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2006年6月22日 (木)

Geopolitics of South Asia and the Threat of War


Geopolitics of South Asia and the Threat of War
(Paper presented at the Conference on Global Conflict and Threat of War at the University of Windsor, Canada on October 2, 1999)


Introduction: One just has to look at what South Asia comprises of and where it is situated in the world, it becomes apparent why this area has acquired a vital position in the world at the end of the 20th century. The eight countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives - that constitute South Asia are a zone of fire. China is situated in the north of this zone, Russia is on the North and West, the Middle East, Balkans and Europe are on the West, and the Indian Ocean on the South.  The Indian Ocean connects the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

If the 19th century was the century of the Atlantic and the 20th century of the century of the Pacific, then, as the calculations of India and some other countries go, the 21st century will be the century of the Indian Ocean. This is not speculation, but there is actually an organization of 14 countries, called the Indian Ocean Rim - Association for Regional Co-operation (IOR - ARC) which has been formed since 1997 with the aim of defining economic cooperation among the member countries. The thesis that whoever controls the Indian Ocean will control the passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in the 21st century and hence the world envisages a geopolitical role for the IOR-ARC which will eventually include all the 35 countries and island nations around the Indian ocean.

What this reveals is that geopolitics is not static and unchanging; far from it, it is extremely dynamic. In 1971, when the last full scale war in South Asia was fought and Bangladesh was carved out of the-then Pakistan, the geopolitics of South Asia presented itself within the context of the bipolar division of the world. Today, geopolitics presents itself in a very different way, in the context of the unipolar world of the US and the multipolar world desired by other big powers. But if we begin from the premise that the 21st century must belong to the people who will take the centre-stage and defeat the big powers and their dreams to dominate the world, we have to examine the geopolitics in a radically different way.

India is home to nearly 1 billion people. To that large number, if you add 140 million people of Pakistan, 125 million people of Bangladesh and another 75 million from the other five countries, we have nearly a quarter of the world’s population living in this region at this time. The same question that we are posing here – the role of Canada or more precisely the role of Canadian people in the world in the 21st century, is also the question being posed for the peoples of South Asia. What role do they play today and what role they must play in the world in the future are the two issues to be analysed and discussed if we have to address ourselves to the solution of how the marginalisation of people from affairs of the society and the globe can be ended. South Asians are posing the question within their conditions - how they can end the marginalisation of South Asia from world affairs and the marginalisation of the peoples from the affairs of their own countries, societies and collectives. It is in this common struggle to end the marginalisation of the peoples from the affairs of the countries and the world which unites us all, from opposite faces of the globe.

South Asia Today: Let me first explore the question of what is happening in South Asia at this time. Most of you are probably familiar with the nuclear tests that India and Pakistan carried out last year. To put this in perspective, let us examine the geopolitical context of these tests so that we can draw our conclusions about what they mean for the future of Asia and the World.

India was a colony of the British Empire until 1947 and when it gained formal independence, it was partitioned into India and Pakistan. That was the time when the British Empire was collapsing and the US was on the rise. The USSR had vast influence in every corner of the globe. India and Pakistan were created on the basis of religion, after organising the bloodiest massacre that the region had ever seen before.  This manipulation of religion to effect division occurred at a scale unheard of before. The use of religion in the division of Ireland had been tried in a limited way until that time. The consequence of the division of India on the basis of religion was bound to have consequence beyond the geopolitics of South Asia. Its effect was global.

Since 1950, India played one role in the world and Pakistan played another role in the global context. Nehru, the first prime Minister of India is on record after partition for saying that the boundaries of India’s aspirations extended from Tashkent to Cape Comorin. This was a presentation of India in geo-political terms – i. e. India had interest beyond its borders.

Before 1950, the British had introduced electoral franchise on the basis of religion. That franchise laid the foundation for the two biggest nations of South Asia, Punjab and Bengal, to be partitioned to East and West Punjab and East and West Bengal respectively. East Bengal was known as East Pakistan until 1971 and became Bangladesh which is an independent country following a war between India and Pakistan. The government of Bangladesh today does not discuss the division of Bengal, both past and present, and nor does it pose the question of the reunification of the nation of Bengal. Instead, Bangladesh wants to discuss matters such as water-sharing with India, which is done on the basis of accepting the division of Bengal.  Bangladesh has even gone further to sign agreements allowing the US navy to use its ports, has plans to buy jet fighters from the US and even to provide facilities for the US marines to land there if they make a request. The case with divided Punjab is similar within the context of Pakistan where West Punjab is the most dominant nationality that steers the politics of Pakistan but never poses the question of why this nation is divided. Similarly, if one examines the way the Indian government views the world, you will not get a sense that there is any problem of division, or that India has any enemies in this world who are perpetuating the divisions.

But the same considerations that existed in 1947 still exist. The US and Europe are very active with respect to keeping the divisions alive in South Asia. United Europe has historically sought to conquer Asia, and although the Germans, French, and British have different aims, there is much consanguinity of interest with respect to Asia if you examine their positions, for example with respect to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which India has refused to sign.  During the entire debate on the CTBT, India did not say anything against NATO, which is a military organisation in Europe and the biggest nuclear power in the world.  India did not say anything when NATO started expanding eastward. As I said earlier, without controlling the Indian Ocean, no one can conquer the world. India considers itself as a regional power in the Indian Ocean region. India wants to be recognised as a power, if not for any other reason, but for the size of its population. By 2010, India will have first-rate consumers. Who does not want to conquer India and South Asia? With the push for a market oriented economy in the countries of South Asia – from Bangladesh to Pakistan, from Nepal to Sri Lanka, this region is a giant big market, a giant reservoir of labour force, a giant source of raw materials and so on.

In the 1940’s, South Asia, the Middle East, etc., were places of extreme tension where people were rising up against colonial rule for national liberation. The US policy of containment was formulated in that period on the basis of the theory that any country which had national liberation would go towards communism. The US welcomed the creation of Pakistan and went on to make Pakistan its centre for containing communism in South Asia at that time.  India began the 1950’s by developing its relations with China on the basis of panchsheel in the hope that the India-China axis would be a deterrent for the US to realise the kinds of interventions that it was organising everywhere else with military coups, fascist regimes, the Suez crisis and so on. That policy ended when China and India fought a border war in 1962. The linkage between India and the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev were formulated under the leadership of Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The policy of “non-alignment” was created by India, Yugoslavia and Egypt in that period, a nomenclature which effectively ended up facilitating the linkage of countries like India with both Moscow and Washington under the pretext of being equidistant from both.

For example, in 1991, when Iraq was attacked during the Gulf War, the Indian government permitted American planes from the Philippines to fly over its airspace. Iraq was a non-aligned country and so was India.  But Iraq had been made a “rogue state” after it had served American interests in the decade long war with Iran following the overthrow of the Shah. In the 1980’s the US used Pakistan to wage war in Afghanistan. Again, India was a partner in that war. The US has called various Asian states such as Iran and China as rogue states. Just within last few months, the US has labelled India a “responsible power” and has called on the Pakistani army generals not to overthrow the Nawaz Sharif government. In July, the US ordered the Pakistani government to withdraw its troops from Kashmir. What these developments show is that just as Iraq had become expendable and a war with Iraq facilitated the US to militarily move into the Middle East, Pakistan seems to have become dispensable and if the US can move in there, it can have a direct eye on not just India, but China and Russia besides Iran and Central Asia with its rich resources.

Another factor increasing in importance is that the big Indian business houses are closely linked to the American and European powers. Military budgets are rising at a rate of 20 to 25 percent annually because it is most lucrative sector of economy.  The Germans used this in the 1930’s, the Americans did in the post Second World War period and Brezhnev followed it in the USSR. Through the arms race, massive expenditures were made in all these countries. In 1974, when Indira Gandhi tested the first nuclear bomb, India warded off the US by pointing to India’s alliance with the USSR and to the newly opened nuclear option.  All governments – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka – want the arms race.  Under it, billions of rupees are handed out to very lucrative private contractors and the growing domestic private-sector defence industry, who benefit from the continuation of tension. 

When India tested the nuclear devices last year, it was a statement that with the end of Cold War, India was willing to assert its independent nuclear power status. India developed and tested the Agni missile and a number of medium and short-range missiles. This missile, as a military weapon has no place internationally. India has no possibility to command the air and sea, but it can invade its neighbours and the development of these missiles is a statement that that is what India intends to use them for.  India is a late-comer in terms of the economic and military prowess of Asia. It wants economic links with Iran, Central Asia and East Asia beside the countries of South Asia.

South Asia has remained on fire for the whole of 20th century. There are uprisings in Kashmir and the north east of India while Afghanistan continues to be devastated.  Can the Kashmir problem really not be solved, or is it that there are vested interests in preserving the status quo, to generate chauvinism, deploy force, and justify defence expenditures? In Sri Lanka, can a small population sustain the war without support from India, the US and so on? In Punjab, it is said that the insurgency was ended because Narasimha Rao used overwhelming force to crush it.  But it is known that the US supported the movement there as long as they had differences with the central government in Delhi.  In the official positions of the Indian government or in the programs of the political parties in India who want to form the next government, it is characteristic that they do not even admit that there are any problems in South Asia and the world.  The only reason that can be given is that India is a partner in these conflicts.  India’s geopolitics is to keep South Asia divided, become the most important power and come to terms with other powers – possibly China, the US, Russia. It is keeping its options open towards the United Europe.  The next war for the re-division of the world will inevitably have India as an active player.

Within that, all the big powers are very keen to see that India does not renew itself. That is the reason why the Queen of England went to India to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the loss of her possession. That is the reason, the US President is going to India in the year 2000 - to assure the Indians that they must noot renew any institutions there. In the last few years, all the predators of the world have praised India’s democratic credentials.  Canada is in the forefront of this praise because they are as much a partner in the conflicts going on today and those that are being hatched.  None of the powers want the people of India to look any other way. The British in particular are the most active because they view that India is their territory, its institutions as their institutions.  They will ally with the US to ensure that when South Asia is destabilised, they become the main beneficiaries to move in.

Conclusion: The states created in South Asia in 1947 were not for defence of the interests of the people. They will carry out divisions and form alliances to push for the interests of the domestic business houses and their foreign collaborators. The aims of the US and Europe are converged on the desire to conquer Asia. Just as the war in Kosova was clinched when the British and the French joined the US on the Rambouillet agreement, a war in South Asia can be imposed on the basis of a pretext that can be created. I hope they do not succeed because the end result of this is division and bloodshed.

What will happen to Asia in the future? Looking back, Columbus thought he was going to India 500 years ago.  The East India Company was set up to exploit India. To say that the tables will be turned, so that Asia will now subjugate the rest of the world in the future is to repeat the prejudices of the past, which will not succeed.  Deng Xsiao Ping has declared that China wants to modernise by 2010 and then settle scores with the European and Americans.  The conclusion to be drawn is that either the people will develop their struggles and deal with these questions, or the 21st century will be a century of war.

The rise of nation states, especially in Europe of the 18th and 19th century, were bulwarks against feudalism. In Asia, nation-states arose in opposition to colonialism of the European nation states.  These were great developments in their specific contexts.  What kind of nation-states are there today? How are they defending their interests and relating to others?  The answer to this question holds the key to the future.  The imperialist states of Europe and America defend their nation states, arm them to the teeth and impose them on all other states in the manner Team Canada is doing these days.  They want the states of Asia to invite them to bring their investments, technology and give prosperity and modernisation.  If these imperialists succeed, the nations states of Asia will be finished. The anti-thesis of this is that the nations of South Asia can flourish if the people feel that the new arrangements among their nations lead to their flourishing, and on that basis the nations and peoples of South Asia unite to ensure mutual economic development and collective defence.  The present Indian union stands opposed to both the unity of the peoples and also to the flourishing of these nations.  The same is the case with Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere.

In a nutshell, the struggle for prosperity and security in South Asia is a struggle for the creation of new political arrangements so that the people can constitute their nations and the nations can form new unions. In a way, this is the same with Canada where the question of nation building, where the working people can constitute themselves as the nations of Quebec, Canada and the First nations can be the basis for the renewal of Canada so that people are not marginalized from decision-making. The role Canada plays in the world in the next century is intimately connected with the role the people give themselves within Canada.

To disarm people from such a vision, it is said that the western nations have arrived at a “third way”, the post-industrial way. In South Asia, there is a debate of having a conventional war versus nuclear war. These are self-serving suppositions to scare people from posing the necessary questions for their future. The war in Iraq was not just a military equation.  It was a situation where one superpower collapsed, mayhem took place, one country got exposed to war by so many, and the people of the Arab countries and especially of Iraq were overwhelmed and denied any role. As we all know, people do not defend themselves only by weapons. In all wars since the 1950’s, American forces have not won with their weapons. The main factor in winning war is economic development, not just scientific and technological development.  The main thing relates to the content of relations inside the country – are the developments beneficial for the peoples?  In the USSR, during the second world war for example, all developments were for serving the needs of the people.  A strong economy was created that flourished until it degenerated under the arms race. There are other examples in history as well, and the point is that people do matter. That is why, in spite of all the weapons and technology, powers like Britain and the US continue to use “divide and rule”.  Science and technology will not be able to crush people or empower them in that sense. It is the relations among people, the atmosphere of discussion, setting common aims, uniting for common purpose that are going to make the difference.  Canadians can make a big contribution to peace if they can prevail here and block the Canadian government from becoming a party to the war in south Asia.


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