South Asia A New Strategic Fulcrum


There goes a strategic narrative: The world cannot be controlled without controlling Asia and Asia cannot be controlled without controlling South Asia.  This manifests South Asia’s greater strategic significance. With global geopolitical pivot shifting to Asia, South Asia’s strategic prominence has been further elevated. Global powers are, thus, scrambling hard in coaxing South Asian countries to bring into their strategic fold and tilt the balance of power into their favour. 

Given its strategic location, South Asia has always drawn global attention and attraction. It is against this background, European powers vied to control or influence South Asia right from the time Vasco De Gama explored sea routes to South Asia in 1498. In the race for strategic upper hand, British colonial power outweighed other European powers and controlled major parts of South Asia except a few nations including Nepal. After British left South Asia in 1947, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were born as young countries. Soviet Union’s invasion in Afghanistan in 1979, too, was guided by its ambition and adventure to control South Asia.  However, the invasion in Afghanistan marked the beginning of weakening of Soviet power and ultimately falling apart in 1991. 

Power equilibrium

With the advent of 21st century, international power equilibrium has changed. The post-World War II international order no longer exists. Asia has emerged as the pivot of international power. United Kingdom, France and Germany were the dominant powers in 19th century. Their wrestle for dominance in Europe led to two world wars. The First World War was purely a European war as both the actors were European countries and theatre of war was Europe. The Second World War took global shape as Japan and the United States joined the war. Otherwise, the principal actors of both the World Wars were European countries and its theatre was primarily Europe.

The post-World War II order is known as the Cold War era. The Cold War is the situation where two principal powers or blocs vie for their dominance but avoid direct physical war. The United States and Soviet Union were the two principal rival powers around which the world revolved. They created blocs and alliances in order to deter the rival power bloc. Many countries aligned with one of the blocs. However, some countries chose not to join any of the two blocs and created their own group called non-aligned movement. This was what the world order was characterised until the Cold War of 20th century came to an  end with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, bi-polar world order came to the crashing end giving rise to unipolar world with United States remaining only super power. United States and the western powers turned jubilant claiming victory of the western liberal democracy over socialist/communist ideology. Scholar like Francis Fukuyama added fuel to western jubilation defining the new situation as the ‘end of history’. It, however, was neither the victory of the Western ideology nor a defeat of socialist and communist ideology. The fall of Moscow’s regime was not the failure or collapse of socialist system because Soviet system had no longer been socialist. The soviet regime had degenerated into one-man’s dictatorship under the façade of socialism. 

Dictatorship is not socialism and socialism does not permit dictatorship. Karl Marx meant by ‘dictatorship of proletariats’ as the rule of poor and downtrodden including workers, peasants and people of low income bracket, who form overwhelming majority in every society and country. Nowhere in the document, has Marx rejected and denied democracy. Democracy is the rule of majority and Marx has propagated the rule of the people who form majority or workers, peasants and the poor. Nowhere in the world has there been any true socialist or communist regime as propagated by Marx. 

Ideologies are human ideas, ideals, belief system and perspective about the universe. Ideas and ideals neither conquest nor get vanquished. The emergence of unipolar world was, thus, not the end of history. History does not end and it never ends. History is the evolution of human civilisation. History repeats but in a different way and different manner. And History has started to re-emerge but in a different shape and manner. The emergence of unipolar world was a temporary phenomenon which has already started crumbling. A bi-polar world is emerging and a new cold war is already afoot. United States and China are building their own network and alliances to deter one another. 

The newer situation once again manifests the relevance of the non-aligned movement for the weaker countries and others that do not want to join any power bloc. Some scholars are of the view that the world is moving towards multi-polar order. However, multi-polarity is neither possible nor good for the world. Multi-polarity means chaotic system that is detrimental to global stability and peace. In the earlier Cold War, the principal actors and rivals were the United States and Soviet Union. Asian powers were seen nowhere seen on the map of global power race. Asia was in the periphery of global power rivalry. China has risen as principal power challenging the sole-super power America and Asia emerged as international strategic pivot.

Indian Ocean

With Asia becoming the epicentre of global power politics, Indian Ocean occupies a significant strategic space. Indian Ocean is lifeline for trade and supply chain of Asia. Indian Ocean stretches from the Strait of Malacca in South East Asia to the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Sea occupying a vast portion of ocean and sea lanes including Andaman Sea, Bay of Bengal, Laccadive Sea, Arabian Sea and Red Sea, which have higher commercial and strategic significance than other oceans. 

As Indian Ocean gains greater prominence in the global strategic landscape, South Asian region has drawn more attention of big powers. South Asia’s importance in the international arena has always been high because of the vast and strategically crucial Indian Ocean, large landmass, plenty of natural resources and concentration of one-fifth of global population. The international strategic fulcrum being concentrated in the region is both opportunity and challenge about which South Asian countries including Nepal needs to be careful and cautious. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily.

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