Introduction and brief overview of current circumstances:
The geopolitics in South Asia (Subcontinent) remains at a stalemate, as the traditionally vibrant states are seemingly at each other’s throats. The Subcontinent has 3 of the most populated countries in the world India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Along with them are states that play an equal role in balancing the power structures. Traditionally India and Pakistan have resented each other due to the colonial design of division argued by post-colonial thinkers.
The two countries were divided up by religion and the blood baths of 1947 have severely harmed the potential reconciliation of the two great South Asian powers. Bangladesh’s previous assimilation into Pakistan due to ‘religious categorisation’ has caused a long struggle for independence as there were countless justifications to do so. Further reading: Recounting the War of Liberation
As the 200 years of oppressive imperialism and Cold War politics the region remains deeply divided. The entire region in the post-colonial era remains economically destitute and has looked forward to get along in order to enhance the level of trade. The average citizens of this region regardless of cultural, religious or ethnic differences all seek a prosperous livelihood which is absent for the past two centuries. The major stumbling block to this goal remains the two competing powers in New Delhi and Islamabad that is hurting the demands of the commons.
India-Pakistan relations, stability in the region and the OBOR project:
In today’s world, India and Pakistan are two nuclear armed states that share borders and have traditionally had hostile foreign policies towards each other. However, the majority of indigenous Hindus and the Muslims have remained harmoniously (at a basic level) for over 700 years and remain so with an exception of a few fundamentalist motivated active groups. The imperialists came on high time of prosperity in the region and have taken control through shrewd politics and military prowess as they colonised the entire region for around 200 years.
This have plundered one of the richest civilisations in recorded history and had a massive transfer of wealth in a different region of the world. Geographically this region remains one of the most fertile grounds and the prospects for economic growth remain inevitable. As the growing economies of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is racing and the three majorly populated states in the region are on route to be amongst the leading economic and political powers in the world. Nevertheless, the two traditional ‘hegemons’ in the region remain at its throat as there is historical mistrust and division in its post colonial days.
As suggested by various post-colonial thinkers, the two-state theory for this vastly diverse region that envisioned an establishment of two major states divided by religion have proven to be a failed project. After 70 years it is confirmed as Bangladesh have emerged, also the states modelled on religious divisions designed in the colonial era remains multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic to its core.
Neighbouring this Subcontinent region is the second largest economic powerhouse in the world and a prominent global power China and a deeply destabilised Afghanistan. The Soviet and the subsequent American invasions in the past 30 years have turned once a culturally diverse country into a plundered failed state.
A stable and prosperous Afghanistan is in the interest of the entire region including China as they look to gain more influence in the globe as its economy demands it. There are challenges as the whole world sees a rise in right-wing nationalism, for instance in India there has been various Fundamentalist movements currently supported by the New Delhi establishment, which may concern the neighbouring countries who would want to refrain from a widespread movement further destabilising the region. Further Reading: Sands: The Rise of Hindu Nationalism
Tragically Afghanistan was turned into a chess board for the major powers in the Cold War era. Afghanistan is situated in a vital region as it connects the West and East of Asia. The ideas of an economically interconnected Europe and Asia also known as Eurasia requires a stable South Asia and Afghanistan is an integral part of it. Primarily, the two traditional hegemons based in Islamabad and New Delhi has competed for influence in the region. A prosperous region is beneficial for the by-standing states like Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The Chinese initiated One Road One Belt project connecting East, Central and West Asia (Middle-East) with Europe is one of the recent hypes in the world, as this offers significant economic incentives for the ‘smaller’ states and an access to a larger market. This idea for international cooperation, global peace and prosperity is principally based upon understandings of liberalism. As all participating states will benefit and have an incentive to protect one another as their economic interests will be interconnected, hence war and divisions will eventually erode. Further Reading: Can India afford to miss out on the OBOR?
SAARC and BIMSTEC, New Delhi and Islamabad’s aggressive foreign policies:
SAARC was initiated in Dhaka for regional cooperation modelled after the European Union. SAARC was a liberal dream for a more integrating self sufficient South Asia. However, 30 years on this project looks dysfunctional, as New Delhi and Islamabad are at a political low point and the prying of Islamabad in Bangladesh’s internal affairs (the war crimes tribunal). The subsequent withdrawal of Pakistan’s High Commissioner and diplomats from Dhaka was not taken lightly in Dhaka. Hence, this makes the SAARC union dysfunctional.
Additionally, the attempts by both New Delhi and Islamabad to dominate the region have been proved counterproductive and their attempts have failed over and over again. The current establishment in Islamabad’s support for Fundamentalist political groups in the region such as ‘Jaamat-e-Islaami’ and other militant insurgencies (notably in Afghanistan, Kashmir and Bangladesh) have severely damaged relations of Islamabad and the other states in the region.
It must not be forgotten, the establishment in Islamabad’s support of the War in Afghanistan that further destabilised the country has deeply divided Kabul and Islamabad today. The current stance of the Islamabad establishment is quite unpredictable as they have been consistently jumping from one side to the other when it has served their own interests and as a result the diplomatic failures have only made them politically isolated in the region.
Bangladesh traditionally after its independence has reached out to every state in the region for mutual cooperation and development. However, the expectations of New Delhi and Islamabad for Dhaka to jump on their ship have realistically not been beneficial for anyone in the long run. As this further divides the entire region as it was divided in 1947. For a truly prosperous South Asia both sides in the region ought to find a mutual understanding for the sake of its own people.
Majority of the people of the two nuclear armed states remain in destitute conditions as they continue to build their armies with tax money from the commoners. Islamabad’s diplomatic failures and the shrewd politics from New Delhi has further divided the region up and left the non-aligned states such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal under uncertainty. It is clear all the sates in this region apart from the two nuclear armed ones are against a hegemon emerging as this significantly hampers the growth prospects and increases dependency.
One of the fundamental issues regarding New Delhi and Islamabad is the Kashmir issue. The two countries have been fighting for the Kashmir province since their inception in 1947 with no actual result, as both sides have failed awfully in their pursuit of annexing the other half of Kashmir. The true sufferers of this political chess game have only been the common people of Kashmir. It is the understanding of the bystanders regarding the Kashmir problem is that it must be resolved once and for all through diplomacy and not through political proxies and insurgencies. Further Reading: How do you solve a problem like Pakistan?
Bangladesh’s importance in balancing powers in Eastern Asia (China and India):
Bangladesh founded on the principles of democracy and non-alignment has always attempted to refrain from taking any sides in the international geopolitical arena. It is important to mention bordering the subcontinent is China who is projected to be the largest global economy in the next 20 years. Like China, India is also a rising economic powerhouse in the world. It is in the core interest of Bangladesh and all the other states in the region to trade with India and China for obvious economic benefits.
However, it is important for all the states to refrain from taking a side if a Cold War emerges between Beijing and New Delhi. The position of neutrality in this scenario is essential for the states to survive a potential costly conflict which will be detrimental to their economic prospects.
India and China have already had border disputes and this remains a stumbling block for Beijing and New Delhi’s future mitigation. The areas known as the Arunchal Pradesh and Aksai Chin Province that remains disputed by both sides. In addition to that, the Tibet issue and New Delhi’s stance in it remains an issue between the two sides to move towards a mutual understanding. Further Reading: Sino-Indian Border Talks Not Enough to Defuse Tensions
Traditionally Bangladesh has enjoyed a harmonious relationship with India and has always hoped to do so. Additionally, Bangladesh and China are restarting their historic relations as Bengal had a long term connection with the Ming Dynasty of China and with hopes of building an economic corridor that integrates the Bangladeshi market. The two states have had significant trading, as Bangladesh imports significant amounts of hardware from China and also looks forward to Foreign Direct Investments. It is vital for Bangladesh to welcome the Chinese investments as this will surely promote the targets of economic development in Bangladesh. Further Reading: Xi Jinping’s visit: Implications for Bangladesh-China relations
Beijing and Islamabad have also enjoyed significant friendship from the times of Hussein Shaheed Surwardy the Bengali Prime Minister of Pakistan in the 1950s. It seems that China have used Pakistan as did other international forces to ‘contain’ India as New Delhi had their own agenda of domination in the region, as argued by New Delhi based think tanks. In realistic terms, the Indian strength is important for its neighbours as some establishments in the past and currently may have a vision of a greater political influence in the region. This is inevitable to fail as Bangladesh, Pakistan and China is bordering India and an isolationist strategy to dominate the region will only harm India in the long-term.
The reason USA and the USSR emerged as superpowers were that the geographical isolation made them completely unreachable and thus their emergence as superpowers. However, India, Pakistan or even China must not have visions of becoming the hegemonic superpowers as this will not be possible for clear geographical reasons. Therefore, it is the most realistic approach for all these states to cooperate strongly and closely for an economically prosperous region. The economic progress of one state brings incentives for the entire neighbourhood due to vast interconnectivity.
For Bangladesh the primary concerns with India remain water sharing and border security. These issues have remained since the partition of the subcontinent and Bengal into two provinces. The Ganges-Brahmaputra delta (Largest Delta in the World) is home to the Bangladesh and both states share an approximate of 40 rivers. It is argued by post-colonial thinkers, the partition of Bengal (into West and East Bengal) during the colonial era was strategised to deeply divide the entire region as it was intended for a ‘Pakistan’ and an ‘India’ to be at each other’s throat for such issues. It is also important from New Delhi to resolve the water sharing issues with Bangladesh as this may force Dhaka to side against New Delhi in the future, which absolutely New Delhi cannot afford as this would confirm their isolation. Further Reading: Bangladesh to Press India Teesta Treaty
Current standpoint and the future:
The Chinese and Indian rivalry has spewed into greater South Asia. In the recent past there has been insurgencies in Sri Lanka prominently known as the Tamil insurgencies causing a long-lasting civil war there. Colombo have had to deal with the civil war with the ‘Tamil Tigers’ who were socialist separatists, the civil war lasted from 1983 and was finally ended in 2009. This has brought much needed stability to Sri Lanka and thus Sri Lanka enjoys a much needed economic growth and prosperity.
Then Nepal’s struggles during Maoist insurgencies have caused the Nepalese civil war initiating in 1996 which ended with a treaty with the Nepalese monarch and the Nepalese communist insurgents in 2006 . This enabled the communist party in Nepal to be in the parliament as the opposition, thus ending the difficult civil war in Nepal. The New Delhi establishments have argued these insurgencies were facilitated by Beijing in order to increase its sphere of influence into the subcontinent. This remains a concern as both Beijing and New Delhi has to resolve issues such as these.
One of the major concerns of the New Delhi establishment in recent years has been the CPEC initiative that unities Islamabad and Beijing. For pragmatic reasons New Delhi has been quite sceptical, as fears of potential military alliance of Islamabad and Beijing in order for a ‘containment’ of India. The mistrust created through colonial strategy is deeply ingrained in Islamabad and New Delhi’s policies. Thus it is crucial for these two traditionally opposing sides to meet at a centre point to resolve their disputes before the emergence of a crisis which will be detrimental not just to India and Pakistan but also to China and the entire region.
The initiatives of BIMSTEC (Cooperation of states in the Bay of Bengal area) were initiated by Dhaka in order for economic cooperation with the East Asia-Pacific region. This has been quite important for economic opportunities for all the participating states. The inclusiveness to diplomatic issues is a far more superior approach than a divisive and resentful one. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan must find a middle ground, because it is vital for the economic development which its populations have been yearning for. Further Reading: Understanding Bangladesh
The border disputes and political opposition of New Delhi, Beijing and Islamabad is vital and a quick resolution is vital for the economic prospects of this region. Thus, the bystander states such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan advocates for a mutual understanding between these 3 states of India, Pakistan and China.
The politics of division and communalism remains the significant challenge in this region which was introduced by the imperialist forces centuries ago in order for the ‘divide and rule’ strategy. In today’s world there are significant power shifts and it is vital for the people in this region to be highly vigilant and apprehend the circumstances.
The traditional view of Media and Think Tanks is the weak portrayal of Bangladesh as it is geographically engulfed by India. However, in recent times the tables have turned in the geopolitical scene as Bangladesh’s economy is racing and its strategic alliances with China has given Bangladesh some bargaining power in the geopolitical landscape of the subcontinent. Bangladesh has connections with the provinces of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura. India depends on Bangladesh’s cooperation in protecting the isolated provinces of India. New Delhi and Dhaka has a mutual target of peace, security and economic integration that binds the two states together.
As India is searching for allies in its time of need Bangladesh has extended a hand of friendship to New Delhi as there are historic friendly relations, without compromising its strategic and economic understanding with China. It is important to end on the note that Bangladesh firmly remains non-aligned and maintains a friendly relation with both China and India as it looks to continues to pursue its economic development.
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