Conflict Resolution

The Conflicts of Ethnic Groups of South Asian Regions

Kh Atiar Rahman asked:

Like chalk and cheese, the ethnic groups in South Asians regions, sometimes creates insurgency problems in South Asia. This is one of the reasons of distrust between the South Asian states. As India charges Bangladesh for providing arms to Indian ethnic groups who are skirmishing for autonomy; on the other hand, Bangladesh accuses India for philanthropic shelter and arms to Bangladeshi insurgents. An ethnic crisis between Tamil and Sinhalese creates bottlenecks between Sri Lanka and India. It is common trust in Sri Lanka that Indian support for Tamil people has shaped this ethnic crisis. In relation to broaden our horizons, Indian ethnic groups sometime create domestic crisis, which has stern impacts in other countries of the region.

Language differentiation creates hazards of communication among the South Asian people. If we glance at Latin America, we observe that Spanish is a widespread language there, which helps build up better communication among the countries. On the other hand, in South Asia, most of the states have more than one language. For case in point, people in the south India do not appreciate Hindi and Hindi interpolation people often do not realize other languages. Sometime it creates separation movement also. For example when Urdu was declared as the state language of Pakistan, the Bengali people in the eastern wing of Pakistan started their language movement, which eventually became the separation movement. Similarly, when Sinhalese was declared as the state language of Sri Lanka, the Tamil minorities started their separation movement from Sri Lanka.

As compared to other regions, the differences in size and population are very high among the South Asian countries. The disparities between India and the other states are striking. India’s protective size is nearly four times that of Pakistan and its population is five times larger than Pakistan. India’s region is more than three thousand times as large as that of Maldives and the difference in population is similar. Bhutan is also a very small country as compared to India. The great diversity in size, population creates predicament and as such India is not only bigger than other members of SAARC, but is also bigger than all the others put together. This creates psychological problem for the smaller countries. In the region India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have access to the sea, Sri Lanka and Maldives are island states and Nepal and Bhutan are land locked. Indian protestation is a predicament for Nepal to take pleasure in transit services has accessible by Bangladesh. The Geographical locations of Nepal and Bhutan have made them dependent upon India. For example, in 1979, the Janata government of India removed its objection of transit facility to Nepal. After that Nepal established a transit liaison office at Chittagong (Bangladesh port) to handle its export and imports from overseas countries via Bangladesh. Geographical differences of south Asia are such that India separates one smaller neighbour from the other. All countries of South Asia have common boundaries with India, except Sri Lanka and Maldives. A geographical difference increases the level of difficulty in multi-lateral negotiation for solving common problems, particularly such common problems as the sharing of water resources, and controlling pollution which require co-operation from more than two co-members. Territoriality is an issue which has in the past created irreconcilable problem of sovereignty leading to three wars between two co-members. Territorial disputes continue to cloud the relationship between India and Pakistan, and India and Bangladesh. The opinionated heterogeneity in the midst of the SAARC states greatly hold back effective regional co-operation in South Asia. The political issues are not in attendance in SAARC schedule. It is the most vital issue whose resolution is very smooth mixture obligatory for helpful regional integration in South Asia. Political diversity can be seen in relation to:

a)opinionated security;

b)parliamentary system;

c)philosophical values of supremacy;

d)Issue of confliction ;

e)potential critics to resist the regional domination;

f)objectives from SAARC;

g)menace discernment;

h)legitimate arrangements and

i)Attitudes of verdict in question of honour and security.

Political interests among the South Asian states are highly diverse. As has been verbatim earlier, both India and Pakistan are very big in size and power in comparison with other smaller states. For that reason their political interest is also different from other member states of SAARC. Identification of common interests is a very difficult task in the region. For the above mentioned reason, they have diversity in their concepts of security also. For example, India as a core power of South Asia enunciates a strategic unity of the region and considers the security of the small regional actors as integral to its own security. It considers the latter to be the exclusive strategic backyard of India. On the other hand, the small states tend to perceive India as the main source of external threat to their security. The diversity in governmental systems prevailing problems in South Asia. India and Sri Lanka have traditionally practised representative democracy. The Indian experience of democracy has had stern tests in recent years, since the emergency period of 1975-77; while Sri Lanka has had to compromise democratic norms more recently as a result of ethnic crisis. The two are even so considered relative success stories among Third World democracies. Pakistan and Bangladesh, particularly the latter, have in the beginning of the 1990s witnessed sweeping democratic transition in their domestic scenario. However, in a longer term perspective, both of these countries have always been swinging between military dominance in politics and democratic experimentation. Nepal’s transition to democracy is also perceived yet to be firmly rooted. Bhutan has been striving to retain the authority of monarchy as the dominant institution, while the Maldives has been practising one-party rule and in due sense variance in classes of people is manifested in values and principles pursued in governance and statecraft. The Indian political system is professedly a blend of democracy, socialism and secularism, though these lofty ideals have remained far from fully translated into reality. Most significant is the recent trend towards increased influence of Hindu fundamentalism in Indian politics. Bangladesh started off with more or less same principles as the fundamentals in statecraft, but it later changed course towards increasing influence of religion, an issue on which a national consensus has yet to emerge. Pakistan has Islam as the basis of its political system, while the Maldives is an Islamic society with relatively less influence of religion in politics. Nepal remains under Hindu influence whilst Bhutan and Sri Lanka are Buddhist societies.

The conflict as has been created strategically among the South Asian states is diverse too and as such the nature of the conflict between India and Sri Lankan is different from that of the conflict between India and Bangladesh, Pakistan or Nepal. Some conflicts are ethnic, others are religious, location or border related. For this reason India’s insistence on bilateralism gets priority, and India takes advantages of settlement of those conflicts as per its wishes. One important dimension of the conflict is that all are Indo-centric. Pakistan has accepted the superior military strength of India; it has shown no readiness to curtail its freedom of action as an independent state. Although Bangladesh has limited scope of independence, for Nepal and Bhutan it is more difficult to resist or say anything at all about such regional security doctrine. For example, Sri Lanka failed to resist Indian hegemonic attitude when in 1977 the Jayewardene government opted fo
r a free-market economy, making Sri Lanka increasin
gly receptive to western capital and technology. At that time the relationship with Pakistan improved dramatically. The Jayewardene government virtually tried to distance itself from India. India then took the opportunity of the Tamil separatist issue to put pressure on Sri Lanka. Apart from sheltering and arming the Tamil militants, the Indian ruling class blew out of proportion some of the features of Sri Lanka’s relationship with United States and Pakistan. India cannot apply this type of hegemonic attitude towards Pakistan

There are differences in objectives in respect of SAARC among the South Asian countries. SAARC is indeed a facility and an opening for Nepal and Bhutan to maintain close relations with their South Asian neighbours. Above all, it has been perceived by the smaller members as a source of peace and stability in the region. For these small states these contacts and frequent interaction provide a means for generating mutual self-belief and understanding, which may help in the resolution of bilateral problems and in creating harmony. Such harmony could also, in due course, narrow down the prevailing strategic divergence among SAARC members. Unlike the other members, Pakistan has been cautious in expanding institutional and developmental aspects of SAARC. Its objective was to put a stop to India’s presence and influence at the same time to expand its interaction with all the other SAARC countries. Pakistani representatives have sought to use the SAARC forum for disseminating their specific policy proposals aimed at thwarting India.

For India, SAARC has been both a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge has lain in the collective pressures of the neighbours, and the opportunity in the possibilities of making the neighbours look inward, into the region, for their developmental and security needs. India has pursued a two-pronged strategy to advance its regional objectives through SAARC. One has been to gradually push the expansion and deepening of the Integrated Programme of Action so as to cover core economic areas like trade, industry and finance. The idea was to expand and consolidate infrastructure and social linkages at various levels among South Asian countries and to create a basis for interdependence. This in the long run could weaken the centrifugal tendencies of its neighbours and thus narrow down the divergence towards SAARC’s ties with other regional organizations. The inflow of foreign funds in the organization supported these long- term objectives. The other aspect of India’s strategy has been to evolve consensus in SAARC on international economic and political issues. Such consensus would strengthen India’s own bargaining position in international forum. This competitive game and diversity in objectives may help to sustain SAARC but is not congenial for effective regional integration.

There are diversities in threat perceptions among the South Asian states. For example, the presence of a superpower in the Indian Ocean draws more fire from some South Asian neighbours than others. Practically, threat perceptions in South Asia seem to be quite a mixed issue. The smaller members of the community fear India, and some of the South Asian states are concerned about American interests in the region. China figures as a possible threat in the Indian calculations, but China is uniformly absent from the threat perceptions of most of the other South Asian states. These differences in perception and response point to the absence of any kind of a regional outlook on defence issues. For this reason different military capabilities have emerged in the South Asian region, which is in no way congenial for effective regional integration.

There is diversity in constitutional arrangements among South Asian states. For example, India and Pakistan have provincial government, but others lack these. It takes much time in India to ratify a treaty which as a consequence of having provincial governments. For smaller states it is very easy to get approval from their parliaments. Sometime in India central government’s willingness is not sufficient to solve a problem without the help of provincial government and the Indian Supreme Court. Sometimes this time-consuming system creates mistrust amongst smaller treaty partners. This situation is also not congenial for effective regional integration in South Asia. Different attitudes among the ruling elite’s is further factor that hinders effective regional integration in South Asia. For example, since 1971 the Indian ruling elite has gradually realised that if outside powers could be excluded from the region, there would not be a single state in South Asia to challenge India either diplomatically or militarily, or both. On the other hand, the elite’s of Sri Lanka and Nepal have an attitude to seek assistance from extra-regional powers. In Pakistan and to some extent in Bangladesh, the ruling elite’s hold anti-Indian attitudes. They frequently express and use those attitudes in their policies and politics.

The disproportionate size of the market appears to be one of the most important obstacles to the expansion of trade in South Asia. India is a great economic power in the region. It accounts for 59 percent of the import market, 62 percent of the export earnings, 41 percent the external reserves, 79 percent of manufacturing value added and 68 percent of manufacturing exports. In terms of exportable commodities, India owns over 5,600 commodities to export. Only Pakistan, which has about 4000 commodities, comes next in South Asia. Nevertheless, Pakistan is no match to India in industrial development and size of the market. But the positions of other smaller members of SAARC in this regard are not same.

In view of the above, it is evident that the horror of Indian economic supremacy over the economies of the smaller countries is a barrier to trade co-operation in South Asia. India’s economic ascendancy is reproduced in its trade imbalance with almost all the countries of South Asia, except Pakistan. In 1992, India exported US$ 258 million to Bangladesh, US$5 million to Maldives, US$ 85 million to Nepal, US$ 47 million to Pakistan, US$ 192 million to Sri Lanka. In the same year, India imported US$ 5 from Bangladesh, US$ 21 million from Nepal, US$ 149 million from Pakistan and US$ 13 million from Sri Lanka. The strong industrial base, technological development and its comparatively restricted market have given India a predominant position in South Asia. The spill-over effects of the fear of India’s economic domination is also reflected in its neighbour’s psyche. For instance, it is noticeable in the statement of a Pakistani psychoanalyst, who alleged: ‘It will be more apposite to say that Pakistan is not willing to have unregulated trade with India without adequate safeguards for its indigenous industries and comparatively high-wage labour force.’ If passable safeguarding measures that are incorporated in the South Asian Preferential Trading Arrangement for least developed members are not properly applied to them, the lopsided size of the market may generate the imbalance basis of trade among the South Asian countries.


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