IPRI – Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Reflections on an article, “Rearranging the Subcontinent” By Robert D. Kaplan

In his article published in Forbes – “Rearranging the Subcontinent” the author, Robert D. Kaplan has argued that “geography has been the predominant factor in determining the fate of nations, from pharaonic Egypt to the Arab Spring.” His emphasises that “borders are still artificial”. Although he discusses “territorial transformations from the United States to China” he mainly focuses on the Middle East. About China he says that its power is “inexorable” and in spite of its internal problems it may become “Asia’s superpower”.

In a recent article titled “Rearranging the Subcontinent”, Robert Kaplan has shown anti-Pakistan bias implicitly telling that its borders were artificial and needed to be re-arranged. He talks of “greater Indian subcontinent” and thinks that the whole subcontinent is one region. He questions the “viability of Pakistan”. According to him, Bangladesh is a “weak and artificially conceived state in almost never-ending turmoil”. About Afghanistan he writes that it was outside British India because it could not be conquered owing to difficult terrain. “But don’t assume that this particular British paradigm will last forever”, he writes.

Although he bases his arguments on geography and history, he fails to write that the South Asian Subcontinent is divided into two main geographical blocks – northern bloc between Himalyas and Vindhyachal Mountain Range and the southern bloc that lies south of Vindhyachal right up to the sea. The northern bloc is distinctly divided into three regions, Indus region in the west (Pakistan), Gangetic region in the centre (Hindustan), Brahamputra region (Assam and Bengal) in the east. The Muslim rulers attempted to bring northern subcontinent under one administration and the Mughal tried to control southern subcontinent but could not succeed. However, the British were the first who conquered the entire subcontinent and brought it under one administration.

While talking of re-arranging the borders of the subcontinent, Kaplan should have referred to the geographical divisions of the subcontinent. In his book he had admitted that the subcontinent had “four regional centres” under Ashoka, the greatest ruler in ancient India, of those four “one region was Taxila which is the suburb of Islamabad”, the capital of Pakistan.

Pakistan is geographically one solid region and historically the hinterland of several northwestern empires, i.e., Hindu Shahiya dynasty, Early Turkish and Mughal empires of India, culturally the abode of Harrappan civilization and religiously Muslim who form 97 percent of the population. Pakistan is, therefore, the most natural country geographically, historically, culturally and religiously and not an “illogically conceived state” as depicted by Kaplan.

His bias is apparent when he writes that “Iraq and Pakistan are in terms of geography arguably the two most illogically conceived states between the Mediterranean and the Indian subcontinent. (See chapter “Tyranny of Geography”). He contradicts himself in another chapter titled “India’s Geographical Dilemma” that “the Indus River, which runs length wise through the middle of Pakistan, is exceedingly gradual, so that for millennia similar cultures occupied both the high plateaus and the lowland, riverine plains, whether Harrappan, Kushan, Turkic, Mughal, Indo Persian, Indo-Islamic, or Pushtun, to name but a few.” He also admits in the same chapter that “the outlines of Harrappan world stretched from Baluchistan northeast up to Kashmir … [and] covered most of Pakistan.”

In fact, his writings about South Asia are subjective and toeing the line of U.S. policy. He devotes one chapter XII titled “India’s Geographical Dilemma” and writes: “As the United States and China become great power rivals, the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of geopolitics in Eurasia in the twenty first century. India, in other words, looms as the ultimate pivot state.” In support of his argument he quotes Henry Kissinger’s view on India in his latest book, World Order: “India will be a fulcrum of twenty-first century order: an indispensable element, based on its geography, resources and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and concepts of order at whose intersection is stands.”

Already, Leon Panetta, U.S. Defence Secretary had called India as a “lynchpin” in U.S. policy. The U.S. had concluded the strategic partnership and nuclear pact with India, the country who had not yet signed NPT. However, Kaplan laments that “the subcontinent from early antiquity was politically divided, and that is what ails it still.” Nevertheless, he is attempting to project “greater India” at the expense of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

(Dr Noor ul Haq)


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