During my research, I perused articles written by researchers from West that highlighted South Asia as a “highly volatile region,” “the poorest” and even to the extent of blaming India for being “The Big Bully” in the region. The importance of South Asia began to unfold when foreign powers arrived in South Asia to conduct trade from 16th century onwards. The British East India Company was chartered to trade with “Hindustan”, which consisted of a landmass of 3/4th of the present South Asia region. Hindustan was trading in cotton, silk, spices and other goods, during that time and the local kingdoms in subcontinent were overwhelmed by battles and bitter rivalries among themselves. Observing the situation and wishing to benefit by exploiting the conditions prevailing at that time, East India Company started establishing colonies in the subcontinent that they divided in order to rule to their own advantage.
When the British, in 1857 faced the first glimpse of the Independence struggle (the Sepoy Mutiny), they knew that their days were going to be numbered. Therefore there then started a long century of them exploiting the region economically, politically and most damaging socially. In 1947, after doing all the damage, the British realised, that they have their hands full and the repercussions of the Second World War were being felt. That is when just before departing they hit the last nail in the coffin with partition of India, which then led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The other countries of the region Sri Lanka, after its own internal turmoil was decolonized in 1948 and Maldives, in 1965 when the British finally let these nations re-instate politics, economy and culture. Bhutan and Nepal, the 02 kingdoms of South Asia fortunately remained independent nations following their own religion, politics, economy and social order.
These 07 nations now make up for the region of South Asia despite being culturally, religiously and politically diverse. While India is the only secular parliamentary democracy, recently followed by former Hindu Nepal, Buddhist Sri Lanka and Islamic Maldives, which are presidential democracies. Bangladesh and Pakistan are democratic Islamic States while Bhutan has a Constitutional Monarchy since 2008. The aspect that unifies the region despite its diversity is the struggle that they all have been through to rise to be the fastest growing region in the world. Although, relations between the nations in South Asia are not particularly stable, there still is a cultural history that the nations share that makes them a group of tolerant and self-persevering countries. Even though the region is quite diverse but the nations collectively recognises their strategic importance in the changing world order.
The involvement of USA in South Asia has been unprecedented wherein the her interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), has been there in view of the fact that more than 60% of the oil from the Middle East passes through the IOR, and this sea route is of vital importance to the global economy, especially of the USA and Japan. With nuclear tests being conducted both in India and Pakistan, there has been a major geopolitical upheaval, attracting international attention and intervention in the region. This unprecedented attention in the region has given rise to the arms race, which has been a factor of concern in the region. In addition, USA’s interest to end the ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka was not an act of a concern but was with an aim to establish a naval base in Trincomalee, the world’s third-largest natural harbor.
China’s economic strength has been transforming its position in the world and this change is more evident in South Asia. China’s sphere of influence is growing in South Asian countries by way of extending its development and economic supports, expansion of business interests, strategic and security influences. China has been enlarging its strategic footprints in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives. As part of broader agreements between China and Pakistan, the Gwadar port of Pakistan is now under the direct management of China. Gwadar, is located at the juncture of Central Asia and the Middle East, it is seen as the latest strategic choke point in the Indian ocean.
The 07 nations primarily cover most of the South Asian sea outlets, which has made them vulnerable to diplomacy and interference from USA, China and other powers for their interest of trade and military expansions. China, which is not considered a part of South Asia has put all efforts to expand her foothold across the region. Another reason why this region is seen as a threat is because of the economic cooperation that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations provide. The members of SAARC are the fastest growing economies in the world today and each of them are growing exponentially despite being their differences.
The dissonance washes back and forth across the borders in this region, feeding from internal instability which in turn are contributing to international tension. The strife between the nations also partially attributable to the unstable borders created by the British colonial enterprise in South Asia and in part due to the failure of governance in many regional countries. The region faces the backlash like any other decolonized region, but despite the adversities has rebuild from scratch and become a region of prominence in the world. Further the regions geographical placement and population that constitutes to a 30% of the world’s population are an added advantage. The external forces did the damage and leave, but now that ball is in the region’s court where it has a bargaining chip. The South Asian Region has come a long way and has a long way to go and as far as its importance is concerned, the rest of the world knows that it does not unnecessarily have to tread in dangerous waters.