Developments in the area are characterized by India’s rise as regional power, the antagonism between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan and the situation in Afghanistan.
The transition phase in Afghanistan started in 2011. The Afghan government is supposed to take over security responsibilities while the International Security Assistance Force (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 as well as limited military support. Apart from the security situation, effective governance and economic development are the most pressing problems.
Austria participates in ISAF and the European police mission EUPOL. Beyond that, Austria offers support for: the fight against drug trafficking and corruption (UNDOC), demining, border security (OSCE) and the strengthening of women’s and children’s status.
India has become a regional power and is well on its way of becoming a global one. The focus of Indian foreign policy lies on strengthening relations with its neighbours, as well as strategic and economic rapprochement with the 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 power, India – increasingly competing with China – tries to act in a stabilizing manner in crisis-shaken neighbouring countries.
Pakistan plays an important role for security and stability in the region due to its geostrategic position and size, especially in Afghanistan. The fight against terrorism and extremism is paramount. 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 mainly determined by the Kashmir conflict.
Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan until 1971, is one of the world’s most densely populated countries with approximately 160 million inhabitants living in an area of circa 150.000 km2. Due to its geography the country it is highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and natural disasters. Therefore, Bangladesh is especially relevant at the international level for the problem of climate refugees.
The Himalaya-Kingdom of Bhutan pursues the policy of “Gross National Happiness” (in contrast to gross domestic product). Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy and its democratization is promoted by the King. Austria maintains a coordination bureau for development cooperation since 1994 in the capital Thimphu.
In 2008 Nepal abolished its monarchy, which had persisted for 240 years, and declared a republic at the end of a ten year civil war with over 13.000 casualties. The country attempts to advance the peace process by integrating and rehabilitating former rebel fighters and promoting a satisfactory division of power across all parties.
In Sri Lanka, after the military victory by the government over the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009, significant progress was achieved in the economic situation, reconstruction, the reintegration of former rebel fighters and in returning internally displaced persons. Nevertheless, the country is faced with the difficult task of finding a political solution to the decade long conflict between the Tamil minority and the Singhalese majority and clearing up the events during the civil war.
In the Maldives a slow democratization process began in 2004 after thirty years of sole reign by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The democracy is still fragile and dominated by two antagonizing political camps.