By Syed Suhail Yaqoob
South Asia is a home to more than one billion people. Youth form a major chunk of the population. The rising middle class, inclusive democracy and greater demands for security are the characteristics of this part of world. Extreme nationalism (both cultural and historical), another characteristic of South Asia, has been kept in control due to a vibrancy of free speech. Also, intellectuals are giving a tough fight to forces of extremism and enemies of liberalism, democracy and diversity.
There are some features which have kept South Asian nations in historical and geographical traps. And these fault lines have increased over the years. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been fighting over the border that divides the Pashtuns. It has been a spot which can generate conflict between these two countries. Then, we have the Kashmir conflict. Jammu and Kashmir has a strategic position in South Asia, both economically and politically. Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan, under the control of Pakistan, provide it access to China.
For India, China’s heavy and modern military hardware and human resources are a direct threat. India wants to reduce China’s pressure from the North-East states. Given the imbalance between China and India, the latter cannot afford to concentrate its military at a single point. Water has now become another issue between Pakistan and India. Kashmir irrigates the land of both these countries. Analysts have predicted that future wars will be fought over water.
There have been reports that China is diverting the water resources of the Brahmaputra. It will cause severe damage to the North-East states and could lead to conflict with Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh will have to manage their agriculture with limited water. China’s closeness with Sri Lanka is also frowned at by the Indian establishment. They worry that China will encircle them to maintain its power over the subcontinent. Sri Lanka is coming closer to Pakistan as well. India wants stable relations with Sri Lanka, but the Tamils in south India have been fierce opponents of good relations with Sri Lanka. It has put India in a tight spot. China has filled Sri Lankan coffers with FDI’s.
Unfortunately for India, it opened another front due to strategic blunders in Nepal. India resorted to punitive action to compel Nepal to follow its policies and objectives while China silently gained crucial ground in Kathmandu.
Human geography and lack of homogeneity in beliefs, religions and histories is tearing South Asia apart. There have been attacks all over the subcontinent on minorities. Myanmar has almost excluded whole of its Muslim population. In India, Muslims and Christians are constantly exposed to violence and danger. In Pakistan, minorities are also exposed to such violence. Human geography is the most important source of conflict here. South Asian countries are in a constant state of fear of war due to geography.
It is essential that South Asia maintains peace for the welfare of the people. Geographical fault-lines must be bridged as early as possible to enable movement of people, economic growth and stability. South Asia is in dire need of statesmen to solve problems and conflicts.
—The writer is a research scholar at the Department of Economics at AMU