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DRAGON’S SHADOW OVER SOUTH ASIA

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South Asia is in a state of flux. Since the end of colonialism in the region, India has held the pre-eminent position even though it was flanked by pro-US military pact countries – the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) – in which Pakistan played a central role ostensibly to contain Soviet communism but it carried out a sideshow of hostility against India based on the obvious illegality of the Two-Nation Theory.

Yet India enjoyed the goodwill of other nations which had newly gained independence from colonial masters or, as were the Indo-China States of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, still locked in a war of liberation against American occupation (after freeing themselves from French rule). Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar shared land borders on India’s periphery and its peninsular position created natural cohesion with the newly emerging nations of Africa in the west and Southeast Asia in the east. Island nations like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Seychelles found it convenient to do business with India. But it cannot be denied that its large size and its strategic location did attract the opprobrium of “Big Brother”.

Over the past decade, geopolitics in the region has changed dramatically with Chinese expansionism undercutting the Indian sphere of influence. Slowly, but surely, the Chinese policy of creating military bases on island territories in the Indian Ocean Region has created a steel trap around India’s throat while Sri Lanka, Maldives and Seychelles have revised their India policies accordingly. The blatant Chinese attempt to wrest Bhutan from Indian influence through the Dhoklam incursion boomeranged and China is now using other tactics to undercut Indian influence in the region. It has used Pakistan to block Indian direct access to Afghanistan through Pakistan and has created a network of rail, road and pipelines that run diagonally across Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir occupied illegally by both Pakistan and China. The Belt-cum-Road project or the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor is turning out to be an exclusivist enterprise intended to keep India confined.

India’s role in Afghanistan where it has been lauded for bringing a semblance of human dignity for the Afghans is being sought to be suborned; Nepal has shown signs of breaking old bonds; Myanmar engulfed in its internal contradictions is unable to become the bridge to Southeast Asia; and Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina has time and again shown its gratitude for India’s help in its liberation but it is being wooed by China with submarines! This looks blatantly like a Chinese scenario for a post-Hasina situation.

By and large, the situation in the entire South Asia region is changing and most of the countries are drifting away from India as China has been luring them with dubious economic deals (as in the Hambantota port project in Sri Lanka) and military hardware.

This edition has focussed on the current situation and our experts on the South Asia region have tried to figure out the options for India vis-a-vis with all the stakeholders.

I am sure you will like this edition too as always.

Happy reading!


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