The United States has provided cover for India as it has sought to create facts on the ground in Kashmir. And so it is unsurprising that China is now trying to create its own facts on the ground. Indeed, by endorsing New Delhi’s unilateralism and attempting to prop it up as a regional hegemon, Washington may be inadvertently facilitating Beijing’s rise as a power in South Asia.
Has South Asia succeeded where Western countries have failed? Countries such as India and Bangladesh have imposed stricter lockdowns than the West—and earlier in their respective outbreaks. In that sense, South Asian economies should be commended for moving quickly in response to the shutdowns in other countries. With the exception of Pakistan, which for a while allowed flights to China, most of the region’s countries imposed strict restrictions on international and domestic travel.
Bangladesh today is one of South Asia’s development success stories, with sustained growth of more than eight per cent and social indicators that are beginning to outstrip the rest of the region. It is also a country where more so than anywhere else in the region the independent press and opposition parties have withered away into near irrelevance.
A successful Indian foreign policy, by definition, is one that creates the external circumstances conducive to realizing India’s fundamental aims, namely, protecting its physical security and its decisional autonomy, enlarging its economic prosperity and its technological capabilities, and realising its status claims on the global stage. Attaining these objectives requires New Delhi to engage at three different levels abroad: within the subcontinent and its immediate periphery, the intermediate level of the international system populated by various middle powers, and the core of the system where the great powers reside.
Despite the temptation to blame violent extremism on foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria and the subsequent rise of the Islamic State’s virtual caliphate, the fact is that the seeds of extremism in South Asia were sown long ago by elites from Kabul to Colombo. Often dressed up in the garb of anti-imperialism and nationalism, their brand of exclusionary politics, based on nativism and sectarianism, barely masks a deep and abiding commitment to a status quo of social inequality.
A year ago, China’s President Xi Jinping and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi engaged in a closely choreographed series of photo-ops and exchanges at their summit in Wuhan, China. The serene images of Modi and Xi – gazing at pink blossoms and enjoying tea on a boat – telegraphed a return to normalcy after a tense period in ties between the two Asian rivals. But the honeymoon phase in the “new” India-China relationship might be over.
In focusing on the scale of Sheikh Hasina’s victory in the general election a few days ago and the allegations of rigging by her opponents in Bangladesh, it is easy to miss the significant structural change unfolding in Bangladesh and its long-term implications.
Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe garnered a majority in parliament on Wednesday, weeks after being sacked by President Maithripala Sirisena in a controversial move that plunged the island nation into political turmoil. As many as 117 out of 225 lawmakers in parliament voted to pass a confidence motion in his leadership.
Sirisena’s move may seem puzzling, especially because he was elected to move his country back toward greater democracy after Rajapaksa’s rule between 2005-2015, but ultimately, he is looking after his own interests: He has lost support and has proved unable to wean Sri Lanka off of its debts to China. It is not surprising that he made an “if you can’t beat them, then join them” calculation.