indian hegemony in south asia

Written by Samrah Aslam 10:47 am

The Indian Hegemony in South Asia

India’s national interests are pushing it to achieve hegemony in South Asia, forcing neighboring states to counter India’s influence and power.

Introduction

In recent times, India has been transforming its defense and foreign policy posture towards the advancement of weapons and infrastructure, thus expanding Indian hegemony in South Asia. South Asia is one of the most security-driven areas with increasing enmity between historically rival states, that is, India and Pakistan.

Nuclearization has made the situation more alarming, and any adventurism by either state may lead to catastrophic consequences. India’s policies indicate the hegemonic designs to dominate the South Asian region. Consequently, Pakistan has always faced an existential threat from India, refusing to accept India’s dominance.

These tensions have recently escalated over the Kashmir conflict where India revoked article 370, suspending Kashmir’s special status. India has also pursued its Ballistic Missile Defence system to defend its main cities from incoming missiles. This research study aims to provide an insight into how India’s hegemony is creating insecurity for Pakistan and threatening the regional security dynamics as a whole.

Theoretical Framework

The main theory applied in this study is the “security dilemma” theory that is one of the most important theoretical ideas in contemporary security and strategic studies. A security dilemma is a term used to label a particular situation of international relations, while the security dilemma theory deals with the body of knowledge to understand the main causes, regulations, and consequences of a security dilemma.

Security dilemma can be defined as, “a structural notion in which the self-help attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and measures of others as potentially threatening”.1

The theoretical idea of security dilemma theory provides a justification to comprehend the happenings in South Asian neighboring states, particularly the security paradox between India and Pakistan. Moreover, the theory of realism will also be utilized to support the argument made in this study.

The realist theory in International Relations claims that “states are primary actors” in international politics, and that the main national interest of every state is to ensure its survival. States try to maximize their powers under the main logic of “self-help” to survive in the anarchic world order.

The troubled relations between India and Pakistan can be best analyzed under the notion of the international system as anarchic. Duncan Mcloid says, “India and Pakistan have been forced into power politics on account of the anarchic nature of the international system.”2

Contextual Exploration

In 1947, both India and Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule; Pakistan emerged as a Muslim majority state, while India became a secular state but with a Hindu majority as a whole. Both states were created with inborn hatred and enmity, politicized by the leaders of their states and augmented by the unresolved issues, terrorism, militant proxies, interests of elites, rough state.

The ideologies of “two-nation theory” and “Islam and Hinduism” are often used to explain the conflictual situation between both states.3 Both states have fought three major wars and have continuously been fighting on smaller and limited levels involving violations of ceasefire line and Line of Control. India tested its first nuclear test in 1974 calling it a “Peaceful Nuclear Explosion” (PNE).

This test alarmed Pakistan, urging the mainstream policymakers to start their own nuclear program. To grasp the changing dynamics of the South Asian region with increasing security dilemma, it is important to recognize India’s dominant role in South Asia. Since its inception in 1947, India has been surrounded by its smaller neighbors.

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Pakistan, however, has never recognized India as a “regional hegemon”.4 New Delhi has always been enjoying a concrete influence over policies of neighboring states especially Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and to some extent Bangladesh. India’s military involvement in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, and Bhutan is evident.

Pakistan availed the option to neutralize the Indian threat by investing heavily in its arms and nuclear weaponization.5 “For India, the primary pressure seems to be from its nuclear and defense scientists who want to prove, against most evidence to date, they are world-class.

For Pakistan, the primary driver appears to be a fear of India’s superior conventional force”.6 The problems between India and Pakistan cannot be attributed to history alone; in fact, the role of decision-makers and choices made in different phases of time has also resulted in hatred and enmity between these states.7

Hegemonic Policies in South Asia: A Critical Review

Hegemony can be best understood as the political, economic, or military predominance of one state over other states where the dominant state enjoys influence the policies of other states because of its economic or military superiority. So, hegemony is the capability of one state to dictate the terms for other states.

A state would be recognized as a regional hegemon when it is the single greatest power in that region where all other states are either weak or have accepted its hegemony. This phenomenon is best explained by John Mearsheimer in his book titled “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics”; he highlighted three main factors responsible for a state’s urge to pursue hegemony.

According to him, states opt for hegemonism because of the anarchic nature of the international system; a state’s inbuilt quest for survival and maximization of power; and doubts regarding the intentions of other states. He claims that states pursuing regional hegemony are more realist than the states aiming for global hegemony.

India is surrounded by much smaller states including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma and so its position is dominant geographically as being the largest state in respect of area. Therefore, the geopolitics of South Asia denotes and supports the desire of India to become a regional hegemon. 

Chanakya has noted that “In trans-border relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies or even permanent borders. There are only permanent interests and everything should be done to secure these interests.”8 Landlocked neighboring states — Nepal and Bhutan — have no choice but to accept the regional hegemony of India.

Sri Lanka is too small to challenge Indian hegemony. On the other hand, the water system in Bangladesh and Pakistan is of Indian origin, making them extremely dependent on India. Nepal, being a landlocked state, is one of the most vulnerable countries because of its geographical dependence on India.

India has always seen Nepal as its own state against China. Some International observers have noticed Nepal, not as a “landlocked” state but an “Indian-locked” state.9 Small island state holds considerable Tamil population that becomes the root cause of Indian influence in Sri Lanka because Tamils are dominant in India’s Tamil Nadu.

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Historically speaking, India’s hegemony was ever stronger in the 1980s when India carried out a three-year-long military intervention in Sri-Lanka. India was the only state providing military aim to the Maldives in 1988 and India also carried out Nepal’s blockade for two years. So, India’s role in this state is assertive and the reason behind this; is to dominate South Asian politics.                      

Pakistan’s Threat Perception and Countermeasures

With respect to Pakistan, India has been pursuing policies of limited interventionism and skirmishes on the international border and LoC. Recent tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attacks and Balakot strikes have made the situation more drastic. Kashmir issue is the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. India’s revocation of Article 370 has escalated the hostilities between India and Pakistan.10

After the parliament attacks in 2001, India unofficially started the “Cold Start” doctrine, an option to invade limited territories in Pakistan without crossing the nuclear threshold. As a reaction, Pakistan developed tactical nuclear weapons such as Hatf-VII to counter the prospects of a limited war in the subcontinent. India’s purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia and heavy investment in the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system have increased Pakistan’s existential threat.

Security Dilemma as a Threat to Regional Security

South Asia is one of the most underdeveloped regions of the world because of unresolved issues between states in the region, and main regional players have been focusing on the development of weapons and military. Foreign policies of all the SAARC states are mainly derived from the security issues faced by them.11 

The confrontations between India and Pakistan have really restricted the regional integration, and the platform of SAARC proves to be nothing but a dysfunctional association of states.12 Nuclear capabilities by India and Pakistan have massively threatened the regional security because any nuclear exchange may destroy the whole region, leaving implications for the global security at a larger scale.13   

Conclusion

India is following a hegemonic design to dominate South Asian politics and economy by dominating the smaller neighboring states. Its hegemonic policies have increased Pakistan’s threat perception and so recent events may escalate into a more sophisticated nuclear arms race between the two states.

Theoretically, India and Pakistan’s case can prove to be a model case for security dilemma because of the production and modernization of nuclear weapons, technologies, arms, and confronting interests and objectives to deter and counter each other.

The research study concludes that the security dilemma is indeed operational in the South Asian geopolitical environment because of the development of their nuclear capabilities expressing their security concerns.

In a nutshell, it can be concluded that the increasing security dilemma between India and Pakistan is a threat to regional security because of the assumed destruction attached to the use of nuclear weapons. The need of the hour for both of the states is to find options and ways to dilute the conflicts to avoid the catastrophic results of dogmatic decisions.


1 John H Herz, Political Realism and Political Idealism, 1951.

2 McLeod, Duncan. 2008. India and Pakistan: Friends, Rivals or Enemies? Routledge.

3 Ahmar, Moonis. 1984. “SECURITY PERCEPTIONS IN THE INDO-PAKISTAN RELATIONSHIP.” Pakistan Horizon (Pakistan Institute of International Affairs) 37 (1): 100-119.

4 Dwivedi, Sangit Sarita. 2008. “INDIA AS A DOMINANT SECURITY CONCERN TO PAKISTAN (1947-1980).” The Indian Journal of Political Science, (Indian Political Science Association) 69 (4): 889-896. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41856479.

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5 BHUTTO, BENAZIR. 2002. “Pakistan’s Dilemma: Breaking Links with the Past.” Harvard International Review (Harvard International Review) 24 (1): 14-19. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42762781

6 Graham, Thomas W. 2011. “Nuclear Weapons Stability or Anarchy in the 21st Century: China, India, and Pakistan.” NPEC

7 Menon, Shivshankar. 2009. “Hostile Relations: India’s Pakistan Dilemma.” Harvard International Review (Harvard International Review) 31 (3): 14-18.

8 Falak, Jawad. 2016. INDIAN HEGEMONY: ROOTS OF SOUTH ASIAN CONFLICT. https://stratagem.pk/setting-the-record-straight/indian-hegemony-roots-south-asian-conflict/.

9 Ojha, Hemant. 2015. The Indian-Nepal Crisis. https://thediplomat.com/2015/11/the-india-nepal-crisis/.

10 Ahmed, Samina “Security Dilemmas of Nuclear-Armed Pakistan.” Third World Quarterly (Taylor & Francis, Ltd) 21 (5): 781-793

11 Sugunakararaju, Dr.S.R.T.P, and Shabnum Akhtar. 2015. “India-Pakistan Relations: challenges and Opportunities.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science 201 (12): 07-12.

12 Narayanan, Raviprasad. 2010. “THE INDIA-PAKISTAN DYAD: A CHALLENGE TO THE REST OR TO THEMSELVES?” Asian Perspective ( Lynne Rienner Publishers) 34 (9): 165-190.

13 Sarwar, Beena. 2014. “INDIA, PAKISTAN AND ‘SOUTHASIA’.” India International Centre Quarterly (India International Centre) 94 (3/4): 183-192. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24390786

Bibliography

  • Sugunakararaju, Dr.S.R.T.P, and Shabnum Akhtar. 2015. “India-Pakistan Relations: challenges and Opportunities.” IOSR Journal Of Humanities And Social Science 201 (12): 07-12.
  • Ahmar, Moonis. 1984. “SECURITY PERCEPTIONS IN THE INDO-PAKISTAN RELATIONSHIP.” Pakistan Horizon (Pakistan Institute of International Affairs) 37 (1): 100-119.
  • Ahmed, Samina. n.d. “Security Dilemmas of Nuclear-Armed Pakistan.” Third World Quarterly ( Taylor & Francis, Ltd) 21 (5): 781-793.
  • BHUTTO, BENAZIR. 2002. “Pakistan’s Dilemma: Breaking Links with the Past.” Harvard International Review (Harvard International Review) 24 (1): 14-19. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42762781.
  • Dwivedi, Sangit Sarita. 2008. “INDIA AS A DOMINANT SECURITY CONCERN TO PAKISTAN (1947-1980).” The Indian Journal of Political Science, (Indian Political Science Association) 69 (4): 889-896. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41856479.
  • Falak, Jawad. 2016. INDIAN HEGEMONY: ROOTS OF SOUTH ASIAN CONFLICT. https://stratagem.pk/setting-the-record-straight/indian-hegemony-roots-south-asian-conflict/.
  • Graham, Thomas W. 2011. “Nuclear Weapons Stability or Anarchy in the 21st Century: China, India, and Pakistan.” NPEC.
  • McLeod, Duncan. 2008. India and Pakistan: Friends, Rivals or Enemies? Routledge.
  • Menon, Shivshankar. 2009. “Hostile Relations: India’s Pakistan Dilemma.” Harvard International Review (Harvard International Review) 31 (3): 14-18.
  • Narayanan, Raviprasad. 2010. “THE INDIA-PAKISTAN DYAD: A CHALLENGE TO THE REST OR TO THEMSELVES?” Asian Perspective ( Lynne Rienner Publishers) 34 (9): 165-190.
  • Ojha, Hemant. 2015. The Indian-Nepal Crisis. https://thediplomat.com/2015/11/the-india-nepal-crisis/.
  • Sarwar, Beena. 2014. “INDIA, PAKISTAN AND ‘SOUTHASIA’.” India International Centre Quarterly (India International Centre) 94 (3/4): 183-192. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24390786.

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About the Author(s)

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Samrah Aslam is a defence strategist holding an M.Phil Degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid i Azam University.

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