ISSN 2330-717X

Regional Settlements: Strategic Conditions In South Asia – Analysis


By Ravi Sundaraligam

Modern world is not for the ‘ordinary man’. He needs many interpreters, experts, and ‘academics’ so that he can understand the world he has created and to make ends meet, the people next door, and even his relationship with spouse. Before the progress he only needed one expert, just to interpret the ‘holy texts’ so that he can get on ‘with his maker’. Please note we don’t intend a gender bias with ‘he’, ‘man’ references.

When someone reduces the US borrowing AAA rating to AA+ he hears that (1) it will be good for the global economy because the resulting higher interest rate is attractive to ‘make money’ by lending more to the US, (2) no, no, it will be bad because US will go into recession, and hence the world. So, he starts to wonder perhaps as a ‘citizen’ in 3rd world, “Is it time our country lend some of the money to US, which it received as ‘US Aid’? Communist China is no help; it has just put out a strong statement condemning the irresponsibility of the US politicians to look after the value of its wealth, deposited (trillion) in dollars in US banks, and demanding actions. Then, a US economist says, “What stops the US printing more dollars anyway?”

South Asia
South Asia

He can always rely on his hard work and graft, which has enabled him to ‘live’. Perhaps, that is what they measure as the actual growth of a country? But, he sees thousands massacred in a week in the name of war against terrorism, community and people destroyed, environment turned into lunar landscape, the fertile or productive lands forcibly taken away by their patriotic governments to plant food or bunches of flowers for the rich somewhere else or build tourist resorts. When someone talks about human rights, he knows it is not about him or his community, but about some deal that will again cause him pain and deaths.

There are thousands of communities and hundreds of nations in the developing world, many in decades of disputes with their respective colonially invented states. Having been through a period of hyper-hope during the bipolar world, their national liberation or ‘revolutionary’ struggles lingered along through a transition period, and he has now emerged into the ‘globalising’ era.

What can he hope? He may have noted, recently perhaps due to changes unknown to him, his and community’s disputes and the demands are again becoming regionalised, and the ‘solutions’ becoming more dependent on the regional than global dynamics.

Strategic conditions

When most decisions are made behind the scenes, without first-hand information, subjected to numerous misinformation by agencies and paid hands, murderous commentaries by “intellectuals”, and faced with the information overload in the e-media, how Mr. Joe public could even contemplate such a task is a question, especially when, events all around him either look impossibly complex or incredibly simple?

Then again, ‘God’ never gave secrets either, except for to those who claim to talk directly? Building model from past data that connects to (predict) the present, to predict the future, and based on its accuracy reconsidering the model has been the only option for him.

Therefore, predicting the strategic condition/possible action from single/simple observation, without a model would not do. Some will do so for ulterior motives and many due to plain stupidity budding nicely on simple bed of motivations.
In Tamileelamist propaganda, India was an inadequate, innate power in need of a ‘policy’ until the LTTE was defeated, but the power behind it that lead to the genocide of the Tamils.

One can recall how the media was stuffed with stories of Chinese taking over all the ‘projects’ in the North and East, in some cases entire Sri Lanka. We are now aware India is behind almost all the strategically important projects, ‘renewing’ sea/airports, building railways, apart from many other human resource programs. India has also opened its consulates in the North and East and branches of its banks. If a ‘hack watch’ is done with a simple e-search we will note many presented “China the champion/bogeyman to smash India” are now writing about an Indian takeover of the island.

Despite these types of claims and ‘changes of minds’, without rejecting any of them for lack logic or their content, we have picked the kernels to build three scenarios (models) of South Asia’s immediate future.

Scenario 1: Unstable, unsettled period

There are no ‘understandings’ between the global/major powers trying to have influence in the region, so no distinction between con/de-structive engagements.

i. Local states, mostly through “non-state actors” continue to support to destabilise ‘competitors’.
ii. ‘Territorial integrity’ only nominally recognised, applied according to interests.
iii. Past conflicts, adversary nature, historical quibbles are maintained with the aim of benefiting from outside powers.
iv. Outside powers are ‘free’ to accept invitation or seek ways to intervene against regional cooperation and India.

As consequences we see,

US and China are the only two global powers in the region. India, like Pakistan or Nigeria, a local power not regional power. China striving to complete the “strangulation” of India, with Pakistan the world-power armed with twice the number of nuclear war-heads to emasculate India in the North West, Sri Lanka India’s Cuba Venezuela with King Mahinda is the new Castro Chavez, and all other disgruntled neighbours fitting into the scheme. It attempts to extend into to Central Asia is curtailed.

China has the most harmonious neighbourhood in Asia, with all the countries around taking its leadership to confront the ‘West’.

Powers selecting states, provinces as “working-partners” in a country, thereby undermine the country, regional cohesion, and implicitly India. That is, Tamil Nadu opened up for the US, another part for China, etc., and India making similar inroads in Sri Lanka. Then, the Indian ‘foreign policy’ is determined by the ‘powerful’ states in the different zones.
The powers, including India, competing over Indian Ocean and littoral countries continue to fund/use ‘terrorism’.

Triumphant over their ‘internal’ conflicts Pakistan, Sri Lanka and other neighbours turning their ‘victories’ as anti-West, anti-Indian campaigns to unify the ruling communities without any consequences.

National, religious conflicts are encouraged by internal and external forces to dominate/exploit the underlying socio-economic disparities and injustice prevalent in the region.

In this scenario we witness a balkanised South Asian region, with no regional dynamics or any sense of a country’s or regional ‘sovereignty’. Indian ambition to be a global power is contained within itself. Any distinctions between ‘zones’ let alone regions in the Indian Ocean will not be noted: the tips of South Africa, Antarctica New Zealand, Singapore, and Tamil Nadu define a huge area open for conflicts and competition.

Scenario 2: Unstable period with a settled appearance

Unstable period, with apparently settled pattern of events.

Global and regional powers vie for influence where possible in the region.

Yet all agree to,

i. The notion of regional entity, with it the strategic role of a regional power.
ii. The ‘territorial integrity’ of the ‘state’, except when there is a historical ‘border’ dispute.
iii. That India as the regional power, not a global power.
iv. Not to engage in new covert military operations (but, continue with existing programs).
v. Use economic means to achieve goals/influence/subvert the region, and
vi. Bi-lateral than the collective regional economic & developments.

Conflicts with historic background are assisted and continued, perhaps with strategies & tactics to involve less armed actions. Pakistan may continue to assist Kashmiri militants, but restrain those involved in ‘Islamic terrorism’ in India, Afghanistan, and China. China may continue to issue stapled visas to those in Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh. Powers may assist/fund preferred political party or group to access power in a state or country in the region. India continued to work with preferred political parties in the neighbouring countries than approaching the population or polity as a whole. In this context, India’s decision to sacrifice its own creation the LTTE in Sri Lanka is a puzzle.

Indian regional authority as a soft power is accepted, but its further reach is challenged and checked exploring all avenues with different permutations/combinations.

Countries in the region, including India, make bilateral/multilateral economical/commercial deals within the region and outside, with no consideration for regional harmony, internal socio-political discourse, and environment.

Financial and commercial incentives are used to make specific strategic goals. Chinese ‘buy’ Sri Lanka simply by giving loans at 6%, and pocket money for the president, “if they can buy Greece why not?” India and its companies able to buy only ‘favours’ especially in the North and East. Iran and Saudi Arabia also becoming major players in the region; and Sri Lanka.

Though South Asia is considered as a unit, it is allowed only a little say in the developing conditions in the Indian Ocean. As the North African region is ‘integrated’ into the EU security zone, the rest of the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, along with India, are all in it for their say in ‘their’ regions; hence, greater competitions and ‘authority’ of global powers.

Scenario 3: Stable but, unsettled period

Regionally stable yet, with high level of internal tensions within countries. The decades of struggles by many peoples for social and national democratic justice are to be joined by more.

There is understanding among all powers to,

i. Discontinue all the destabilising programs/actions set in motion directly/through proxies during the (a) bipolar, and (b) ‘NATO’ (unipolar) world, may be in stages.
ii. Clearly demark economic zones and strategic regions.
iii. Existing ‘states’ are the units to locally regulate ‘global’ economy and socio-political power in the regions.
iv. Allow/nurture local ‘settlements’ within a ‘regional understanding’ for any political/military conflicts,
v. Focus on development of the regional economy as a ‘solution’ to most problems, through the zones (hubs) (development of human resources plays secondary role
vi. Set up agencies and programs for the progress of the region and, with the possibility of developing to touch every people & community.
vi. Outside the region all options are open to all.

Here, the global soft power of India is recognised and fully accepted. Yet, the role of the region and its geographical domain are not defined and allowed for constant probing and testing. The wider region of Indian Ocean becomes the main focus and contention than the Central Asian region.

What does this mean?

India as the regional power having the ‘veto’ on the decisions in the region it considers vital to its strategic interests. India instead of being a destabilising force, trying to transform itself as a non-partisan ombudsman for the ‘wellbeing’, and custodian of the region.

India as a soft power to engage others in the region and strengthen the basis for political & economic unity of the region. Organise regional agencies to conduct development projects.

No more covert military support for any conflict. India has already extricated itself from its past association with Tamil militancy/nationalism at a great cost to the Sri Lankan Tamils. It has declared not to support the Balochi’s rebellion in Pakistan. Support from Pakistan for Kashmir militancy and terrorism continues, but the captive civilian state agrees to curtail Jihadi terrorism across the border, in principle.

No one questions, if anything encourage, Pakistan’s full-scale military attacks on the communities along Afghanistan border, in order to defeat Jihadi terrorism. Cross-border support for militants in India and Bangladesh seemed to have ended; Chittagong guns have gone silent, even though the 1997 Hill Tracts Peace Accord hasn’t been fully implemented, however links for ‘Islamic terrorism’ not completely severed. No evidence that Naxals are about to, or receive any ‘foreign’ support. Support from the West and the Expatriate communities, for separatist causes in the region have been classified as ‘terrorism’, and almost ended. Support for the attempt to integrate the PLA, the ‘communist army’ into the regular Nepalese security forces continues. The same model may be deployed in Afghanistan once agreements reached with the Taliban & Tribal ‘chieftains’ and the state.

Guarantee for the ‘territorial integrity of the countries’ in the region from all the powers, and the preference of the ‘Indian model’ to solve national questions confirms colonially designed political ‘units’ (except Bangladesh) will remain intact. The support from the WB, IMF under the control of the West, and financial loans from other powers, for the state’s full scale wars against its own peoples have long established this in practice.

Facilitate local deals to end conflicts. US engineered and timed execution of the Al Qaeda ‘chief’, Bin Laden, (to bring a closure to its engagement in Afghanistan and to allow President Karzai to negotiate with the Afghan-Talibans), elimination of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, are part of this facilitation process in the region.

That also meant an end to ‘international mediations’ with the ‘opponents of the states’ such as that afforded to the LTTE. Their ‘representatives’ will be now expected to negotiate with the state, without military strength when possible, but armed only with the ‘international pressure’. No external support was known for the “Gorhaland” demand, settled within the state of West Bengal in a tripartite deal with Delhi. Twenty five years on, Mizoram peace accord holds, perhaps an example for all in the region. In Nagaland no lasting agreements yet due to the on-going border dispute with China. Similar situation with Kashmir, where regional bi-lateral dispute has to be resolved.

Regional infrastructure or development projects to link zones, despite historical/political disagreements between countries.

Highways between India and China linking Chinese-contested Arunachal Pradesh, to retrieve part of the old ‘silk-road’, which was vital to China. Opening up the borders to cross-border trading between villagers in India and Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Close observations and validations, and viewing them together tells us that the conditions are in the direction for a ‘regional settlement’ to include all aspects of life and death in South Asia, a discussion we have been striving to place in the public domain. That meant we obviously reject the first two scenarios as inadequate to describe the world events fully in relation to the South Asian region.

Global/regional meaning of dynamics

In socio-political context, for us, dynamics means a set of conditions that predetermines a decision making process, which is identifiable and has a set of rules and regulations.

Firstly, it doesn’t mean all parties are in agreement with those conditions.

Secondly, of the variables that give shape to this process, the vast majority are associated with the global dynamics and the rest entirely belonging to specifics of the localities.

For example, the variables that define the functions of the IMF or India and all the small/big powers to compel the support for the Sri Lankan state’s war against the Tamil rebellion are global, but those decided the actions to decimate the Tamil population, including the silence of Tamil Nadu government, during the slaughter are local.

If there were a global power in the region then very few variables are outside the regional domain; it will determine the conditions of the regional dynamics.

When a global power is not present in a region the dynamics are entangled, such that there may be even ‘contests’ among friends and allies.

Such fierce is the contest in the African continent to carve out its riches, land, etc., no difference to the colonial times, even for the presence of local powers Nigeria/South Africa. Strategically Libya is the immediate case in point where the US and EU have a ‘friendly’ tussle about the outcome, which will determine the general trajectory of the North African Arab region. African Union, Arab League, Iran and Turkey and other unseen forces are also in the fray, for their say in a ‘regional’ settlement.

When there is more than one global power in the region, the regional settlements are also the global settlements, issues are also global. In the Pacific region US, China, Russia, and Japan contest almost every issue. The exception of course, is the North Atlantic region for obvious historical reasons, which went through its first stages of regional settlement sixty years ago, and NATO providing the reasoning.

In this respect, understanding the world on issue-by-issue in terms of regional/global dynamics is a complex subject. Even mathematicians prefer to reduce the dynamics of a many-body problem as the sum of many two-body problems. World is certainly easier to understand if is set in terms of a conflict between “two halves”. Perhaps, it was the cold war period that fixed our thought process permanently to that lazy mode. For some of us the period following the collapse of the ‘Soviets’ has been unreal or temporary, until such time there are two equal powers; so the hallucination, of seeing China everywhere countering every ‘enemy’, imagined or real.


In the South Asian region, whatever the views about its global status, the events are ultimately shaped by India’s decisions and sometimes its ‘non-decisions’, not to be confused with its indecisions.

We wish they have a complete structure, “regional solution” to carry the expectations of all those inside India and others outside in different ‘countries’. We see signs for strategic conditions to permit for such a solution.

However, at present decisions and actions by the countries and powers, particularly India seems to suggest ‘zone by zone’ approach to the conflicts and hopes. Can they separately address all the issues? Can they slot in to fit inside such a regional solution? Do they inherently incorporate long term vision and flexibility for such possibility? These are the questions that are needed to be explored.

The author is the Academic Secretary of ASATiC- E-Address: [email protected]

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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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