The South Asia trap: India bottled within
South Asia is home to about two billion people. A most densely populated subcontinent and among the poorest of the poor in the world.
Caught in the poverty trap, hundreds of millions have over generations succumbed to the vilest exploitation by political masters, who have ruled them by instilling fear and hate and sold them only delusions of grandeur cast in narrow nationalism.
South Asia has been left behind in the march of history and in the story of the rise of Asia. Divisiveness is the recurring theme in the annals of this region. Divided from within, fed on copy pasted foreign notions of politics, governance and even civility, the regression to a medieval past is discernible in all spheres.
The so-called political elite has effectively erased the prospects of the emergence of a homogenous regional polity conducive to economic growth, social equity and common development.
The vision of the South Asia Regional Cooperation of the 1980’s has been thrown into the dust bin. A hyper nationalist party wedded to Hindu supremacy and unabashedly with a hegemonic mindset has sold to the Indian populace its version of glory and a place under the sun.
BJP types believe that they need to reconquer or politically rejig all contiguous states and reunite India- as a motherland from Afghanistan to Myanmar and Nepal and Bhutan to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. They began by trying to erase Kashmiri identity and then legislated discrimination against Muslims.
India stands isolated within South Asia. The beating in Ladakh has cost it not only lives but inestimable reputational damage. The western idea of making India a policeman for South Asia has proved wrong.
Pogroms were launched against minority communities with stark viciousness. The global political climate was deemed conducive for this assault within as the West thought of India as a counterweight to a rising China.
India would signal playing the proxy in the new cold war and utilize this opportunity for vandalism against non-Hindus within-- and terrorize its neighbors into submission to the might of New Delhi. The BJP government declared that it would isolate Pakistan globally and set upon encouraging its western friends to keep Pakistan under pressure through various stratagems including the Financial Action Task Force.
India deployed considerable political capital to upset Pakistan-US relations and break China-Pakistan cooperation especially in the CPEC context. The BJP profited politically from its anti-Pakistan tirade and by engineering the false propaganda of the success of its so-called surgical strikes.
India has continued to keep the Line of Control in Kashmir hot and adopted an intimidatory military posture against Pakistan. But India is today realizing that there are limits to the practice of hegemony. Its propensity to overplay the anti-China card stands discredited in Ladakh.
Nepal has given a befitting reply to Indian claims on its territory. Bhutan is willing to accommodate India but has its interests in warming up to Beijing. Bangladesh is awash with anti-India sentiments especially after the adoption of discriminatory measures against the Muslims of Bangladesh origin Assam and other northeastern states- a region that is burgeoning with anti-India insurgencies.
Sri Lanka and Maldives remain wary of India and have opened up considerably to China and even Pakistan. Most of all, India has almost lost its foothold in Afghanistan.
China has come to the rescue of smaller South Asian states by promising economic development and provided these states a viable option to stand up against Indian hegemony and adventurism.
Now, India stands isolated within South Asia. The beating in Ladakh has cost it not only lives but inestimable reputational damage. The western idea of making India a policeman for South Asia has proved wrong.
India has been bottled within South Asia and its dreams of emerging as a global power are ruined. But as they say, there is no finality to history. A much-chastened India will hopefully one day realize that its future and the socio-economic wellbeing of its people can be best ensured by having good neighborly relations on the basis of equality and mutual interest.
On the other hand, if India persists on its present course, it will court disaster of a severe magnitude- even a breakup of the Indian Union from within is not beyond imagination.
*Salman Bashir is a Pakistani diplomat who served as Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and as High Commissioner of Pakistan to India.