South Asia Brief

News and analysis from India and its neighboring countries in South Asia, a region home to one-fourth of the world’s population. Delivered Thursday.

South Asia Unites Around ‘Loss and Damage’ at COP27

Led by Pakistan, climate-vulnerable countries seek aid for adaptation.

Kugelman-Michael-foreign-policy-columnist13
Kugelman-Michael-foreign-policy-columnist13
Michael Kugelman
By , the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly South Asia Brief.
People use boats to cross a flooded area in Dadu, Pakistan, on Oct. 27.
People use boats to cross a flooded area in Dadu, Pakistan, on Oct. 27.
People use boats to cross a flooded area in Dadu, Pakistan, on Oct. 27. ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.

The highlights this week: Pakistan—with support from its neighbors—pushes for a “loss and damage” plan at COP27, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets his Russian counterpart in Moscow, and China and India have their eyes on Nepal’s parliamentary elections.

If you would like to receive South Asia Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.

The highlights this week: Pakistan—with support from its neighbors—pushes for a “loss and damage” plan at COP27, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets his Russian counterpart in Moscow, and China and India have their eyes on Nepal’s parliamentary elections.

If you would like to receive South Asia Brief in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


South Asia Calls for Loss and Damage at COP27

Pakistan is weathering a furious political storm at home, along with an economic crisis. But at this year’s United Nations climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt—known as COP27—Islamabad is leading the charge in the global fight for climate aid to the developing world.

Pakistan currently chairs the G-77 group, comprised of 134 developing countries at the U.N., and Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, is a vice chair of COP27. Before the conference began, Islamabad succeeded in putting the issue of “loss and damage” onto the summit agenda. As currently envisioned, loss and damage financing would involve developed countries providing support to developing countries on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Developed countries have long resisted such a policy, fearing it will make them vulnerable to continuous demands for compensation, given their outsized production of greenhouse gas emissions. But Pakistan has a golden opportunity to make the case for wealthy countries to embrace loss and damage aid and for international donors to make new commitments for aid focused on adaptation and mitigation.

Pakistan’s catastrophic floods this year—triggered by early and intense monsoon rains—offer a vivid example of why loss and damage is so compelling. The disaster, which submerged one-third of the country and affected 33 million people, provides a perfect data point. The flooding and its aftermath have so far cost the cash-strapped country around $40 billion, as well as a projected 2.2 percent decline in GDP.

At COP27, Islamabad has strength in numbers: not only full support from the G-77 but also from its neighbors. Support for loss and damage is a rare point of policy convergence in South Asia. Excluding India, the region contributes relatively little to global greenhouse gas emissions. But it is one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable areas and suffers from high levels of poverty—meaning that its residents are some of the most affected by climate change.

Shortly before COP27, Indian Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav released a statement calling for action on climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. Bangladesh’s environment minister, Md. Shahab Uddin, has promised to push for loss and damage funding, too. In his COP27 speech, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe said that developing countries “need to be compensated for loss and damage.” Even Afghanistan’s Taliban have echoed the language of loss and damage.

With its global clout, India could play a key role in advocating for loss and damage financing. India made ambitious carbon-emissions-reduction pledges at last year’s climate summit. It has backed them up with mitigation strategies, including major investments in renewable energy that have made it one of the world’s fastest-growing solar markets. India’s efforts can drive home a powerful message: Developing countries may seek loss and damage help, but they are also willing and capable when it comes to fighting climate change.

This isn’t to suggest these efforts will result in immediate policy success. It’s a major victory for South Asia and its G-77 partners just to get loss and damage on the U.N. climate summit’s agenda. But the negotiations over loss and damage will be long and acrimonious, and there’s unlikely to be an agreement—or even a breakthrough—by the end of COP27.

Meanwhile, there is always more to be done domestically: Poor governance decisions often exacerbate climate change impacts in South Asia, including Pakistan’s recent floods. These include unregulated deforestation, subsidies for wasteful forms of irrigation, and poor urban planning. The region makes a strong case for loss and damage relief, but that doesn’t absolve it of the need to make other course corrections. As a recent Nepali Times editorial put it: “[P]oliticians must stop invoking climate change to cover up past failures.”


What We’re Following

Jaishankar visits Moscow. Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow on Tuesday. The visit marked the first time that Jaishankar has visited Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February. The meeting did not appear to yield any notable new agreements, although both sides described it as an opportunity to discuss bilateral issues. Jaishankar said that the “Ukraine war was a dominant feature” in his talks with Lavrov.

The trip is notable for its timing: It comes as India, a close partner of Russia, shows signs of frustration with the war in Ukraine, though it has not condemned the invasion outright. At a regional summit in September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “today’s era is not an era of war.” This week, a New York Times report highlighted the possibility that India might pitch itself as a mediator to help end the war.

Jaishankar did not travel to Ukraine this week, but Modi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in October that India is prepared to be involved in peace efforts. Even if it is well positioned to mediate, in reality New Delhi isn’t going to volunteer for the task unless asked by both sides. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow likely pushed the stance that India has taken for weeks: Diplomacy, dialogue, and de-escalation are urgently needed.

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan shout during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, on Nov. 5.
Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan shout during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, on Nov. 5.

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan shout during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan, on Nov. 5.RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP via Getty Images

Pakistan opposition march resumes. After last week’s assassination attempt on Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan, the political temperature remains high. On Thursday, Khan’s anti-government “long march” resumed from the spot where he was shot and wounded in Wazirabad, Pakistan. Later this month, the protest is expected to arrive in Rawalpindi, home to Pakistan’s military headquarters and where Khan, who was released from hospital this week, promises to return to the march. He has said the protest will eventually reach Islamabad, but he hasn’t specified a date.

Khan, who was ousted as prime minister earlier this year, has not toned down his confrontational rhetoric. He has repeatedly accused three officials of involvement in the attack: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and a senior intelligence official, Faisal Naseer. (The government has denied the accusations.) On Monday, Khan sent a letter to Pakistani President Arif Alvi appealing to him to take note of “serious wrongdoings” by certain parts of the military leadership and to conduct an investigation.

Khan’s letter accuses military and intelligence officials of various abuses of power; such specific allegations against top security leaders from a senior member of the political class are rare in Pakistan. There is little that Alvi, a member of Khan’s party, can do; Pakistan’s presidency is a ceremonial role. But it’s significant that Khan went over the military leadership’s head, marking the latest escalation in a growing confrontation between Khan, the government, and the military—which until earlier this year was allied with Khan.

Nepal prepares for elections. Nepal holds parliamentary elections on Nov. 20, pitting Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba against an opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli. Deuba and Oli are two of the most dominant figures in Nepali politics. The election is sure to be watched closely in both Beijing and New Delhi.

One of the campaign’s big storylines is geopolitics: Nepal has become a major battleground for India-China competition. China’s influence in Kathmandu grew during Oli’s most recent term, from 2018 to 2021, as the two countries inked infrastructure deals linked to its Belt and Road Initiative. Deuba is seen as more aligned with India. Last week, the Indian government sent 200 vehicles to Nepal to facilitate election logistics; the Indian Embassy said Kathmandu requested the cars.

In Foreign Policy, Marcus Andreopoulos wrote that the Chinese Communist Party has sought to shape Nepali politics through both official diplomacy and soft power.


FP’s Most Read This Week

The Cult of Modi by Ramachandra Guha

The Obvious Climate Strategy Nobody Will Talk About by Ted Nordhaus, Vijaya Ramachandran, and Patrick Brown

The U.N. (as We Know It) Won’t Survive Russia’s War in Ukraine by James Traub


Under the Radar

Afghanistan’s Taliban regime has reported significant achievements in bilateral trade. This week, the deputy prime minister’s office announced that Afghanistan exported $1.8 billion in goods over the last seven months, including carpets, fruits and vegetables, coal, and semiprecious stones. Products went to China, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan. Islamabad alone imported $744 million worth of goods.

The trade data represents a twofold increase over the same period last year. It shows that despite tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the Taliban takeover last year, commercial cooperation with Islamabad and other neighbors remains robust. The Taliban’s ability to generate government revenue from cross-border activities, including trade as well as customs tariffs, remains one of its few economic successes.


Regional Voices

The Print editor D.K. Singh notes the “growing indiscipline and factionalism” within India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the inability of party leaders to rein it in, leaving the task to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “He is expected to play arbiter and keep the flock together … but he may have reasons to be disappointed with his senior party colleagues,” he writes.

A Himalayan Times editorial warns that sluggish export performance is contributing to Nepal’s balance-of-payment crisis, which remains serious despite some recent relief from increased remittances. “If countries like Laos, Cambodia and Mongolia can export goods worth $6-9 billion annually, there is no reason why we should lag behind,” it argues.

Author Sibtain Naqvi argues in the Business Recorder that former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has defied expectations that he would become weaker after being ousted from power. “Even his most ardent supporters would not imagine that a few months after losing the prime minister’s seat, Imran’s popularity would grow,” he writes.

Michael Kugelman is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly South Asia Brief. He is the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. Twitter: @michaelkugelman

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