This is Final Part of the Three-Article Series – ‘Impediments to South Asian Harmony’.
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.
Since the independence of many South Asian states, international relations in South Asia have been characterized by common suspicion, unfriendly relations, and, at times, open conflict (Razvi, 2008). The reasons for conflict in South Asia can be characterized by acute security lenses. Though most of the reasons may end up being political, the root causes of the conflict are overarching – geographical, historical, cultural and political. South Asia shares a common history of colonialism – a period which inflicted the roots for interstate conflict in the region. Home to a number of religions and diverse cultures, this region is witnessing a growing threat to its pluralist character in the form of resurgent religious nationalism. The South Asian region provides a significant location to examine the relationship between pluralism and peace (Saiya, 2019).
Thus, as a whole, impediments to harmony in South Asia can be defined through the historical, cultural, geographical and political lenses.
Political Lens –
In South Asia, the political reasons for the conflict and poor cooperation stem from a blurred understanding of multilateralism, rise in nationalism triggered by historic bilateral relations, and Pakistan’s isolation (whether self-inflicted or regionally imposed)(Chan, 2017).
Importantly, the influence of the extra-regional actors has made this region quite vulnerable to conflicts. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Bay of Bengal are those areas of South Asia that are being significantly influenced by the major powers such as China, USA, Japan, Russia, EU and others. It is a potential area of conflict for the region. Also, the geostrategic location of the South Asian states makes them vulnerable to foreign influence in the region. The Chinese BRI, the American ‘Pivot-to-Asia’ and Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Russian stakes in South Asia have led significant interference of these actors in internal politics of the region to their benefit.
Historical Lens –
Some of the historical impediments can be traced back to the colonialism. The India-Pakistan rivalry, the Bangladesh-Pakistan cold relations, Pakistan-Afghanistan difficult relations and Nepal-India fluctuating relations can be drawn back to colonialism. The regional security complex was formed based on a unique civilization, after the end of British colonial raj. The Partition of India in 1947 is itself a root cause of conflict in the region. The 1971 liberation of Bangladesh is another historical reason for conflict in the present days. The states are still not able to cooperate for a regional harmony because of the historical enmity they had during the period of colonialism or post-independence (Joshi, 2013).
The former colonial masters left behind one of the main reasons for hostility in this region – the inter-state border disputes.
Cultural Lens –
Likewise, the South Asian region has many culturally and religiously plural states, having people from many races and creed in the region. The cultural barriers have induced the intra-state conflicts in the region affecting the harmony of the states and the whole region. The religious movements and increased militancy have been major impediments to the harmony in the region. The Hindu Nationalist Groups, Taliban, Mujahideen, ISIS and others are some examples of religiously motivated groups causing terrors.
The separatist movements in Northeast India and the civil war in Sri Lanka are some of the examples of culturally motivated unrest in South Asia. The Islamization of Pakistani politics and society, seen most acutely in the state’s draconian blasphemy code, has directly fed Islamist vigilantism, which has become a major security threat to the region (Saiya, 2019).
Geographical Lens –
The geographical impediments of the region can be explained through the geographical isolation of some of the states because of their landlocked nature (Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan) and island states (Sri Lanka and the Maldives). The isolation of these countries due to natural geographical reasons block the trade and development of those states. Moreover, the whole region is prone to natural calamities such as earthquake, floods and tsunamis which take hundreds of lives and destroy property every year. The geostrategic location of the whole continent and the states in South Asia has led to a tremendous amount of interference and interest of major powers of the world.
Other Ailments –
The migrants and the refugee crisis a The influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh and India, the induction of Tamil refugees into India due to Sri Lankan Civil War, and Bhutanese refugees to Nepal are some of the major inter-state political problems in South Asia. The porous borders and cultural, lingual and religious homogeneity have led to illegal migration of criminals, terrorists and others (Ahmed, 2019). Because of the cultural, religious and political homogeneity of this region, the policies concerning minorities in one state have its ripples felt across borders.
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Pakistan’s military influence in Pakistan’s politics and economy is one of the major political reasons for the lack of harmony in the reason. South Asia is also the second most region inflicted because of terrorist activities (Giunchi, 2014). Hence, the Taliban issue in Afghanistan is a historical impediment from the time of the Soviet occupation and relevant to the conflict in contemporary times as well.
In conclusion, there is barely any noteworthy harmonization between the core and periphery in this region, most of the South Asian states cooperate predominantly with the outside world and only secondarily with states within the region. In other words, intraregional harmony is in a stage of infancy. The geographical, historical, cultural and political impediments have equally contributed to ignite and fuel up the hostilities of South Asia.
Three-Article Series: ‘Impediments to South Asian Harmony‘
- Ahmed, Z. S. (2019). Managing the refugee crises in South Asia: The role of SAARC. Asian and Pacific migration journal: APMJ.
- Chan, J. H. (2017). Regionalism in South Asia: Negotiating cooperation, institutional structures. Munich: Munich Personal RePEc Archive.
- Gaiha, R., & Hill, K. (2019). Natural Disasters in South Asia. In Routledge Handbook of South Asian Economics . Routledge.
- Giunchi, E. A. (2014). The Political and Economic Role of the Pakistani Military. ISPI.
- Joshi, S. (2013). Colonial notion of South Asia. South Asian Journal. Retrieved from https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~dludden/Sjoshi04.htm
- Paukert, M. (2003). Major Powers and South Asia. Islamabad: Konferenzberichte.
- Razvi, S. M. (2008). Conflict and cooperation in South Asia. The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 269-279.
- Saiya, N. (2019). Pluralism and Peace in South Asia. The Review of Faith and International Affairs, XVII(4), 12-22.
- Tavares, R. (2008). Understanding Regional Peace and Security: A Framework for Analysis. Comparative Politics, 107-127.