EC SAFIRE Scenarios for Global Regions: Indian Subcontinent

EC SAFIRE Scenarios for Global Regions: Indian Subcontinent

In a continuation of our series based on a report to the European Commission by SAMI and a consortium of partners, IFOK, Cadmus, and Teknologi Radet, to develop a system for using foresight to develop EU R&I policy, it is the turn of the Indian subcontinent. This is the next in our series of ten blogs looking at scenarios for each of the regions covered by the study.  The ten regions are:

    • China;
    • Japan, South Korea & Taiwan;
    • ASEAN;
    • India & its Neighbours;
    • Australia & New Zealand;
    • Russia & Central Asia;
    • The Middle East & North Africa;
    • Sub-Saharan Africa;
    • Central & South America; and
    • United States, Canada & Mexico.

The original Report is available via the link here, and the original scenario reports for each Region can be found within Chapter 3 of the report.

The Report was published in autumn 2021, but we continue to monitor developments and trends in each of the ten Regions.  So these blogs, rather than simply recycling the content of the Report, will look at the trends that might influence how each Region might move across the scenario “board” over the next 20 years.

Introducing the Indian subcontinent region

The difficulty with exploring foresight in this region is the disparity between the different countries. They differ in many ways: from size, population numbers, levels of democracy, and ethnicity, to levels of economic development. The largest by far regarding population, size and economy is India, so it has the greatest influence. The Indian subcontinent consists of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. We considered all bar Bhutan in our report.

What Might Drive Change in the ASEAN region?

The EU/SAFIRE Report envisaged that by 2040, India would have joined the ranks of global superpowers in a poly-nodal world. By that time, it is likely to have the largest population of any country in the world. It will have a younger median age (34.5) than other countries with large populations, indicating a young population likely to push for change.

The impact of climate change on the region will be enormous. It will be the biggest driver of change in the region.The combination of internal controls and distrust of others will increasingly lead to rivalry between countries. This combination will strongly influence innovation in all countries – without sufficient cross-fertilisation, innovation will stall.

Population and Economy

India’s population has reached 1.4 billion (2022 ). Within the next few years, it will surpass China to become the most populous country in the world. Its fertility rate was just over 2.1 in 2021 – replacement level. Within the region, the only country over replacement rate is Pakistan at 3.3. The median age is under 27 (bar Sri Lanka). As populations within the region migrate to urban areas for better opportunities, fertility rates will also decrease, and education rates will increase.

Population is one of the largest influences on national/regional economy. With so many young people, there will be a growing need to set up and furnish new family homes. There will be a large workforce to draw from which could mean – in some cases – developing a social welfare safety net, which is likely to decrease fertility rates even further. It is interesting to note that Bangladesh has had impressive economic development due to its focus on education – a good example to others.

Politics and Relationships

It is unlikely that the restrictions on personal movement and rights of assembly put in place across the region will be removed within our timeframe. Hindu nationalist government in India is likely to continue and consolidate and tighten its power and control. This is likely to increase spats both internally and between India and the neighbouring countries where religious difference leads to differing world views. India continues to use its size to bully neighbours. India has had border disagreements (that included fatalities on both sides) with China and is showing increasingly anti-Chinese sentiment. With its growing population and economic clout, it sees itself as a successor on the world stage to its main rival, China. It remains distrustful of Pakistan, most especially around the unresolved issue of Kashmir.

Sri Lanka suffered from its inability to repay a loan to China (made via the Belt and Road Initiative) and was forced to hand a 99-year lease on BRI financed Hambantota port to the Chinese in 2017. Yet BRI investment continues, supported by the current government.
BRI investments in Pakistan in developing the Port of Gwadar and CPEC (the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which connects China to the port) have increasingly been the cause of social unrest, distrust and anti-Chinese sentiments among locals who see no benefit from the investment. Pakistan granted China a 40-year lease on the port and promised local development but none has occurred.

Internal dissension between provinces and ethnic groups, together with rising poverty, lack of development and terrorism, is likely to force a change of government, perhaps returning it to military rule.

China is likely to continue to support Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and to a lesser extent Bangladesh and Nepal – as a counterweight to India.

Environment and Climate

Increasingly hot summers, erratic monsoons and the increasing numbers of large storms in the Bay of Bengal are all indicators of climate change. Large swathes of India and Pakistan are becoming uninhabitable. Storm surges on the coast are destroying land and making it unusable for agriculture. Bangladesh stands to lose up to 20% of its viable agricultural land. Meanwhile, water shortages are growing as Himalayan glaciers dry up and water tables disappear.

The water shortage is the biggest driver of migration across the region. People move from rural areas to cities (which may themselves be water stressed). Bangladesh suffers from a shrinking land mass and a large population that needs to be resettled. As people move to cities, pollution increases which affects peoples’ health. Most people migrate within countries, but climate migration is becoming a big issue and internal migration is not always possible (or desirable).


Turning finally to the question of where the Indian subcontinent may move on the Scenario Board, we began solidly in the middle of Oak. In the past two years, and largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the region has become more authoritarian, fragmented and poorer. Education has suffered – children (especially girls) who stop going to school, rarely return.
The region has suffered from the absence of tourism and falling remittances to varying degrees. When incomes dry up, people have less choice. This has combined to move the region further into the bottom left hand corner of Oak.

For the region to move out of Oak, GDP would need to rise, creating larger markets, and governments would need to be more willing to invest in public goods such as education, health, research and development. They would also need to be willing to collaborate for innovation and be more open to other worldviews.


• What will China do in the region and how will individual countries react??
• Which countries will India align with? USA? Europe? Russia? What will the impacts be?
• Will tourism return to 2019 levels, and if so, when?
• How long will it take until Covid is merely endemic?
• How quickly will the economy improve in each country?
• How open will each country be to collaboration with others?
• How soon will governments drop internal security measures?
• How will the countries and the region handle climate migration?

Written by Patricia Lustig, SAMI Principal 

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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