state visit to India in 2005; Indian President Prathiba Patil in return paid a state visit to Austria in October 2011. Bhutan is a core area of Austria development cooperation. Pakistan accepted Austrian assistance after the floods of 2010 and 2011. Afghanistan is of central importance for Austria. The EU engages in military and civil issues and will continue its commitment after 2014. EUPOL assists in the strengthening of rule of law. Austria takes part in ISAF and EUPOL as well as UNODC and OSCE projects. Austria organised two conferences: the Afghanistan Implementation conference (Austrian Ministry for European and International Affairs in cooperation with the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination) in 2010 and an expert’s conference on Nation Building and the Future of Afghanistan (in cooperation with the RAND Corporation) in 2009.