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Why is South Asia so tense?


For the past 63 years, South Asia has remained in a state of tension. The eight countries that make up this geopolitically sensitive region do not share a friendly and harmonious relationship with each other. This is despite their efforts to come on a single platform of Saarc to develop a major economic and political bloc. All smaller countries were enthusiastic about this model of cooperation to succeed in gaining progress and getting rid of pervasive poverty. But in the end it just collapsed.

All these countries have a closely interwoven history and common ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious heritage but still they failed. It happened because all the contiguous states on India’s periphery are fearful of its hegemonic designs and its policy to dominate and dictate.

In case of India and Pakistan, given the historical divide between Hindus and Muslims, it is understandable that a certain amount of acrimony and distrust would impact their relationship. Instead of accepting Pakistan’s emergence in 1947 as a reality and resolving bilateral disputes in a spirit of understanding, India adopted a belligerent course. The resulting discord and three wars have plagued their relationship to this day, both countries diverting huge and precious financial resources to defence and development of nuclear weapons.

Even if Indo-Pakistan relationship is set aside for a moment as one of peculiar nature and even if Pakistan is presumed to be responsible for all the wicked behaviour, the question arises why do other countries of the region find it so difficult to forge a closer relationship with India? Why is it that India has failed to evoke trust and confidence among its neighbours to make any worthwhile collaboration impossible, including Saarc? Isn’t it time for hostilities to give way to a congenial environment among South Asian neighbours too?

The fact is that for regional alliances, political or economic, to succeed it is imperative for all stakeholders to treat each other as equals, irrespective of their size or strength. This comes with respecting each other’s sovereignty, willingness to set aside political differences and showing a degree of flexibility to promote a common cause. In case of South Asia, this has not happened. India has disputes with almost every neighbour, which has strained their relationships for years at end.

In Sri Lanka, India overtly and covertly supported the insurgency against the state by LTTE, a nationalist Tamil group in the northern Jaffna region of this small island country, which kept it politically and economically destabilised for decades. In the end, India paid a price for interference when its prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by a Tamil activist for having betrayed the movement.

With Bangladesh it is locked in an unresolved dispute over Farakka barrage that deprives Bangladesh of its water share. Despite the gratitude Bangladesh owes to India for having militarily dismembered Pakistan in 1971 to midwife its birth, relations between the two have often sunk to the rock bottom on a host of issues, including border dispute.

The tiny mountain state of Nepal has complained of persistent Indian dictation and interference in its internal affairs. That India employs economic blockades and manipulates transit facilities to this poor landlocked country for arm twisting is no secret.

Although not a part of South Asia, China’s relations with India for decades have remained frosty, at best. They went to war in 1962 over a border dispute. Competing for regional leadership, it does not hesitate to antagonise China by hoisting Dalai Lama off and on to keep the issue of Tibet alive. Lately, having aligned itself with America to contain China, India is bargaining for a tense Sino-Indian relationship in the years to come.

With Pakistan, India maintains the worst of relations mainly because of Pakistan’s political and military standing and its ability to reject Indian domination. Outstanding disputes including Kashmir, water distribution, dams that India constructs in violation Indus Water Treaty and border issues have remained unresolved.

By joining the American bandwagon in Afghanistan and positioning its troops in the name of infrastructure development, India created enough concerns for Pakistan. But by its collusion with CIA and Mossad to take out Pakistan’s nuclear assets through subversion in Fata, the NWFP and other areas using the militants of Tehrik-i-Taliban, India is slamming shut the door on the peace process that Pakistan has been persistently trying to keep open ever since 1947. With a history of constant endeavours to balkanise Pakistan, Indian military build up in Afghanistan is seen by Pakistan’s military as an effort to put it in a nutcracker.

That growing Indian influence in Afghanistan is a destabilising factor in the region, is acknowledged even by Gen McChrystal in his recent review of the war in Afghanistan. The make and types of sophisticated weapons, communications equipment and satellite pictures of troop movements recovered from the militants provide undeniable evidence about Indian involvement.

Mr. Ehsanullah Aryanzai, advisor to the Afghan regime has said that India is using Afghan soil to conduct anti-Pakistan activities. The executive editor of ‘News Indian Express’ has acknowledged the evidence of Indian activities in Balochistan in the issue of July 31, 2009. And evidence was recently handed over by Pakistani prime minister to his Indian counterpart.

The Indian psyche that breeds arrogance and expansionism is clear from the words of Pundit Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who said ‘India must dominate or perish’. Perish it will not. So dominate it must. To Hindu extremists, all others on this land are aliens who do not belong there and this includes Muslims and Christians. This justifies the commonly witnessed ethnic cleansing of non-Hindus and leads to the ultimate dream of the creation of Vrihata Bharat — a Greater India.

To ensure that this fatherland is reunited under Hindu rule, India pursues designs of expanding its boundaries to eventually include Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, and Bhutan and create the huge Indian empire.

It would be very naive not to see the direction towards which India is headed. Far from becoming the sole ruler of the entire Indian Ocean, India is destabilising South Asia and working its way towards its own disintegration. This is not only because it is surrounding itself with angry and insecure neighbours, but also due to its troubles at home.

shahidrsiddiqi@gmail.com

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

1 Comment

  1. This is a good post, though I think India’s main goal is not to destabilize the region. The war in SL is over (for now). Farakka is no longer an issue (but there are other important water related issues) between India and Bangladesh.

    Ultimately and rationally, India does not gain much from an unstable region. Actually, I’m working on a “Future of Democracy” project on South Asia, and would be interested to see you extend your prediction into the long-term future. Take a look at this: http://localandglobal.wordpress.com/2010/04/12/future-of-democracy-in-south-asia/

    Cheers,
    J.A.

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