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Challenges to Peace in South Asia

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Peacemaking is one of the most prominent and significant ways to deal with any kind of conflict as it happens in advance of the flare-up of the conflict or outbreak of the crisis. Peacemaking or peacebuilding is the formulation of such policies which are very much helping in the strengthening of the peace and building of societies economically and socially. The dilemma of peacemaking is that it is very difficult to make the international community understand the conflict before its eruption when it’s in the latent stage. It has become an irrefutable fact that societies which have witnessed any conflict are often very much vulnerable in the post-conflict scenario.

There are a lot of efforts needed to be undertaken to return to any pre-conflict position and also ensure that there is no more conflict in the future. International support often comes after the outburst of the conflict and it comes as a peace-building measure, not as conflict resolution. Traditional security threats are more prominent in South Asia as peacebuilding is an incomplete agenda of this region. The adversative impact on peace in South Asia comes from Nuclearization, insurgency, conventional military campaigns, and terrorism. The current form of peacebuilding in South Asia has changed its approach from state-centric to region-centric which seems to be very difficult.

Since India and Pakistan have failed to resolve their conflicts peace in South Asia has become a dream and no intervention of a third party for mediation makes the issues more complex and far from reaching any solution. Since 9/11 there has been more active participation or interference of the United States in this region which has increased the issues and also transformed the nature of conflicts. The major powers have no interest in the peacebuilding of this region or any kind of conflict resolution because this region is emerging as a potential recipient of the arms industry.

South Asia has two arch-rival nuclear powers which have lack trust, and regional cooperation that leave a very bad impact on the growth of the region. The major powers having stakes in the region have been very much diplomatic in taking sides as taking the side of any one party or state would result in the disliking of the other.

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The states in South Asia tend to get more sacrifices from their people rather than taking steps for their betterment, the poverty, bad leadership, and governance issues make the lives of people worse. The leaders of the third world states are not much powerful in exercising their powers to making decisions for the betterment of their people and state. International institutions are being used as tools in countries of South Asia for the interests of the major powers having clear stakes in this region.

Taking particularly the example of Afghanistan, the two decades-long war has badly impacted the lives of all and has left the people to live a miserable life fighting for existence between the Taliban, the Government, and the terrorist organizations which have been active in different parts of the country.

The United States which invaded Afghanistan almost two decades ago by taking refuge behind the twin tower attack has now ended up signing a controversial peace agreement that ensures the safe return of remaining American soldiers to home but doesn’t ensure peace in the country which is going towards turmoil and this would have many direct and indirect impacts on peace and security of the region as well as the connected regions like the Middle East and Central Asia.

Challenges in South Asia

South Asia is not a defined region, it consists of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. This region connects itself with Central Asia, West Asia, and South East Asia which are also very much significant in international politics. The conflicts in South Asia are directly or indirectly connected with other regions and states as well.

The people-to-people contacts and relations within South Asia are not as good as in other regions, the sense of being in South Asia is very minimal. South Asia is being famous for the nuclear flashpoint in the world as two arch-rivals India and Pakistan are often engaged in border skirmishes and limited fights which are then de-escalated through talks and negotiations. Both states face the issues of terrorism, ethnic and linguistic conflicts, insurgencies, and extremism.

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The wide range of Human Rights issues in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India are often the topics discussed by the major powers and also manipulated by them for their interests. South Asia is also famous for the religious unrest, extreme Islamic ideologies in Afghanistan and Pakistan have cost a lot of lives.

Taliban and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan follow the path of extreme religious ideology which is often depicted in their actions against others. The Taliban and other violent nonstate actors follow the path of religious principles and call others infidels and encourage their followers to take up arms and fight against them.

In Pakistan, there are two types of religiously motivated groups Political conservatives, violent religious groups, and non-violent religious groups. Violent religious groups are those who force their narratives or think that their path of religion is purer or right than others. This is also known as the sectarian conflict which has witnessed attacks on each other in many parts of the country. Not so long ago the bomb blasts in Hazara Town in Quetta, Parachinar, Hangu, Raja Bazar Rawalpindi, and killings of scholars of both the Sunnis and Shias in different parts of the country.

Minorities are also being targeted in Pakistan for different reasons, there are two categories of minorities like Ahmedis and other ones are from Hindus, Sikhism, and Christianity prominently. The killings of these groups are often carried out by the religiously motivated people in the country who somehow fall prey to those religious clerics who spread the idea of Jihad in such a way that the people from the same country but with other beliefs are seen as enemies of Islam. The same happens in India but with a slightly different version where Hindus often prosecute minorities in the name of Hindutva.

The extreme ideology is followed by the party which is running the state affairs. Saffron terrorism has taken deep roots in Indian society which practices violent means to target minorities by calling it a move to make their country and religion pure. The attack on Muslims in different parts of India, the Gujarat riots in 2002 when PM Modi was there as CM, the recent riots against Muslims in Delhi in February 2020, the recent campaign of Hindus by blaming Muslims from Nizam Markaz Delhi as potential carriers of COVID – 19 in India shows that the extreme mindset has not only penetrated the minds of common people but it has also started showing its extreme symptoms in different attacks throughout the country.

Insurgency is a common issue faced by both Pakistan and India and both states blame each other for fueling the issues through funding and other support. Pakistan has been blaming India for interfering in the matters of Balochistan by providing funds and arms to the locals to rise them against the states and this is not new, the support is very old and traces are seen back to the 1950s.

Read More: Projecting Pakistan’s Soft Power Under the United Nations Peace-Keeping Missions

Many leaders from the ruling party have given sweeping states about Balochistan becoming an Independent state in the longer run. Pakistan had previously arrested an Indian Naval officer which was given a death sentence by the Military court for planning and helping in the execution of terrorist activities in different parts of the country. India is also facing the issues of insurgency in different parts, the Naxals, Sikhs, and many other ethnic groups seeking independence from India as well as fighting for their rights.

The states bordering Bangladesh are often part of the news as the rebels carry out attacks against the Indian Armed Forces. Kashmir has been an unsolved agenda of the partition of the subcontinent, which is seen as a nuclear flash point between the two neighbors, Both India and Pakistan often carry out border skirmishes against each other at LOC and suffer losses. The unilateral decisions by the Indian Government in Kashmir have brought many bad impacts on both states which have not left any good room for negotiations for the resolution of the conflict.

The attack on the Indian paramilitary vehicle in Pulwama in 2019 brought both states are the brink of war however the back-door interventions from major states didn’t let this happen. The current standoff between China and India which is de-escalated now but has cost India more than China is now seen as a turning point power play of major powers in the region.

Interests of Powers in South Asia

South Asia is comprised of eight states however India occupies the strategic coastal location having a 7500 km long coastline which gives it economic and strategic advantages. Since the end of the Cold war, the United States has maintained an influence in this region for its strategic interests. U.S. and India are strengthening their relations to counter the Chinese moves in the region by using India as a front.

Despite the fact that India is a growing economy and is continuously increasing its armed capabilities but it’s not capable enough to counter China without the support of the United States. The smaller states like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Bangladesh are now facing a strategic dilemma which and showing a tilt toward China because of its soft power steps being taken to increase its influence.

Read More: UN Peace Keeping Mission and Role of Pakistan Army in Promoting and securing International Peace

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is part of the BRI (Belt and Road initiative) is seen as a threat to American Interests as China is now using its soft power in more than 66 countries of the world where it is engaged in the development works to bring those countries near to it. The subcontinent has always been in turmoil and served as a battleground for the major powers. Afghanistan witnessed the war between the United States and Russia in past, currently, it has become like a chessboard for the major powers and thus ends up bringing more issues for the South Asian States.

Economic Interests of Major Powers

South Asia has witnessed the rise of Chinese influence in the region, it has invested in Pakistan through CPEC and helped the country in building infrastructures and socio-economic uplift the people. China has also started making relations with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and other smaller states as well. The alliance of Japan, India, and the United States sees the growing Chinese influence and investment in maritime infrastructure as a threat.

South Asian states except India view China as a reliable partner which helps in the development of the economy through investments and doesn’t interfere like other major powers. Fast-track economic developments are being carried out in Pakistan through CPEC, the Malacca Dilemma of China has been reduced due to the CPEC and Gwadar because before it had to cross the Indian Ocean, the south china sea, and Malacca to reach the Persian Gulf. In 2017 the then Secretary of State Mr. Tillerson said that the United States has intensified its relationship with India to counter the growing influence of China in the region.

Border Disputes

The illogical division of borders during the partition has been a continuous issue among South Asian states which also led to the creation of Bangladesh in past. The border issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan and India over Kashmir, Sir Creek, etc, Bangladesh issue of waters, Indo China territorial disputes have always created disputes of small and large levels in past.

The wars of 1948, 1965, and 1971 and also several limited standoffs were because of the unfinished agendas of partition of the subcontinent in 1947. India and China territorial dispute resulted in a war in 1962 and a few standoffs like Doklam in 2017 and Galwan Valley standoff in 2020 show that there is very less chance of sustainable peace in the region. Afghanistan is the prime example of an international chessboard post 9/11, it has become a tug of war among many major powers which are trying to increase their influence in the region.

Read More: Contemporary trends of conflict and peace (2000 – 2020)

The Durand line issue is also a long-standing conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan which has now become more problematic after the border fencing started by Pakistan. The locals which are living in border areas are often seen protests against that, sometimes the militants have also been observed demolishing the fence and entering on either side.

Afghanistan has become a safe haven for violent nonstate actors which have now become more active since America signed an agreement with the Taliban to leave the country. The government in Kabul is not capable of holding the power and thus may end up in a civil war in the country after the complete withdrawal of the foreign troops.

Arms export industry

South Asia has been one of the biggest recipients of international weapons, the main exporters are China, the United States, France, Germany, and Russia.

Both India and Pakistan spend a huge amount on defense, soon after the nuclear tests in 1998 it was perceived that there may be an end to the conventional steps in the region but in 1999 Kargil conflict explained that the threats of traditional wars have not fully vanished. The attacks on the Indian parliament and later on the cold start doctrine increase the race of weapons and also the defense budget of both countries.

Conclusion

The gameplay of major powers in South Asia has always forced the South Asian states to fight with each other, it’s the same as a divide-and-rule policy. Half of the population of South Asia is young and all the states have badly failed in utilizing them for better things. The recent wave of university teachers and students joining band outfits and terrorists’ organizations has alarmed the bells for many.

Taking the example of the Afghanistan conflict Galtung’s Transcend model can be applied to bring peace in the country where the Taliban can be given a share through a power-sharing formula but this would not bring positive peace but negative peace because the other issues like sectarian killings, or ethnic killings, warlords, the bad economy will also play its part in giving fuel to conflicts.

The conflicts between Pakistan and India have changed their dynamics, there has been no big war in the past many decades but there were many standoffs which show that the nature of conflicts has also changed. The support for insurgencies and terrorist organizations has increased in the past two decades and both states have been blamed by each other for using proxies.

Long-term peace may just stay an ideal dream for both states because of the diverse interests of foreign powers in the region. Sustainable peace may not be achieved without significant economic progress and also without economic interdependence as illiteracy, bad economic conditions, and bad governance are breeding grounds for terrorism, militancy, extremism, and sectarianism.

About Author: Qasim Mehmood is an Islamabad-based research analyst. He completed his MPhil from National Defense University, Islamabad, and focuses on research areas including Ethnic Conflict, International relations of South and Southeast Asia, Regional integration, and Developments in the Indo-Pacific.

Disclaimer; The views expressed are the author’s own and don’t reflect the editorial policy of Global Defense Insight

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