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World wide - January 1, 2024

Influence of India in South Asia

C. Raja Mohan : Has the subcontinent ‘fallen’ from the hands of India? This lament of ‘losing’ South Asia has intensified in the context of (from Delhi’s point of view) ‘negative’ developments in the region. For example, the recent demand of Maldives to withdraw India’s military presence from the country.
The current debate in India on South Asia is unfortunately purely emotional, self-serving at its best and disconnected from the changing regional realities. Militants are surprised that neighboring countries are daring to challenge the perception of India’s dominance in the region. On the other hand, the pacifists feel that the responsibility of the neighboring countries to be anti-India lies entirely with Delhi. The first party wants Delhi to be stricter. The second side wants Delhi to maintain good relations with its neighbours. Neither the ‘tough’ nor the ‘good relations’ policy will solve India’s regional challenges. Because they are structured. There are several internal, regional and external factors at the root of this disharmony between South Asian countries with India.
The idea that Delhi is losing its hegemony in South Asia is largely rooted in Indians’ collective nostalgia for the legacy of the British Raj. It was the British Raj that made the Indian subcontinent an integral geopolitical entity; Establishing regional hegemony and turning the surrounding territory into their own controlled and buffer states. But this reality ended long ago when the British left India.
The division of the subcontinent on the basis of religion also ended its unity. This resulted in the birth of two sovereign states. At the same time, unresolved border and territorial disputes arose between the two countries, which continue to plague the region. Even the elixir of regional cooperation and appeals to a common history-tradition are not able to end the bitter and persistent legacy of partition. Pakistan views the Kashmir issue as an unfinished matter of partition. The country does not want to temporarily shelve the issue of Kashmir in the interests of developing limited but positive relations with India or strengthening South Asia-based regional cooperation under SAARC.
India and its neighboring countries have adopted different development strategies to become economically independent. This has further strengthened the political division of the subcontinent. Inter-country commercial transactions are hampered due to increased border security measures. Since the early 1990s, regional economic cooperation has definitely increased since the region joined globalization. But it is certainly less than the speed and extent it should have been.
But Pakistan is not willing to do that much. The country does not want to cooperate with India in the economic field. There is no mention of trade relations with India in the country’s geo-economic discussions. Nawaz Sharif advocated a change in this when he was Prime Minister. He is likely to become prime minister again in the upcoming February elections. It is not yet certain whether Pakistan Army Chief General Asim Munir will allow him to work at all.
It was at the hands of the British Raj that regional influential groups showed their respect for Delhi. It lasted only a few years. The relatively small neighboring states soon realized that independent India and the British Raj were not the same thing. The British Empire was one of the world’s most powerful powers. They also understand that neighboring countries have opportunities to play for or against India. India may be geographically huge, but Delhi cannot easily impose its policies on its neighbors at will. Countries can afford to do things on their own. On the one hand, India cannot compel them to submit, nor can they persuade them to agree with sweet bullies like common identity and culture.
While India’s regional ambitions may sound good in Delhi, neighboring countries see them as a secret tool to establish hegemony in the region. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-RSS’s liberal view of ‘Akhand Bharat’ or ‘Brichat Bharat’ or an integral subcontinent, both deeply suspicious of them. In addition, influential people in neighboring countries also consider the Indian-led regional system fundamentally inconsistent with their national sovereignty.
India’s internal discussions on the nature of bilateral relations with the US, which is more powerful than India, are such as muddled; Neighbors’ discussions about India also became surreal. India is one of the largest nations in the world. But it took more than a decade to sign a common logistics agreement with the US. It only took him this time to realize that the deal would not “allow Washington to set up military bases”. So, if a small country, Maldives, is concerned about its sovereignty while taking India’s military cooperation, why would you turn a blind eye to the country?
Whether they like it or not, India’s influence in the internal politics of neighboring countries is increasing day by day. If one of the two warring sections of the dominant class of a neighboring country asks India to join its own political struggle, the other section will see such interference by India as hegemony. And the part that wants to have an acceptable relationship with India is accused of ceding the question of national sovereignty.
Even the same party and leader may take different positions in different contexts. Try to remember, Imran Khan attacked Nawaz Sharif by accusing then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of being warm towards Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In 2018, Imran Khan’s election slogan was, ‘Whoever is Modi’s friend, is Pakistan’s enemy.’ But as Prime Minister, Imran changed his tone somewhat. During the Indian general elections in 2019, Imran Khan said that Modi was Pakistan’s biggest bet to resolve the Kashmir issue and hoped that he would be re-elected. But that hope was shattered by the Pulwama terror attack and India’s counter-attack at Balakot.
In my final opinion, the idea that India has a special influence like the British Raj in the subcontinent is an illusion. A divided India never held the same power as the British Raj; So, he has no power to sustain the old system. Pakistan has turned to the US and China to compete with India. The Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan has turned the northwest part of the subcontinent into a shadow war between the West, the Middle Eastern states, and Russia and China. The war resulted in severe anarchy along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which changed the geopolitical landscape of the subcontinent.
India’s concern over the dramatic expansion of China’s economic and military influence in the subcontinent is justified. But India cannot stop the world’s second largest economic and military power from becoming a strong player in the region. Western presence in the subcontinent is gradually decreasing. As a result, China’s strategic presence in the economic, military and technological fields of South Asia will increase in the coming days. That too, poses a formidable challenge for India.
But China is not the only emerging power in South Asia. Among the Middle East countries, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Dubai are gaining economic and military capabilities as much as their influence is falling in the region. Even on the one hand, the international relations of the subcontinent are changing significantly, on the other hand, the two countries bordering it are facing a lot of pressure. In the West, the conflict between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army is intensifying day by day. On the other hand, in the east, Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy forces are united and are going to liberate the northern part of the country from the hands of the Burmese army.
Considering these things together, it can be said that the present subcontinent is very different from the subcontinent we got in the middle of the 20th century. No region is a static entity. Their geographical situation, political structure and economic outlook changed over time. There can be no exception in the case of ‘South Asia’.
So, the important question is not that ‘South Asia is falling apart’ from India. Rather, it is important to find ways to gain strength in a changing region. Not just protecting one’s own interests; India also has the capacity to exert influence over neighboring countries. But to do this effectively, Delhi must break out of its old stereotypes about South Asia.
Courtesy: The Indian Express

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