Except for the Af-Pak war theatre, democracy is slowly gaining roots in the rest of South Asia led by the shining example of India. Pakistan has defied odds and stepped back from the brink of another military coup. The Bangladesh army announced yesterday that it had foiled a putsch attempt by Islamist officers. Nepal is working its way to democratic stability. And even the Burmese military junta is loosening up, enough to get the Americans engaged. Why is all this happening, and is it here to stay?

Taking the second question first. Yes. It will abide. Pakistan, for example, has been precariously poised for a coup since the US killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. At first, the elected government of Asif Ali Zardari was defensive, fearing an army takeover to obscure the military's lapses. In the past month, that has changed.

Zardari's prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, has been baiting the army and talking back to it. He sacked the defence secretary who was close to the army chief. The army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, instead of moving to depose the government, has been banking on the Pakistan Supreme Court's activism regarding Zardari's pre-Presidential money laundering to do the job.

This writer's analysis is that Zardari will get by. He has a brilliant prime minister who knows his politics. Making his battle one to preserve Pakistan's democracy and not to save the PPP-led coalition government, he has gained public opinion on his side. The Pakistan army which has made a mess of governance before knows it is calamitous to seize power. A coup would be hugely unpopular.

This situation is likely to cement. The Pakistan army has lost its sheen. Its militaristic and/ or terroristic solutions to all of Pakistan's real and imagined problems -- Baluchistan, Sind, FATA, NWFP, Afghanistan, India -- have failed, and find little traction within the country, except with militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The killing of Bin Laden and the Mehran base attack shamed the military. The realization is growing in Pakistan, and particularly with the ruling classes, that a coup won't magically transform Pakistan. The military is best kept in the barracks. However messy and irksome democracy is, there is no alternative to it.

Pakistan, despite its army butchering three million Bangladeshis, has a huge psychological influence on Bangladesh. It has its negative effect, such as in the rise of Islamists who are sometimes linked to anti-India Pakistani terror groups. The Islamists influence at least one half of Bangladesh's polity, which brings wild swings to relations with India. The balancer lately has been the Bangladesh army, which has moved away from its putschist image set in the first few decades after the country's independence.

The Bangladesh army because of its intensive deployment in UN peacekeeping duties has acquired a degree of moderation and gained much-needed foreign hard currency. It has a stake, therefore, in remaining moderate and pro-democracy. It forced a hiatus in Bangladesh's democratic politics till the two murderously opposed mainstream parties, one secular and the other Islamist-leaning, came to their senses. India has also closely engaged the Bangladesh army and strengthened its democratic bias. The early detection of and wide publicity given to the thwarted coup partly flows from this. Nepal is a work of democracy in progress and India has played a large and quiet role in containing Maoism in that country. The democratic process will not be reversed in Nepal. In Burma, the situation is similar, although only the smallest baby steps have been taken towards turning it into a democratic republic. How soon Burma becomes a democracy is difficult to say. But it is getting there. There is no turning back.

Now to the second question, raised earlier: What's behind this democracy love-fest in South Asia? In a word: India. In the decades before India's sustained growth, the West remained the gilded symbol of democracy. But in the vast Cold War theatre outside Europe, the West led by the United States discouraged democracy and preferred pliable dictatorships. This gave succour to the Pakistani generals and the military rulers of Bangladesh. The end of the Cold War, the accompanying and precipitous decline of the US and the West, and the peaceful rise of democratic India has been the gamechanger.

Democracy is India's most valuable export, and it is finally paying dividends in South Asia.