South Asia Predictions for 2012

The South Asia Center receives guidance and support from many experts throughout the world. Our senior fellows, guest-speakers, Center patrons, and visitors contribute heavily to the Center’s mission to “wage peace,” and engage the international community in the region. The Center asked our contributors the simple, but key question, “What you do expect in 2012?”

Click on the names below to read their responses, and if you want to see what our experts said last year, click here

What Our Experts Think:

Shikha Bhatnagar, South Asia Center Associate Director, Atlantic Council
Mohan Guruswamy, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
Zahid Hussain, Pakistan Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center
Ayesha Jalal, Council Nonresident Senior Fellow
Sunjoy Joshi, Director, Observer Research Foundation
Shuja Nawaz, South Asia Center Director, Atlantic Council
Jonathan Paris, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
Ahmed Rashid, Pakistan journalist and author of Decent into Chaos and Taliban
Barbara Slavin, Resident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council
Moeed Yusuf, South Asia Adviser, United States Institute of Peace

Shikha Bhatnagar

US-Pakistan relations will continue to spiral/plummet downwards due to lack of creative thinking from either party. However, India-Pakistan relations will remain stable and may even improve slightly if some of the recent economic measures move forward.

Manmohan Singh will continue to hold power, although it will continue to weaken, and Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru/Gandhi dynasty, will officially assume presidency of the Congress Party.

Shikha Bhatnagar is an Associate Director with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Mohan Guruswamy

So what is my prediction? It is simply this. India will still be among the fastest growing nations in the world. Maybe even faster than China? But the GDP growth would slow down even further, maybe by another 1% or another $45 billion in terms of opportunity cost? Maybe we can live with that? But money lost is money lost.

Mohan Guruswamy is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. Guruswamy heads the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent and privately funded think tank in New Delhi.

Zahid Hussain

[The] worsening political crisis will lead to fresh elections in Pakistan, but change of government may not restore stability.

Zahid Hussain is an award-winning journalist and writer, a senior editor with Newsline and a correspondent for The Times of London, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. He is a Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Ayesha Jalal

Calls for early elections and hopes of initiating change through the ballot box notwithstanding, a reference to the voters in both India and Pakistan will throw up a fragmented result and the continuation of coalition governments in the foreseeable future, making the problems of governance in the subcontinent increasingly more intractable. The regions in both countries are set to trump the center.

Ayesha Jalal is a non-resident senior fellow with the South Asia Center and is also the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University and a MacArthur Fellow.

Sunjoy Joshi

West Asia – Besides the variety of strains of the Arab Spring and the selective impulse in the West for regime change, Iran will dominate the discourse on West Asia. Iran, often perceived as being driven by an Imperial urge to dominate and control its neighbourhood, may infact be a victim of profound sense of insecurity that stems froms its neighbourhood, inimical and different (Pakistan and the Arab states) who, Iran fears will inevitably seek to politically and (more importantly) culturally subjugate it. Faced with a large, politically aware and youthful population under economic pressure, the regime will continue trying to balance multiple political needs – regime stability, external security and economic development.

In 2012, Iran will, due to a confluence of factors, repeatedly try to signal its willingness to negotiate. However, the US may remain trapped by its domestic as well as strategic percepts and will probably miss the opportunity to craft a culturally sensitive and politically deft response. Israel, the Arab states and Pakistan (each for their own reasons) will all present narratives that will make responding positively difficult.

Bangladesh – The Sheikh Hasina government will continue to lose popular support because of its abject failure to fulfill promises made to the people. BNP will gain in strength. This will be played out in the streets more often in the new year causing wide spread disruptions in major cities and increase the level of anxiety and instability as a whole.

The Sheikh Hasina government’s repressive measures against party opponents will further galvanize the opposition. With little investment in public infrastructure despite a consistent economic growth of 6 plus per cent, crucial issues like employment, infrastructure development and poverty alleviation will remain largely unaddressed.

Pakistan – Pakistan will remain political unstable. The civil-military relationship will remain at odds with public spats. The next big spat on the horizon could be over the appointment of the new ISI chief or the extension of Shuja Pasha’s tenure. PPP’s influence is likely to erode rapidly as Zardari and Gillani blunder along, without really delivering anything substantial in terms of economic development. The government’s predicament is going to become more acute as gas and power supply crises becomes a major issue in the coming summer months. The erosion in the texture of the relationship is unlikely to be replaced by its growing and strong relationship with China There will be a more persuasive attempt to better relationship with India, at least on the economic side but there are increasing hiccups on the way.

India – India’s challenge remain mostly domestic and its increased and more democratic expressions will often be chaotic and at the cost of national progress. 2012 will witness India actually having to bear the economic cost of plurality in policy making and the slowdown (relative) in rate of growth coupled with social schemes will strain ability of the government to cater to large and diverse demands. Pakistan will remain a unresolved issue and the increasing Chinese influence would necessitate India entering into a number of coalitions which will stretch the strategic and ideological reach of India.

Sunjoy Joshi is the Director of the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi, India. He is a Visiting Associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, as well as Distinguished Visitor to the Programme on Energy and Sustainable Development, University of Stanford, USA.

Shuja Nawaz

In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may choose to step down. Pakistan will try muddling through, but the civil military divide and an assertive Supreme Court may claim more victims, starting with the Prime Minister. Afghanistan will witness an assertive President Karzai, especially in his dealing with the United States. Troop withdrawals may speed up.

Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Jonathan Paris

Before I present my predictions for 2012, let me begin with a paragraph from my South Asia Center predictions in January 2010: “In addition to the obvious trouble spots – Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – the countries that will preoccupy the Obama administration in the coming year are the PITEY nations: Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen…. The big question for Egypt is the coming of a post-Hosni Mubarak government. If President Mubarak can hold on for another year, Egypt will remain a stable, moderate and pro-U.S. country anchoring the Middle East in relative peace. If, however, a succession crisis emerges this year while Iran is still under Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, the Middle East could be in for some turmoil.” (Note: my 2010 prediction on Egypt’s succession crisis was ahead by a year as Tahrir Square erupted on Jan. 25, 2011.) See “South Asia in 2010: A Pivotal Year”, The New Atlanticist, Jan. 6, 2010.

For 2012, I expand my predictions beyond South Asia to include, again, the Middle East. Since I have been doing a good deal of research on the future of Europe these past 18 months, I make a few brief remarks about the prospects for some of the European countries close to the Middle East/South Asia.

Starting with the PITEY countries, Pakistan will muddle through in 2012. As I concluded in my Prospects for Pakistan Report in 2010 , the US will have an increasingly difficult time getting Pakistan to promote US interests. This is not the same thing as predicting the rise of an Islamist government. I simply mean that the US is and will continue to be unpopular in the Pakistan street, and President Zardari appears to be the least anti-American of any possible alternative ruler.

Pakistan’s neighbor, Afghanistan, will do better than expected in 2012 as the Afghan Army picks up momentum. The real crunch won’t happen until the following year, when Afghan and Pakistani troops start clashing along the border, with the more experienced Pakistan army prevailing. It wouldn’t surprise me to see negotiations between the NATO forces, Karzai’s government and the Taliban under either or both auspices of Pakistan and Qatar. But watch out for the Haqqani network to play a spoiler role.

Iran is going to heat up this year. Internally, the regime appears brittle. Regionally, Iran will continue to be on the defensive as the Arab Spring is more of a threat than a benefit for the regime. Iran’s strategic ally, Assad, will either leave Syria or retreat into the mountains in northeast Syria, where he will wage continued resistance and Syria will likely be weak and divided. The Iranians may maintain some access via the Assad hideaway to Hezbollah, but it will not be like the old days. Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah will either leave the stage or maintain a low profile.

Internationally, the sanctions will be ratcheted upwards and one of two things will happen. Either Iran will freeze its nuclear program (unlikely) or it will provoke a military response. I am very skeptical that Iran will be close to having nuclear weapons at the end of 2012. I leave it to the reader to work out why.

Egypt will be tempestuous and unstable. The economy will be in even more dire straits than at the beginning of 2012. The military and the Islamic parties will continue to spar and negotiate at the same time. The more secular political parties and the Tahrir Square movement will struggle in the elections but will remain a force on the street. Young and female Egyptians will not lie down and watch their country go backwards to a medieval state. The 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty will remain in letter but not in substance as cooperation will diminish due to populist sentiments on the Egyptian street across the board from secular to fundamentalist. But all is not bleak even on that front as the Egyptian public will gradually and grudgingly conclude that peace, or at least non-war, is not such a bad idea as compared to a seventh Israeli-Egyptian war.

Turkey’s regional leadership aspirations will come down a notch or two as Erdogan’s health problems, Kurdish problems and economic problems dent his popularity. The West will become increasingly disenchanted with Erdogan’s brinksmanship and mercurial personality, while the Arab countries, especially the ones with surging Islamic parties, will look to the AKP as a kind of role model, apart from disagreements over Sharia law.

Bahrain and Yemen will continue to muddle through. The Khalifas will remain in power in Bahrain. I am not as sure about the Saleh family in Yemen. The Arab monarchies will hang in there. Algeria will be facing challenging times when President Bouteflika leaves the scene, but it is less likely that the army will lose control in 2012 than sometime after 2012.

Hamas will reach an agreement with the PA in the first half of the year and then sever the agreement in the second half of the year. Netanyahu will call for elections sometime in 2012 or early 2013. If what I predict happens in Iran, a dovish party will eventually gain enough seats to form a coalition, just barely, to replace the current Netanyahu government.

Turning to the north Mediterranean, Italy will do surprisingly well in 2012 as it brings its deficits down and successfully refinances its enormous debt coming due in 2012. Growth will remain elusive, however.

The other ‘club med’ countries will struggle, especially Greece. Spain will battle high unemployment amidst an increasingly unpopular austerity program. France will no longer have a triple A rating as it comes to grip with its rising public debt, lack of job creation, slow growth, pervasive welfare state, and long term immigration issues.

Germany’s economy will continue to hum, despite some blips, but Germany will encounter increasing resistance to its austerity mantra from the club med countries. The Nordic countries will thrive.

The euro will hold, and the recession in continental Europe and the UK will be mild, with the economy ending 2012 in an upswing. I am NOT picking the US President for 2012.

Jonathan Paris is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center . He is also an associate fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London

Ahmed Rashid

The talks between the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban will make progress allowing for a more peaceful situation before Nato pull out in 2014. However the internal political, ethnic and economic crisis in Afghanistan will worsen.

Pakistan-US relations will remain fraught despite a temporary patch up in the spring. Pakistan will remain at odds with the US on its plans for Afghanistan. Pakistan internal economic, social and political crisis will worsen despite elections that will be bought forward to the autumn of this year.

Overhanging the region will be the strong possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran which the US will back and will create enormous problems for the US in its relations with both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ahmed Rashid is a renowned Pakistan journalist and writer. He is the author of Descent into Chaos and a recently updated edition of Taliban.

Barbara Slavin

There will be no war with Iran, but there will be some nail-biting moments courtesy of both Iran, and Israel, which reserves for itself the right to strike Iran without telling the US in advance. Oil prices will stay above $100 a barrel even though the Obama administration will postpone implementing new sanctions that could curtail European imports of Iranian oil. Iran will continue creeping toward the nuclear weapons threshold but will not cross the line.

Barbara Slavin is resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center. Ms. Slavin is an expert on U.S. foreign policy and the author of a 2007 book on Iran entitled Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.

Moeed Yusuf

As far as the Af-Pak theater is concerned, 2012 will be filled with more crises, more finger pointing, and more mudslinging from all sides involved. But there is a reasonable likelihood of a parallel positive movement on the reconciliation front which is just about the last thing holding partnerships like the US-Pakistan one together for now.

Moeed W. Yusuf is the South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace. He works at the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention and is responsible for managing the Institute’s Pakistan program.


The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center was launched in 2009, under the leadership of Shuja Nawaz. The Center serves as the Atlantic Council’s focal point for work on Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan as well as on relations between these countries and China, Central Asia, Turkey, the Arab world, Europe and the United States. It seeks to foster partnerships with key institutions in the region to establish itself as a forum for dialogue between decision makers in South Asia, the U.S. and NATO and continues to “wage peace” in the region.. These deliberations cover internal and external security, governance, trade, economic development, education and other issues. The Center remains committed to working with stakeholders from the region itself, in addition to partners and experts in the United States and Europe to offer comprehensive analyses and practicable recommendations for policymakers.

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