South Asia, on one hand, can be considered as a region with diversities and on the other hand, a region with complexities. There are different instincts that can bind the region together and at the same time those separate the integrity of the South Asian nations. In one part of the world, they are uniting to fight common threat and enemies. But South Asia, having so many common threats and the possibilities to cooperate to fight that, is unable to stand together to fight those common enemies. Historical factors, territorial disputes, ideological and the cultural differences and many other small but crucial things have been stopping this region from cooperating.
Meanwhile, as the only hope of the regional integrity, SAARC has been accused of being a talk shop. The function of SAARC is almost nil. Instead of showing its regional attitude, SAARC has failed to cooperate in beneficial sectors like trade and tourism. Interstate and intrastate issues like terrorism, fake currency, human trafficking are among the major issues which SAARC has failed to address.
Security complexities, which are common and only can, deter collectively, but in terms of South Asia, have only created a scenario of mistrust among the nations. While collective effort and cooperation can bring prosperity and peace in the region, disbelief among member states, at the same time is inviting collapse. So this research paper intends to point out those serious securities: interstate and intrastate, threat and its impact on the integrity of the SAARC.
India and Indian sub-continent states are considered as South Asian nations, which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Historically, the whole region is considered as an island named, Jambudweep. According to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the region south Asia is standing in Indian Plate and that has been defined as a Jambudweep island. If we just look back to Alexander era this was a form of security coalition between all the kingdoms of South Asia against the rise of Alexander in the region. If the history was written correctly, the particular coalition has taught that common cause can bind those states with different values and cultural beliefs.
Having diversity in culture, language, religion, economy, territory and ideological beliefs, till date South Asia has maintained the harmony in comparison to other parts of the world. Undoubtedly, there are problems- some serious, but those problems will be easier to tackle if the region comes under a common entity with the common intention.
India, which holds 80% of almost all the measures, is flexing its muscles toward Middle East, Europe and Americas by forgetting its own neighbors and the regional entity. In the name of globalization India, so far, has forgotten the motto of regionalism. Without the willingness of India, the one and only hope of the region, SAARC, is handicapped. The treaty to established SAARC, the SAFTA and other fascinating but unimplemented policies has led it to more frustration and accident. Many scholars agree that there is no alternative than working together in terms of maintaining security, expanding trade relations and establishing cultural harmony. Similarly, if anyone in the region is searching for the alternatives of SAARC, not a single member state of SAARC can be left behind. Due to the proximity of these nations, the domestic instability, violence, terrorism, or any kind of disputes ultimately impact the whole region in large scale.
Meanwhile, there are some major issues like terrorism, border disputes, which absolutely need serious concerns and strong plans to deter them and at the same time, there are some other major issues like human trafficking, open borders, fake currencies which can be deterred with a minor but collective effort from all the member states. Culture, history, ideology, religion are not the issue, as it is for other parts of the world, in term of the South Asian fraction. But the proximity and the ego led perception to each other, in most of the cases, is not letting these states to cooperate. Again, it should be only India who needs to initiate the campaign to fight the common enemy of the region. The role of India should be like the role of big brother in the region. It’s emerging economy and willingness to run as a power of the world, India definitely needs to settle all those small disputes between and with member states of SAARC. For instance, having the high level of security arrangements, USA faced so many problems coming from their immediate neighbour, Mexico, like the drug, trafficking and mafia.
There is no any official proof but India and Pakistan condemn each other every time they have any non-state level attack occurred in their land. The dispute over Kashmir is growing violent each and every day instead of settling down. Proximity between Nepal and India, open border and its complexities get serious attention time and again. Territorial disputes and terrorism hype the relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan negatively. Trafficking, immigrants, border disputes between India- Bangladesh, is still seeking a settlement. There are hundreds of more issues between almost all the member states of SAARC.
Instead of binding the member states of SAARC for the common goal, it has failed to do so and the reasons are pretty clear. The spread of different models of war over Kashmir between India and Pakistan has dragged them to war many times. This particular situation has created the negative impact on the regional integration. The war over Kashmir is more ego, pride and psychological than a regular or typical kind of dispute. And as we can presume no one wants to lose the war of pride. So we can draw a simple conclusion that unwillingness of India to cooperate or bring SAARC forward as a regional organization of South Asia, is because of membership of Pakistan in it. Admitting such disputes with its known rival, Pakistan, India has purposed and tried to promote other regional and semi-regional organizations like BIMSTIC and BBIN. Although having ample prospects, one of the experts from India believes, “India will have to handle the eastern states, because if they create hurdles like in the case of river water sharing, the process may get adversely affected”, which clearly signifies that without settling or cooperating with Pakistan, the efforts may become counterproductive.
The only way to address and deter the security complexities of the regions to make SAARC function by finding the common goal.
South Asian Diversity
South Asia consist varieties of geographical representation and disparate cultures, religions, ethnic groups, political beliefs, diverse economic capabilities but they have still maintained people to people relation so far. Having so many, internal and external instability, South Asia can still be considered as a harmonized region. Whether it is the relation between Nepalese and Indians, Bhutanese and Indians, Pakistanis and Afghans or Bangladeshis or Indians, we can find so many motivational examples which signify that the relations are still positive and pure.
Guided by the Indus valley civilization, historically, the whole region is considered as the same religious and cultural groups. Hindu Kush Mountain and the Sindhu River guide the whole region from the northern border Afghanistan to Ganges civilization.
The harmony between these nations after being a diverse society could be the impact of the same civilization we shared. The commonality of language, culture, and civil to civil relations have shadowed the diversity in the region.
There is a belief that proximity comes along with complexities, so is the case with South Asia. Having so many similarities and prospects of cooperation, South Asia has been lingering by small but historically, culturally and religiously connected issues. Those issues are not the serious ones if everyone believed in collectivity but ego and jingoism led perception towards each other are hampering all those possible cooperation. Again, an only regional organization which includes all the South Asian nations has not shown its regional attitude so far. Security complexities between all the nations and its inter/intra-national impact are somehow shaping the future of South Asia.
West has accused some of the South Asian nations as the fertile land for terrorism and the 9/11 attack of USA certified that. With the mission of “War on Terror”, USA along with NATO enters Afghanistan to find the Al-Qaida supreme, Bin Laden. It took them almost a decade to find him but during those years the characteristic of South Asia has been defined and re-defined as the land of terrorism. It makes everyone a difficult task to find Bin Laden due to the horizontal model of the functioning of A-Qaida. The incident of 9/11 has a global impact and if we perceived the event as per USA claim it can be considered as an attack from the organization which was based on Afghanistan, historically. So if that kind of organization were functioning and impacting in the global scale we can imagine the situation of South Asia.
There are hundreds of terrorist groups currently active in the South Asian country. Some of them demand their domestic role and the position in governance, some of them demand free Kashmir and some of them have no any intention than to harm humanity. Due to the proximity between states of South Asia, I believe that if the terrorist organizations are active domestically, they will make a global impact in long run. For instance, in the name of equality the minority, Tamil community, of Sri Lanka start a combat revolution against the government. It took 33 years and took so many casualties which include large numbers of civilians, Tamil Tiger’s militants, Sri Lankan armies and Indian Armies. Terrorism shaped relations between India and Sri Lanka is often considered as the “Relation of Love and Hate”. Tamil minorities, who were Indians previously and taken to Sri Lanka by British Empire as a tea worker, get a huge support from India on their starting days of the revolution but when India decided to send Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to Sri Lanka the relation of love turned out to hate. Unknowingly, the revolution of Sri Lanka started impacting Tamil Nadu and later on the ex-prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated by the suicide bomber of Tamil Tiger. The domestic revolution turned out to be a revolution which grabbed the attention of the world, caused casualties from India and at last changed the course of the relations between India and Sri Lanka.
Similarly, Maoist guerilla war of Nepal has impacted India massively. A similar approach has been initiated by Indian side in this conflict as well. But strategically India has maintained the relations with Nepal and with Maoist, love to love. Otherwise, former Military Secretary to the Royal Palace Bibek Kumar Shah has disclosed in his book that the army knew about India’s patronage of the Maoists. Shah has recounted an incident involving an inspector of the Armed Police Force back from commando training in Chakrata, Dehradun, who submitted a report claiming that the Maoists had been trained in the same location a month earlier. India has managed to land safely the issue of Maoist in Nepalese context and they have played a vital role in establishing a peace and bring guerilla in government. But as the impact of Maoist way of revolution and the ideology followed by them, India now is suffering from a movement named Naxalism in the region of North India and that movement is threatening the national security of India.
Equally, the relation between India and Pakistan have been shaped differently time and again. India and Pakistan had fought 3 wars after the partition and two of them were over the disputed land, Kashmir. There are many militant and non-militant fighters currently functioning in Kashmir with the demand of free Kashmir. And as usual India and Pakistan accuse each other of unstable Kashmir. Many people claim that terrorism has been used as the tool to counter each other by India and Pakistan. So it is normal if Pakistan and India accuse each other of any attack in their land. 26/11 Mumbai attack was one of the major terrorist attacks in Indian land and the attacker is from Pakistan. After 8 years of that attack that particular single issue is still shaping the relations of Pakistan and India. “It is the Pakistan government’s responsibility to bring to book the perpetrators and all those involved in conspiring, executing and mounting the 26/11 attack in which 166 people were killed. It is a matter of concern that well after eight years of the attack, the perpetrators continue to enjoy freedom in Pakistan and have not been brought to book,” These lines are taken from the news portal of India which was published 27th April 2017.
However, instead of talking about these kinds of serious issues the cold war between states took place mostly. So nobody really knows if the attacks and the assumption made by each party are the genuine or third party is taking advantages of instability and the disintegration between them. SAARC can be the platform and the initiator to start a healthy conversation regarding all disputes.
- Fake Currencies
India had once purposed to mobilize its security force along with Indian Airlines flying in and out in Tribhuwan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal, by showing the reason of security. Direct security threat like terrorism and internal conspiracy and indirect but serious security threats like fake currencies and propaganda are the concerns taken by Indian government regarding Nepal. Illegal entrance of fake currency in Indian territory has shaken their economy time and again. Prime Minister Modi’s administration have pointed toward corruption and implemented the demonization but many have argued that corruption is not the only thing that led to this bold decision.
Fake currency also has shaped the relations between India, Nepal and Pakistan time and again. India has purposed no Pakistan Airlines in Tribhuwan International Airlines, Nepal, considering the possible threat it has created in Indian soil. “The Pakistan Army officer who went missing in Nepal last week was on a “sensitive” ISI mission while he vanished, top Indian intelligence sources told CNN-News18.Lt Colonel Mohammed Habib Zahir, a retired artillery officer, was reported to be on way to Lumbini in the Indo-Nepal border when he made his last call to his family in Lahore.” This statement is just an example on how India portrait Nepalese soil as an infiltrator of Terrorism to India.
- Open Border
Equal to opportunities open international border comes along with so many complexities and threats. Open border between Nepal and India has put these nations in trouble time and again. The implications of the open India-Nepal border and free movement across the international boundary and the issue related to them are both simple but varied and complex. It is simply because no formality is required to go over from one territory to the other and it is complex because it has become a major cause for many evils to take place in the form of smuggling of all kinds of goods, terrorist activities, migration, and citizenship problems and so on.
According to World Bank, South Asia is considered as the least integrated region in term of Trade which points us toward the statement that South Asia has failed to exploit its closeness for the betterment of the whole region. Establishing in the same period of time ASEAN has achieved a level of economic prosperity using their free trade means.
Dilemma of SAARC’s functionality
Established in 1985, instead of showing the regional attitude SAARC has failed to do any collective task so far. The aftermath of this passive nature of SAARC, many scholars have started to accuse SAARC as a talk shop instead of a regional entity.
In the 18th SAARC summit of Kathmandu, Nepal, there was a news all over the media of the region about the handshake between Modi& Sharif. Kathmandu’s City Hall broke into loud applause as Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi warmly shook hands, putting an end to the stiff statements by their foreign offices that ruled out a “structured” or “formal” meeting.
Since 30 years SAARC is struggling to find the common interest. Whether it is the organization with vague objectives or passiveness of India or small intra-state tussles (border, ego, cultural), it has failed to take an initiation to deter small issues. Despite having many issues internally SAARC has achieved some great things like South Asian University and SAFTA (free trade agreement).
The security concerns like open borders, trans-border terrorism, history of partition, definitely are the issues which are playing vital role in shaping SAARC future and the proposal of BBIN & revival of BIMSTIC are the signs that some of the member states of SAARC also believe that there is a need for alternative which can address the regional issues.
For an instant, after the partition India-Pakistan have a different level of clashes like territorial, identical, and cultural, has impacted directly to the harmony of SAARC. The territorial dispute in Kashmir and the role of Pakistan in spreading terrorism inside India is the major cause which is blocking all the prospects of the SAARC. Just before the SAARC summit, India has officially made a decision to not attend SAARC summit in Pakistan. New Delhi’s decision comes in the aftermath of an attack by militants that it said crossed the Line of Control into India-administered Kashmir to strike at an Indian Army camp in Uri.
However, there is no such alternatives which can function well leaving Pakistan and all the problematic factors behind. So the only way forward is to come together and find the common ground which gives all the member states an equal opportunity to function and grow.
SAARC is an entity of 8 South Asian states. Cultural, lingual, territorial, economic diversity in South Asia has made this region unique. Having diversity in many areas it has managed the harmony at their best level. Territorial disputes, Trans-border terrorism, illegal migration are some of the issues which have created the situation of mistrust between the member states of SAARC. India-Pakistan relations and the history they shared has also shaped the integrity of SAARC. Prime Minister Modi’s will to promote BBIN and BIMSTIC excluding Pakistan is just an example which signifies the security concerns over Kashmir and the impact of trans-border terrorism inside India and Pakistan have played a vital role in the relations between all the states.
The prospects of South Asia are uncountable but the irony is South Asia has been lingering in their internal issues. Besides that, security complexities, the bitter history between some states, and the vast difference in the economy are the factors which may have blocked SAARC to function well. There are different instincts that can bind the region together and at the same time those separate the integrity of the South Asian nations. In one part of the world, they are uniting to fight common threat and enemies.
Despite all the security and some non-security issues between these member states, if SAARC takes the ownership and starts functioning it won’t take a longer period of time to achieve regional goals like economic prosperity and security. In a final note, if only some of the states start doing progress unilaterally by forgetting its own regional stands, sooner or later it will hunt them due to the proximity between states.
Mr. Saroj k. Aryal
(Ph. D researcher)
Masters, International Relations
University of Warsaw