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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Geopolitical imperatives of South Asian nations

K. B. Ahmed

South Asia is a later-day political configuration of the previously known sub-continent of India that had acquired legendary historical accolades for many thousand years. With the exceptions of the Dravidians who are currently known to be occupying the Southern region of the subcontinent, rest of the populations also known as Indians came from outside. This has, over many thousands of years, resulted in multicultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnical convergence in the union of India. In the last two centuries the Europeans descended onto the sub-continent of which the East India Company of Great Britain succeeded in establishing an administrative colony to rule and trade as well. They found it expedient in putting the ruling class, the Muslims who descended from the Central Asia, against the Hindu majority who were at times subjected to coercive oppression by the rulers. It was also convenient for the colonial rulers to train and create an administrative cadre of clerks to support and assist in the ruling of the colony for both maintaining law & order and conducting trade as well. East India Company, however, continued to administer the established laws and practices including usage of Farsi as the official court language. But exploitation and oppressive measures soon became clear to the locals of all faiths and a resistance was mounted to remove the colonial rulers. Division in the ruling class and polarisation in the social structures brought advantages to the ruling colonials and they successfully put down the rebellion. This created the opportunity to install direct rule from the Crown of Great Britain and English Common Law was adopted as well as English as the official language introduced.   

During the post-colonial era since Second World War, decolonised nations went into another interface of history in which the victory by the national leaders, who sacrificed their lives in achieving independence from the colonial rule, was marred by deception, corruption and unconstitutional efforts to perpetuate power by establishing dynastic tradition. In this, old colonial powers and newly acquired supremacy by the Western economies including USSR played actively the conniving schemes and in manipulative roles. The sub-continent like other third world nations is till the victim of the same.

Cold War, as long it continued, remained an active provocateur in polarising the regional national interest with that of international formation of bloc conflict which overshadowed the need and necessity of alleviating the dire depravity borne out of poverty of the citizens. The wrong and faulty argument that had propelled leaders to seek for the partitioning of the sub-continent left its impact in both political and economic terms. Over the last sixty seven years, hundreds of billions of dollars were spent in marshalling armies, and in armed conflicts which were neither necessary nor had benefitted the nations. Instead, if the same money were invested in economic development, the fate and fortunes of millions would have been substantially improved. This intransigent motive and intractable mind-set of leadership has left the subcontinent as one of the poorest region of the world.

Although the region is known to have rich historical and cultural heritage, but a false sense of pride and ego had guided the nations of the region which can be characterised only in animation.  Unlike other regional and sub-regional alliances, the organisation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC)  has become a sphere of influence by Indian hegemony and their sustained preoccupation with the conflicts with Pakistan at many different level has left the SAARC inoperative and without any direction. Pakistan, on the other hand, has become completely rudderless by engaging itself between invoking the right to uphold solidarity with Muslin Ummah and by acting as a proxy to the USA and the Western Alliances against the increasing influence of USSR. Pakistan lacked articulation and focussed on short term gains as against the future viability of the country. Both India and Pakistan has inherited common fault line of having multiple ethnical, cultural and linguistic national identities under a superficial veneer of faith.

What had been conceived by the founding fathers in achieving a peaceful, and wealth-making nations to cooperate with each other was shattered by its initial impact. Ever widening conflicts divided the nations, leaderships, bureaucracies and even the intellectuals. Politicians typically concerned with power-sharing focussed only on the manipulation of public opinion and ignored the prospects and potentials of cooperation, collaboration that would have alleviated the curse of poverty and dire depravation of the people in the sub-continent. Neighbouring ASEAN nations however, focussed on economic development, and quickly established a collective bond to build infrastructures and skill and offered a competitive edge to investors to choose their destination in South East Asia.

At last, in South Asia a dialogue has begun in the private sector with some qualified official support to re-integrate South Asia for the economic development by invoking cooperation and interdependence. The fate and future of the people cannot be metaphorically dismissed for the sake of unimaginative concern for security and misconceived sense of sovereignty.

 "There is a growing awareness-and an increasing sense of urgency-in South Asia that the dire forecast for the region's non-traditional security environment will inevitably have a spill over effect in traditional security areas. At the same time, there is optimism in South Asian policy corridors that if these non-traditional challenges begin to be effectively addressed today, before they have a chance to evolve into the "hot button" traditional security threats of tomorrow, they may inspire innovative pathways for tackling some of the region's long-standing traditional security problems.

In recent years, the human impact of food and water crises, natural and environmental disasters, and pandemic diseases that cut across geographic boundaries has awakened South Asia's leaders to the seriousness of these "soft" non-traditional security challenges. As countries in the region have witnessed, the higher incidence of calamities in these areas can have political consequences, if not adequately addressed, and exacerbate conditions contributing to more traditional "hard" security threats" (Mahin Karim, Senior Associate for Political and Security Affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, Seattle, Washington).

 In this context, it may be pertinent to quote Lt Colonel Puran Ghale of Nepal armt, who stated in his doctoral research, "It is widely believed that the regional dynamics in South Asia, characterised by power asymmetry and geographical Indo-centricity, makes the region a particularly brittle strategic environment. In that challenging context, one needs to ask why regional integration, including the creation of an important role for SAARC has been so difficult in South Asia". He further added that the prospect of converting South Asia into a prosperous region is time-bound and if it is not achieved within next 20 years, the history of the subcontinent will be written for the failure of leadership and the identity of the nations in the subcontinent will be in the foot prints of the success of other nations. If petty minded intransigence can be overcome, there is a great prospect waiting for South-Asia.      

While thinking of the prospect of the formation of a discriminatory trading area in South Asia from a political economy perspective, it is generally believed that the existence of political rivalry and economic asymmetry in the region acts as a deterrence to the formation of such a trading bloc. According to Ronald C. Duncan, Professor of Economics, the Australian National University, "This could be argued that the politico-economic imperatives of the changed fundamentals of international political relations and trade would bring the countries of South Asia closer to settling the conflicts. The economic asymmetry in this region would not preclude economic cooperation. Rather, a trading bloc involving geographically-large India and its small neighbours would lead to a significant increase in intra-regional trade."

Source:  The Financial Express, 25 November 2015

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