SHOULD SOUTH ASIA BE A SUBJECT FOR STUDY? Can we effectively survey an area remote from our Western experiences, one with a new vocabulary of politics and society coupled with unfamiliar names (many of them seemingly unpronounceable)? Is it appropriate for those of us from such prosperous nations as the United States and Canada, which are at the center of world affairs, to study nations that are poverty-stricken and, it often appears, distant from the mainstream of international activity?
Each of these questions must be answered in the affirmative, for several reasons. The size of the region's population is perhaps the most important consideration. A second consideration is the rising importance of the region's contribution to the productive capacity of the world. South Asia's location alone makes it strategically important. Further, the region provides examples of different forms of political development, ranging from the open and democratic--but not entirely perfect--systems of India and Sri Lanka to the frequently authoritarian governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh and to the changing traditional polities of Nepal, Bhutan, and the Maldives. The wide range of these examples of political development in a compact area permits comparison among the seven countries as well as between South Asian nations and other developing nations and regions.
In population, the region contained over 1.2 billion people in mid- 1995. According to projections by the United Nations Development Program, the population of the three largest countries ( India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) will double in the first half of the twenty-first century. By then, more than one-fifth of the world's people will live in South Asia. On this basis alone the region cannot be disregarded; indeed, it must be looked upon as one of the key areas of the world. 1
In 1990 India ranked thirteenth in the world in annual gross domestic product (GDP). When the relatively much smaller economies of the other six countries were taken into account as well, the collective GDP of South Asia was more than one-third of a trillion dollars. Excluding the communist nations, for which comparable data are not available in World Bank reports, India ranked third--behind China and the United States--in