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Natural Impediments to Harmony in South Asia

This is Part One of the Three-Article Series –Impediments to South Asian Harmony.

Read Part Two here.

As the pandemic takes grip of the world, we are looking at a new world order with more hostility, rather than tranquillity. A new world order, where the sovereign states are violating most of the ideals of a globalised world, has impacted the South Asian region as well. This region has been no new to conflicts. But the pace of emerging new fronts of conflicts between the countries of this region, be it Indo-China, Indo-Nepal, China-Bhutan, Afghanistan-Pakistan, Indo-Pakistan and many more, has been startling to many. The past six months have seen two countries of this region amending their maps to incorporate new areas, Chinese aggression on the northern Indian border, Chinese new claims of Bhutan’s national park etc. fuelling a new wave of bitterness in the region. Our TRIP intern Manish Jung Pulami, conducted an in-depth analysis of the actual reasons which are impeding the harmony in the region. This article is an outcome of the internship.

The South Asian geography extends from the southern part of the Indian Ocean, and the main boundaries of South Asia are the Indian Ocean, the Himalayas, and Iran. The Arabian Sea borders Pakistan and India to the west, and the Bay of Bengal borders India and Bangladesh to the east, and the western boundary is the desert where Afghanistan shares a border with Iran. The countries of South Asia include Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives, and Afghanistan.

Throughout history, South Asia has been characterized by violent conflicts. The peace and harmony in South Asia is the goal of the states in the region, but different impediments have been restricting South Asian harmony. One of the obstacles of the South Asian harmony has been the diverse geography within and the strategically located geographic location of themselves in the globe.

Also Read: Beginning of a new Cold War

Harmony is always a function of development, but in South Asia, the underdevelopment is among the reasons for the conflict within it. There are three landlocked states in South Asia- Nepal, Bhutan, and Afghanistan whose landlocked geography is one of the impediments for development. The trade and the other economic activities are blocked because of the landlocked nature. The geographic, economic, and social factors have contributed to the internal violence in Nepal and Afghanistan. Similarly, Sri Lanka, a large tropical island off India’s southeast coast, and the other is the Republic of Maldives, an archipelago off the southwest coast of India, are also geographically isolated states. The Maldives is most affected by climate change and the rise of the sea level (Bhatnagar & Ahmed, 2020).

One of the obstacles of the South Asian harmony has been the diverse geography within and the strategically located geographic location of themselves in the globe.

Moreover, most of the South Asian continent is made from the land in the original Indian Plate. Pressure from tectonic action against the plates causes the Himalayas to rise in elevation by as much as one to five millimeters per year. Destructive earthquakes and tremors are frequent in this seismically active realm, which has cost lives and property in the region in the past years. As a natural impediment to development, it has also affected South Asian harmony.

The major rivers of South Asia and the birthplace of the human civilizations such as the Indus, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra River, and other rivers such as the Kali, Gandaki, and Koshi gets recurrent reversal of winds called the monsoon which arrives every year, and there is heavy flooding whose effect on the infrastructure of the region is disastrous. Every year hundreds of people die in the Northern and Northeast region of India, Southern Plains of Nepal, and Bhutan. The worst-hit places are along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, such as in Bangladesh which affects Bangladesh’s economy and infrastructure (Kafle, 2017).

Also Read: India-Nepal Relations: A Way Forward for Strong Relations

The extensive Thar Desert in western India and some parts of Pakistan, conversely, do not receive monsoon rains. Much of southwest Pakistan, a region named Baluchistan, is waterless, with desert conditions. This makes the conditions worst for farmers and the economy of the South Asian states.

The topography of the South Asian states has positioned them in a geostrategic location.

The mountains on the boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan spread through Kashmir meet up with the high ranges of the Himalayas. The Himalayas make a natural barrier between India and China, with Nepal and Bhutan pro tem as buffer states with Tibet. Such natural barricades are the hindrances for trade among the states. Also, the topography of the South Asian states has positioned them in a geostrategic location.

Nepal, as a landlocked state, is located geo-strategically between the two Asian giants, India and China. Similarly, Afghanistan faced an upsetting destiny because of its geostrategic location connecting Central Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East (Bhatnagar & Ahmed, 2020). Equally, Sri Lanka as an island state enjoys the geostrategic location, owing to its deep harbors and trade-friendly location. Bangladesh is also one of the major and important states in the Bay of Bengal. As a result of these geo-strategically important locations, the states face a tremendous amount of interference and clash of interest of the major powers from all around the world (Bhatnagar & Ahmed, 2020).

The growing demand for water due to overpopulation, rapid urbanization, and scarcity of the resource has increased the intensity of the conflict.

One of the major geographical reasons for conflict in South Asia is water and its sharing. Water resources in South Asia have been straightly connected to national sovereignty and security for many reasons. The growing demand for water due to overpopulation, rapid urbanization, and scarcity of the resource has increased the intensity of the conflict. The Teesta basin which is identified for the lack of an agreement between India and Bangladesh over its waters sharing has added internal disputes and significant matters connected to the bilateral relations between the two states (Malhotra, 2010).

Also Read: Indian Ocean and South China Sea: Jugular Vein as Gordian Knot

Similarly, another histo-geographical conflict in South Asia is the Indus river conflict between India and Pakistan. Though the water issue is regulated through the Indus Waters Treaty, it has been criticized for being outdated. Thus, this has increased the conflict between the two states ultimately affecting the whole region. Also, the Kosi Treaty and Gandak Treaty between India and Nepal for the sharing of the waters between the states have been controversial and there have been sour relations between the two friendly states (ECC Platform Library).

Also Read: The Iran–China 25-years Deal: Where does it leave India?

Thus, the geography of South Asia has highly impacted the harmony, cooperation, and comprehensiveness in the region through the conflict in the interest among the states because of the natural resources, or due to natural barriers and lack of cooperation in natural resources sharing. In conclusion, more than purely geographical or natural impediments, geography has created a diverse range of culture, history religion, and population which are also the impediments for cooperation in South Asia.

Upcoming Articles in this Series – Political Impediments for Harmony in South Asia (Part Two)


Bhatnagar, S., & Ahmed, Z. S. (2020). Geopolitics of landlocked states in South Asia: a comparative analysis of Afghanistan and Nepal. Australian Journal of International Affairs.

ECC Platform Library. (n.d.). Water conflict and cooperation between India and Pakistan. Retrieved from ECC Platform Library: https://library.ecc-platform.org/conflicts/water-conflict-indus-basin-between-india-and-pakistan

Kafle, S. K. (2017). Disaster Risk Management Systems in South Asia: Natural Hazards, Vulnerability, Disaster Risk and Legislative and Institutional Frameworks. Journal of Geography & Natural Disasters.

Malhotra, P. (2010). Water Issues between Nepal, India & Bangladesh. New Delhi: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

About the author

The author holds a Master's degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is a Daayitwa Public Policy Fellow 2020 placed at National Planning Commission, Nepal.

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