India is the largest country in the sub-continental region. According to Leo Rose (late South Asian specialist), “the primary purpose of India’s regional policy has been to extract, in some form or another, recognition of India’s hegemonic status in the region from both of the major external powers and from its neighbours in the region.”
The Nehruvian policy had visualized India as a regional leader. The second element in India’s South Asia policy had been the power differential; i.e. the regional countries cannot be equals in their dealings with India. Seeing India’s role in the region, the former has maintained a coercive posture. India through economic sanctions and subversive tactics has tried to bring down the neighbouring countries to their heels.
There have been instances where India has militarily intervened in the regional countries. India’s policy of interference could be seen in the case of Sri Lanka. India sponsored the creation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in northern Sri Lanka.
The Tamil-Sinhalese ethnic conflict led to bloodshed and the country’s tourism-based economy was destroyed. India has also manoeuvred the violent acts in former East Pakistan. Mukti Bahini, the terrorist faction involved in the brutal bloodshed of Biharis was Indian-sponsored. India has also violated the UN Security Council resolutions of 1948 & 1949. The abrogation of Article 370 and the arrest of thousands of Kashmiris including Hurriyat leaders was a barbaric act.
The Nehruvian policy had visualized India as a regional leader.
It has put the lives of Kashmiris at stake and the Kashmiris are being victimized because of their struggle for self-determination. Lately, the Indian court has sentenced Chairman Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Muhammad Yasin Malik to life imprisonment.
The jail sentence given to Yasin Malik will neither undo the Kashmir movement nor will it weaken the Kashmiri people. In fact, it is a question mark on India’s democracy. It questions India’s stance on humanity. Yasin Malik back in 2007 started his ‘Safar-e-Azadi’ and that was meant for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
Due to the tense political environment, the regional organization SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) has failed to grow. The example of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is in front, where the Southeast Asian countries through economic integration have progressed. Had SAARC followed the path of economic development, all the regional countries would have benefited. India’s 68 per cent of the population lives below US$ 2 a day but still, India has not given up its policy to overpower relatively weak neighbours like Nepal (Webinar: India’s Economic Policies across South Asia, Nordic Institute of Stability, Copenhagen think tank). Thus, the region’s progress remains hostage to hegemonic power politics.
Externally, South Asia’s proximity to Afghanistan raises the region’s significance to outside powers. The wars in Afghanistan have impacted the region. Lately, the global trends impacting the region’s power politics are the rise of China, the Belt and Road Initiative – BRI (linking 138 countries with a combined GDP of US$ 29 trillion), and the US-India strategic partnership. CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and BCIMEC (China-India-Bangladesh-Myanmar Corridor) both are part of the BRI; the corridors’ are likely to set the pace of connectivity in South Asia. The lead regional countries in connectivity would be Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Chittagong seaport will provide access to the Bay of Bengal, while the Gwadar seaport located in the Arabian Sea will offer a trade route to and from Central Asia.
The regional connectivity will ensue structural changes, the concept of economic security will flourish, also new political actors will step into South Asia.
It would boost Asian trans-regionalism wherein the South Asian economies will link with the East Asian financial markets. The inter-regional connectivity will give the regional countries a more diversified economic outreach.
Another angle to regional connectivity is confrontational politics. Here the question arises, will India access the Central Asian markets through CPEC? Will Afghanistan use the corridor to reach out to the outside world? Or will Iran send oil to South Asia and Central Asia through Gwadar? India has invested in the Chabahar port. India has also invested in Afghanistan in various projects, including the construction of the Salma Dam (Herat province).
These initiatives do reflect India’s tilt towards regional integration. Contrarily, India has opposed the CPEC, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has termed the project as “unacceptable” because it passes through the disputed territory.
Seeing Afghanistan as a bridge between CPEC and Central Asia (Afghanistan bordered by Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to the North), the ground reality does not offer much optimism, the fact of the matter is that the CPEC connectivity with Central Asia through Afghanistan will remain an illusion, under the prevailing chaos in that country.
Note: This article appeared in Daily Times, dated 02 July 2022.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.