Challenges for Ecumenical Responses
| by Mathews George Chunakara*
( May 23, 2014, Geneva, Sri Lanka Guardian) When the terminology “geopolitics” was coined at the dawn of the 19th century by the Swedish political scientist Rudolph Kjellén, it epitomised an organic conception of great power rivalry and expansion-related political power to geographical space. At the same time, early Anglo-American geopolitical debates concerned the relative importance of land power and sea power, and German discourse was centred on interstate rivalry in continental space. Today, the term geopolitics reflects much wider dimensions, especially the connection between various issues such as politics, nation states, international relations, power and influence, strategic decision-making, geographic space, interplay of natural resources, strategic dominance, various questions related to state and non-state actors, power rivalry, inequality, military, balance of power in given geographical and security contexts, inter-state rivalry and the rise of multi-polarity.
Geopolitics is also centred on the social and political relationships formed among people and their countries. More specifically, when we think in terms of a country or sub-region, geopolitics means the international relationship between or among countries that are located in the same region; of politics, economy, military, culture, religion and so on. Yet geopolitical realities have many other strings attached to the issues normally identified or included within the classical framework of the definition of geopolitics. If we want to meaningfully speak of ‘geopolitics’ in South Asia, the term’s essence and complexity need to be unpacked contextually to go beyond the settings of traditional and conceptual definitions. From this perspective, the emerging trends of geopolitics in South Asia cover a wider spectrum of issues interlinked to much the broader realities of this geographical sub-region as well as to the life of multitudes of South Asians, their struggle for the right to life with dignity and peace with justice.
2. South Asian Realities
South Asia, one of the most heavily populated and diverse regions on the planet, has a common and shared cultural background and experience. These countries are characterised by multi-ethnic societies with striking internal divisions along ethnic, linguistic, regional, communal and sectarian lines. South Asia continues to face crises stemming from a variety of causes – poverty, civil war, ethnic conflicts, terrorism, communal and political violence, religious intolerance and extremism, power asymmetry within the region, arms build-up and militarisation, gross and systematic violations of human rights, lack of the rule of law and democratic governance in addition to, as well as, geo-political and strategic changes.
World Bank reports claim that South Asia has experienced a long period of robust economic growth, averaging 6 per cent a year over the past 20 years. This strong growth, according to the World Bank, has translated into declining poverty and remarkable advances in human development. The number of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell in South Asia from 61 to 36 per cent between 1981 and 2008. Nonetheless, the region is home to many of the developing world’s poor and vulnerable. According to the World Bank’s most recent poverty estimates, about 571 million people in the region survive on less than $1.25 a day, and they make up more than 44 per cent of the developing world’s poor. The United Nation’s report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2014 predicted that growth in South Asia remains lacklustre as a combination of internal and external factors hamper activity, particularly in the region’s largest economies, such as India, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan. Growth is estimated to be 3.9 per cent in 2013, nearly the slowest pace in two decades. Growth is forecast to pick up moderately to 4.6 per cent in 2014 and 5.1 per cent in 2015, supported by a gradual recovery in domestic demand in India, an end to the recession in the Islamic Republic of Iran and an upturn in external demand. Slowing growth in South Asia appears to have had a considerable adverse impact on employment. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, South Asia is home to more than one-third of the world’s people who are 'food insecure'. Economic inequalities and deprivation have created frustration and insecurity among the masses, leading to an increasing criminalisation of society in which there are available targets for exploitation by extremist elements in and outside the governments.
The sub-region remains paradoxical in many ways. It has the world’s largest working-age population, a quarter of the world’s middle-class consumers and the largest number of poor and undernourished people in the world. The extent of widespread human deprivation in this region contrasts with the large armies, modern weapons and expanding military budgets. South Asia is the only region where military spending as a portion of GNP has gone up since the end of the Cold War, although it has declined substantially in most other parts of the world.
3. Human Security Perils
Dr Mahbub-ul Haq, who was instrumental in formulating the Human Development Index, advanced the concept of human security in the context of South Asia. Dr Haq, a prominent economist, brought out the 1994 UNDP report on human development which focussed on South Asia. He argued that the imperative of securing people from economic deprivation, hunger, disease, social conflict and environmental degradation should constitute the notion of security within the framework of human rights and human development. This was, in fact, a deviation from the earlier notion of the state-centric paradigm of security or national security. Over the past twenty years, the concept of human security has become dominant.
Today, South Asia’s human security is threatened and hampered due to various factors. Increasing poverty, inadequate health care, economic exploitation, exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation; armed conflicts and violence; militarization, arms build-up, nuclearisation, spread of small arms and light weapons; domination and intervention of major powers from outside the region as well as within it; ethnic and religious conflicts, communal violence and political unrest; violations of human rights in various forms: torture, custodial death, human trafficking, violation of the rights of migrant workers, denial of the rights and dignity of stateless people; suppression of people’s legitimate right to self-determination; lack of rule of law and democratic governance, etc., have become the hallmarks of South Asia today. What we witness in South Asia today is a clear signal of lack of peace and security.
Internal security problems in South Asian countries and their ramifications for regional security are influenced by the overwhelming asymmetry in power relations among South Asian countries. Out of fear of their larger neighbours, smaller powers seek external support to preserve and promote their own interests and permit outside powers to exploit the regional differences to their own benefit.
4. Geopolitical and Geostrategic Conundrums
If we agree to the principle that the political significance of geography is related to strategic importance, South Asia has been a strategic location for centuries. The colonialists who invaded this sub-region of Asia always found a strategic point for their arrival and departure while they tried to colonise the South Asian countries or other parts of Asia.
The geopolitical environment of South Asia has been changing drastically over the past twenty-five years. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, especially the collapse of the global bipolar geopolitical structure, changed the geopolitical contours of South Asia too. The War on Terror again considerably altered the geopolitical landscape of South Asia.
(a) USA in South Asia’s geopolitical context
The new strategic initiative of the USA, widely known as the “pivot to Asia”, launched in November 2011, has a strong component of involvement of the US in South Asia’s strategic and security agenda. This new initiative was also considered as a shift of the US. global strategic focus from Afghanistan and Iraq towards the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, many interpret it as a bid to counteract China’s influence in the region. The transformed US strategy towards Asia has already raised eyebrows and anxiety in Asia since it might affect peace and security in the region, and South Asia is not exempted from these wider strategic plans. Despite concerns over US strategic goals and plans in Asia, one may argue that the American military has never been more welcome in Asia than it is today. Almost all South Asian countries offer the USA generous access to bases, ports and sovereign sea-lanes and openly support America’s military and diplomatic presence in the region. Since final approval of the US-India nuclear deal in 2008, which effectively legitimized India as a nuclear power, naval cooperation between the two countries has increased.
India and the USA have been making a series of efforts to intensify their collaboration that started more than two decades ago. Indo-US military collaboration began in January 1992 during the Narasimha Rao government through the creation of an India-US Army Executive Steering Committee, followed by the setting up of the Joint Steering Committee of the two navies and two air forces and conducting joint naval exercises. The Indo-US Military Cooperation Agreement, signed in 1995, was the first of its kind; it provided for officers of the Indian Armed forces to be sent to the US for training programmes, staff exchanges and joint exercises. The BJP-led Vajpayee government later declared that India was a natural ally of the US and advanced the military collaboration to the level of a strategic alliance. The BJP government offered port and airport facilities for the US armed forces when they began their military operations in Afghanistan after the September 11 terrorist attacks. When the US decided to make Pakistan the frontline state and ally against the war on terror, the BJP-led government came forward to propose India as a junior partner for US strategic interests in the region. During the same period, the Indian government allowed the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to set up its office in Delhi. India became the first country which welcomed the National Missile Defence programme announced by President Bush. The BJP-led government also agreed to use Indian naval ships to escort US ships through the straits of Malacca. The framework agreement on India-US Defence Relations signed in Washington on 8 July 2005 was a major step to harness India to serve the US strategic goals in Asia. The agreement talks about shared security interests in protecting free flow of commerce via land, air and sea lanes along with preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and associated materials, data and technology.
The US involvement in South Asia has been unprecedented. The strategy of the US at that time had much to do with the interest of the USA in the Indian Ocean, which is the important “Sea lane of Communication” (SLOC). As more than 60% of the oil from the Middle East passes through the Indian Ocean, this sea route is of vital importance to the global economy, especially of the USA and Japan. With nuclear tests conducted both in India and Pakistan, there was a major geopolitical upheaval, attracting international attention and intervention in the region. This has given a momentum to the arms race and has further destabilized the region. In addition, the USA’s interest in the end of the ongoing ethnic conflicts in Sri Lanka was not viewed as an act of a real concern or a genuine search for conflict-resolution, but as being mainly due to a special interest in establishing a naval base in Trincomalee, the world’s third-largest natural harbour.
Nine years after the first US drone strike in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2004, the US refuses to officially acknowledge the CIA-run programme, while Pakistan denies consenting to it. This secrecy undermines efforts to assess the programme’s legality or its full impact on FATA’s population. It also diverts attention from a candid examination of the roots of militancy in the poorly governed tribal belt bordering southern and eastern Afghanistan and how best to address them. Drone strikes may disrupt FATA-based militant groups’ capacity to plan and execute cross-border attacks on NATO troops and to plot attacks against the US homeland, but they cannot solve the fundamental problem. The ability of those groups to regroup, rearm and recruit will remain intact so long as they enjoy safe havens on Pakistani territory and efforts to incorporate FATA into the constitutional mainstream are stifled.
Since 2004, there have been at least 350 drone strikes in FATA, mostly in the North Waziristan, South Waziristan and Kurram agencies. These have killed significant numbers of al-Qaeda leaders and senior militant commanders of both the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, but also scores of innocent civilians. Pakistan’s attitude towards drones borders on the schizophrenic. Rather than inherently opposing the strikes, its leadership, in particular its military, seeks greater control over target selection. This is often to punish enemies, but sometimes, allegedly, to protect militants who enjoy good relations with, or support from, the military – leaders of the Haqqani network, for example, or some Pakistani Taliban groups with whom the military has made peace deals.
The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will soon affect the military balance between Pakistan, India and China, and this will have wider geopolitical and geo-strategic ramifications in this sub-region. Pakistan hopes that it can reinsert the Taliban into a position of primacy in Afghanistan and it will push hard in this direction, but it will have to face difficulties. In the late 1980s, Pakistani diplomats and intelligence officials aired the argument that an ultra-conservative Islamist government in Kabul would serve Western interests by blocking Soviet expansion. They also claimed that Pakistan had a right to act as the king-maker in Afghanistan, since it had played a dominant role in forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Now the dynamics is changed. The US prefers to maintain a stronger regional presence, whether through drones or Special Forces, than it ever did in the 1990s. India, having invested massively in Afghanistan’s development over the past decade, is not about to accept a return to the 1990s, when it was completely pushed out of the country by Pakistan-backed Islamists. China, which has long been ambivalent about the Taliban, not least due to its own problems with its Muslims majority in the Xinjiang region, will play both ends. China will also play its strategic steps and rely on China’s friend and ally Pakistan to contain the Taliban from attacking Chinese economic interests in Afghanistan. At the same time, both India and China have a common interest in stabilizing Afghanistan, mainly for their economic advantages. Pakistan is interested in using Afghanistan as a base for training Jihadist groups outside its own territory.
(b) China and South Asia’s geopolitical factors
China’s economic strength has been transforming its position in the world in different ways and this is more evident in South Asia too. China’s sphere of influence is growing in South Asian countries in different ways, 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 Indian backyards like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives.
China’s more assertive territorial claims caused anxiety recently in several of the South East and North East Asian countries as did the provocative strategy applied in the case of its territorial claim with India. During the visit of Chinese leaders last year to Delhi, they spoke of “strategic” and “maturing” relations of mutual trust and of China's and India's shared regional interests. However, the subsequent incursion and setting up of a camp of Chinese military forces 19 kilometres inside the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) became a thorny issue. China has been claiming some 90,000 sq. kms of Arunachal Pradesh as its own and this has become a constant source of tension in China-India relations. China has also been claiming Tawang, home of an ancient Buddhist monastery, in Arunachal Pradesh. The annual increase in China’s military budget is another factor for dissatisfaction among its neighbours and among South Asian countries. China’s defence budget in 2012 was about US$106.4 billion − the second-largest in the world. It was increased to US$ 115.7 billion in 2013. China is concerned about India’s growing economic and military power too, especially its dominance in the Indian Ocean and its growing strategic and security relations with the US and Japan.
The growing involvement of China in Pakistan and Sri Lanka is a most serious concern for India. As part of broader agreements between China and Pakistan, the Gwadar port of Pakistan is now under the direct management of China. Gwadar, at the juncture of Central Asia, the Indian Ocean and the Middle East, is seen as the latest strategic choke point of China in the strategic hub of Asia, adding more advantages to China’s “encirclement” strategy. This advantage helps Beijing with access to raw materials and energy supplies from the Middle East and Africa through a series of choke points across South Asia from mainland China to Port Sudan. However, India’s increasing naval presence in the Indian Ocean will hinder China’s ambitions. Chinese companies are involved in a number of infrastructure, communication and port development projects of strategic importance funded by Chinese loans. These include the Hambantota port project Phase-I, completed at a cost of $360 million (85% financed by the Chinese) and Phase II, with construction underway; the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport near Hambantota built at an estimated cost of $210 million, completed in March 2013.
China’s strategic clout in Sri Lanka has been increasing in recent years and stronger collaboration has developed with an aim of building closer strategic linkages with Sri Lanka. China became the largest development aid donor to Sri Lanka in 2012. During the period between 1971 and 2012, China provided Sri Lanka with a total of U.S $5.05 billion. Out of this, about $4.76 billion or 94 per cent was extended during the period from 2005 to 2012, according to the Sri Lanka Ministry of Finance and Planning’s External Resources Department’s 2012 report. At the same time, India extended only a total assistance of US $1.45 billion between 2007 and 2012; of this amount, $1.12 billion was loan assistance and 326 million were grants.
China’s involvement and presence and development fronts are increasingly evident in Sri Lanka as well. China has already entered Sri Lanka’s real estate field as well as certain manufacturing projects. Chinese language teaching and cultural spread are also in the pipeline, especially through the initiative of opening a Confucius Centre in Colombo. President Rajapaksa’s strategy now is to favour China as a counterweight to reduce his dependence on India, especially when India’s Sri Lanka policy is so heavily influenced by the strong anti-Sri Lankan flavour of Tamil Nadu politics. The new political developments in India’s Sri Lanka policy may well assist rather than hinder China in establishing its influence in Sri Lanka.
China’s influence in other South Asian countries is not minimal either. For example, India has been the major partner of Bangladesh since 1971, but in recent years, China’s involvement there has increased manifold. The growing military relations between China and Bangladesh have regional security implications and Dhaka is now heavily depending on Beijing for its defence requirements and development needs. China sees its foothold in Bangladesh as a part of its quest to establish its regional power profile; and as a means to challenge India in its own backyard. Bangladesh armed forces are dependent on China’s military hardware. The Army is equipped with Chinese tanks, the Navy with Chinese frigates and missile boats and the Air Force with Chinese fighter jets. The defence cooperation agreement signed between two countries in 2002 is still in place and covers military training. China has promised development of the Chittagong port for ‘enhanced’ trade with an aim to establish its control there in the same way as it has done over the Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. From a base in Chittagong, it will be easy for China to monitor Indian missile tests at Chandipur-at-sea near Balasore on the Indian east coast and also to monitor India’s naval activity in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. As China established an intelligence-gathering station on Great Coco Island in Myanmar in 1992 to monitor Indian naval activity in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, free access to Chittagong port will have the additional value of inter-linking its electronic listening systems at Coco Island.
Nepal is the other South Asian country where China is expanding its hold. Last year, Nepal's highest-ranking military officer returned from China with many promises. The trip served to highlight Beijing's growing political, economic and cultural influence in Nepal. Both countries have agreed to widen their defence and security ties and training cooperation between their militaries. While India looks on with consternation, Nepal tries to leverage its crucial geopolitical position between the Asian giants for its own benefit. China is investing a multi-billion-dollar project to develop hydro-power in Nepal. The Chinese government is officially sending Mandarin language teachers to Kathmandu to provide language training to Nepalese; this is being carried out under the auspices of the Confucius Institute, which promotes Chinese culture and language.
Bhutan has been the only one of China’s 14 neighbours with which it doesn’t have diplomatic relations, and it has been looking to win Bhutan over from India’s orbit. India is landlocked from the west and the north by its hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China. Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are countries in which India has knowingly or unknowing abandoned its strategic space to China over the years. Due to India’s strategic blunder of neglecting its smaller neighbours or leaving their concerns unattended, these countries are now more under the influence of China.
5. Conflicts and Violence
Armed conflicts and violence are daily occurrences in several parts of South Asia. The Human Security Report of 2012 reported that in 2009, South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) alone accounted for two-thirds of the world’s total battle deaths from state-based armed conflict. The region had four times as many battle deaths as the next-deadliest region, sub-Saharan Africa. Terrorism and counter-terrorism have also been taking the lives of hundreds of people in South Asia every week.
Armed insurgency is widely spread in different South Asian countries. The influx of small arms and narcotics are considered as major reasons for several conflicts and violence. In certain other contexts, the issue of greater autonomy and reorganization of the state or provincial structures are demanded on ethnic lines. The nature of armed conflicts in certain other contexts concern power- sharing incompatibility over territory and governance as well as exploitation of natural resources by private, state-sponsored or multinational companies. When control over natural resources by local and multinational companies is taken by force, the original owners of the land, especially the indigenous communities, are driven out of their ancestral lands.
There are many factors and key stakeholders from within as well as outside the region contributing threats to human security and denial of justice and peace in South Asia. The increasing trend towards a politics of violence and extremism in South Asia is mainly the result of faulty national policies. Ethnic solidarities, identification with rising religious fundamentalism and ethnocentric cultural aspirations are gaining support, which destroys national unity and integration in almost all South Asian nations.
The politics of Bangladesh has been volatile for long time. The country was under military rule for 15 years. Although democracy was restored in 1990, the antagonism between the main political parties − the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party − as well as personal animosity between two women leaders have pushed the country to the brink of political turmoil and violence. When political tensions spilled over into violence, hundreds of people lost their lives. Following the parliamentary elections held in early January this year, Bangladesh continues to face violence and political unrest.
Ethnic and religious conflicts and violence kill people in different parts of Pakistan almost every day. Discrimination of people on the basis of caste and denial of their human dignity continue to cause social deprivation and marginalization in India and Nepal. Gender-based violence has also been an increasing trend in the South Asia region. In 2013, the world witnessed a growing awareness among South Asians on the increase of gender-based violence against women in their societies. This was mainly due to the anger and protests triggered off by incidents such as the shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani girl, and the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2013. The passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 and the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 were positive signs that affirm the faith in legal systems. The protests in India were motivated or emulated in civil society in Nepal by the Occupy Baluwatar Movement. Since its inception on December 28, 2012, the movement has been providing a platform for voiceless Nepali women victims of injustice to seek state redress. The youth-led movement took up five cases of violence against women and helped sensitise society and the political leadership around this issue; this is a positive sign of growing awareness and of a people’s resistance movement.
6. Religion: a dominant geopolitical factor
Religion has re-emerged as a dominant factor in geopolitics and national and international politics. The religious dimensions of the Sri Lankan Civil War still continue to affect post-war reconstruction and reconciliation as ethnicity and religion are intertwined. Religion is returning to the centre-stage in the civil and political life of almost all South Asian nations. Moreover, these countries are facing an unprecedented increase in religious extremism, intolerance and religious conflicts. Over the years, governments in these countries, whether democratically elected or military, have used religion, ethnicity and caste in order to strengthen their base and maintain their power. To a certain extent, this has been one of the main factors that has further strengthened the fundamentalists and extremist forces in their respective societies.
In the midst of growing uncertainty and political stalemate in Bangladesh, the usually moderate and tolerant country has been facing an increasing trend of religious extremism. It is now widely perceived that Bangladesh has fast become a new centre of terrorism under the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) government over the years, especially since a move to turn Bangladesh into a Wahabi Islamic country. Madrassa education has been instigating fundamentalism in Bangladesh as it has in Pakistan. Madrassas have now become the breeding grounds of religious extremism; the authorities failed to nip it in the bud and it has now gone out of control. The more alarming trend of religious intolerance, religious extremism and politicisation of religion and religionisation of politics has been evident in India in recent years, especially a trend of Hindutva ideology is gaining momentum in Indian politics.
The politicisation of religion for electoral gains as a religious fundamentalists' strategy is another menace faced by countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh has been experiencing a spate of violence and killings in recent months and politicization of religion has also become the way Bangladesh political parties take the law into their own hands − a trend now totally out of control . Following the 5 January election, Hindus and their worship places were attacked by the JEI and BNP in Pabna, Faridpur, Lalmonirhat and Khagrachari districts. Attacks against religious minorities is the Wahhabi/Moududi creed of non-tolerance of any other religion. The increased volatility in Bangladesh politics makes it likely that religious extremism will grow in the coming days. The birth of another extremist group, the Hifazat-e-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) is no accident. It is a product of privately funded madrassas supported by radical Islamist groups from outside and inside, especially the JEI. The 13-point demand made by the HIB is almost similar to that of the Taliban. Women and the minorities have no rights.
The growing trend of religious intolerance and religious conflicts hinder peace and communal harmony. The situations of ethnic conflict and sectarian violence in Myanmar's Rakhine and Shan states are examples of racial and religious intolerance plaguing a deeply fractured nation still struggling to emerge from half a century of military rule. Ethnic Muslims have been the victims since the violence began in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state last year, and this has now spread to eastern Myanmar’s Shan state. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims belonging to the ethnic Rohingyas. The violence that occurred last year drove more than 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. This is in addition to a large number of Rohingyas who were forced to leave Myanmar and are now living in Bangladesh as stateless people.
7. Arms build-up
Escalations of militarisation and arms-build up have been on the increase in South Asia in recent years where the increase in defence spending has now become another prevalent phenomenon. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), Asia's military spending for the first time in modern history overtook the European members of NATO last year. Domestic political calculations are another factor behind the region’s defence splurge. The Bangladeshi government increased the country's defence budget by over 11 per cent for the fiscal year ended in June 2012. Pakistan’s defence budget was hiked up ten per cent for the fiscal year 2012-2013. The Union Budget of India for 2012-13 allowed a hike for defence, which already stands at US$ 40.44 billion. This represents a growth of 17.63 per cent over the previous years – one of the highest increases in recent years. India successfully tested another Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Agni V, in April last year; this has the capacity of blowing up targets at a distance of 5,500 kilometres and beyond. Subsequently on 5 June last year, Pakistan tested a fifth nuclear-capable missile, Hatf VII. The Hatf VII cruise missile has a range of 700 kilometres (440 miles), can carry conventional warheads and has stealth capabilities. In another significant move, China and Pakistan last year outlined their space cooperation plan for the next eight years. In 2011, China assisted Pakistan in successfully launching Pakistan’s communication satellite, Paksat-1R, into space from its Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province.
8. Water-Sharing Disputes
The observation that wars for oil will be replaced with wars for waters is already a part of South Asian realities. The dominant attitude of India has become an irritating factor in disputes over water-sharing arrangements in the region. Various water-sharing treaties exist in South Asia, for example, the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan; the India-Bangladesh dispute over the Ganges River; and an India and Nepal sharing arrangement regarding the Mahakali river waters. As regards water-sharing, what all three countries have in common is the dominant attitude of India. By virtue of its sheer size, India has the advantage in controlling regional water resources it shares with other countries in the region. Water-sharing agreements have been highly politicised at domestic levels in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. India has already taken several initiatives in violation of the Ganges Water Treaty and may violate the Treaty in future, in the absence of any guarantees. Changing demographic, technological, economic and environmental factors underscore the need for cooperation beyond the three already existing co-operation treaties rather than conflict, not only at bilateral levels but even more so at the regional level
The Indian hegemonic attitude towards other South Asian states needs to be redirected into a more cooperative one.
9. Indo-Pak Relations and South Asia’s peace and security
Sixty-six years after the partition of India, the tension in Indo-Pak relations still continues. This thorny issue perpetuates South Asia’s geopolitical asymmetry, and external powers have been using this rift for their own gains. In this context, the question raised by M.J. Akbar is pertinent: “Indians and Pakistanis are the same people, but why have the two countries moved on two different trajectories? It is because the idea of India is stronger than the Indian and the idea of Pakistan is weaker than the Pakistani.” For all its weaknesses and contradictions, the idea of India is essentially a modern one. Modernity requires four non-negotiable elements, Akbar argues; “One, [the country] must be a democracy, and not an arbitrary democracy. Two, there must be secularism, and that does not mean the separation of Church and State, really − what it means is giving every faith the right to practice. Three, you cannot have modernity without gender equality. And you can see where Pakistan slips on these. Four, you must have economic equity. Not economic equality, because that is not possible, but economic equity, and that is where we fail.”
10. Challenges and Responses
Why should the civil society be concerned about the concept of geopolitics? Undeniably, international relations and geopolitical issues also influence every sphere of human lives and it is not only relations of States and the only responsibilities of the political leaders and beurocrats or policy makers. It is important that people at ever strata of society must take a keen interest in understanding the emerging geopolitical contexts of every situation as these emerging trends and issues are intensifying dehumanisation at various levels of society. The emerging situations warrant or pose new challenges to evolve creative responses from all walks of society.
Dr Mathews George Chunakara is Director of International Affairs of the World Council o Churches in Geneva, Switzerland.