Demography has always played a critical role in shaping the destiny of countries across regions. We have detailed in Demographic Warfare how the population can be used as a tool by countries against other nations strategically. The demography of a region is also influenced by sociological and cultural factors that significantly influence the foreign policy of countries in terms of nationalist pride and their civilizational ties to a region. Thus, the Russian claims of their sphere of influence from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus and Central Asia are based on the Czarist rule during the glory of the Russian Empire while the Chinese claims are based on the ancient maps of the Qing dynasty; claiming the entire South China Sea, Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh (Tawang), parts of Russia’s Far East and extending all the way to the West Pacific island chains.
Even today, an important factor contributing to Russia’s revisionism is its claim that ethnic Russians dominated Eastern Ukraine and the strategic Crimean Peninsula which has changed hands many times over the last few centuries in various wars like the Crimean War of 1853. After the 2014 Euromaidan Coup in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin used this domination to annex Crimea in a referendum, to stake Russia’s claim over Eastern Ukraine which has an ethnic Russian-dominated population citing the protection of the ethnic Russians along with Russia’s strategic interests. Undoubtedly, the Chinese have been one of the best exponents of using civilizational heritage and history to validate their claims through an aggressive foreign policy along with instilling strong nationalism in their citizens about the ancient glory of China. Whether it is the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the demographic invasion of Xinjiang by Hans or the Patriot Education Program; the Chinese have long used their ancient culture and teachings (like Sun Tzu) to define their foreign policy and military doctrines. Initiatives like OBOR that use the Old Silk Route should also be seen in this light.
While Russia and China have been successful in raising the pitch of nationalism to reclaim their glorious past, India has been rather apologetic about its ancient glory that transcends any other civilization on the planet. Post-Independence, India’s adoption of NAM and other pacifist doctrines has made it passive in asserting its civilizational heritage in the projection of its foreign policy. The ancient Indian glory has the hallmarks of astronomy, medical science; and the doctrines of statecraft, diplomacy and espionage (penned in Arthashastra) during the Mauryan Era centuries before the European States brought in the concept of sovereign states, diplomacy, etc. Despite this rich heritage for nearly half a century, India practiced NAM and a defensive policy of credible minimum deterrence except for the brief period of 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War when India managed a resounding victory over Pakistan by creating Bangladesh out of East Pakistan.
While these doctrines are slowly being unshackled through multilateralism and military defence agreements with the US, the pursuit of military exercise in far-off waters like South China Sea and Pacific Ocean with the US and Japan etc., it is time that India also sheds its apologetic mindset and develops pride for its ancient past and contributions to the world. It is time for India to develop a unique identity about what an Indian model of partnership means and what is the message it would like to send to the world. It is only the adoption of a proud Indian identity by the establishment and its syncing with the domestic and foreign policy that will lead to strong nationalist values in its citizens. The above will be an uphill task as India’s ecosystem is dominated by leftists who propagate the myth of the Aryan invasion theory.
While the above by no means suggests that India should also embark on a path of revisionism like Russia and China, it simply means that India should strongly stake its claims over what is rightfully its and that means no room for accommodation on Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Simultaneously, India should also focus on leveraging its civilizational ties across Asia-Pacific with the message of peace and prosperity as a “developmental partner” across the region that respects the diversity of culture, language and religion of other countries, unlike China who is an aggressor undermining the sovereignty of nations through neo-colonization and ideological subversion.
The Indian establishment and the people of South Asia must remember the civilizational ties that bind the region and take pride in them. This should be the starting point of India’s identity in the region. The Indus Valley and Saraswati Civilization once formed the cradle of the Indian cultural heritage spreading across South Asia from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Nepal and Bangladesh and Bhutan. The regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan were once a part of the ancient Hindu culture that extended from the Balkh region in Afghanistan to Swat Valley, Multan, and Gilgit-Baltistan in Jammu & Kashmir. The Swat Valley in Pakistan (named after the Swat River) is derived from the Sanskrit Word “Suvasthu” while Multan got its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Mulsthana’ and was once known as the city of Lord Surya (Sun). The city housed a glorious temple and held an annual fair and festival for Lord Surya till the Tughlaqs demolished it in the 12th century AD. Similarly, Gilgit-Baltistan in POK houses the Sharda Peeth, a religious centre in learning, Takshila in Pakistan has the famous Buddhist centre of learning and Balochistan has the famous Hinglaj temple, a Shakti Peeth in reverence of Goddess Sati the consort of Lord Shiva.
Moreover, the Indian empires from the Mauryas to the Guptas have ruled from Afghanistan to Myanmar, the gateway to Southeast Asia. Beautiful Hindu temples are found in Bali, Indonesia while the Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhala clans herald from Indian descent with cultural ties dating back to the historical age of Ramayana. India has been responsible for the spread of Buddhism under the Maurya dynasty, and this includes the Sinhala, the Sri Lankan ruling class, the Naga Tribes in Myanmar and countries like Bhutan, China, the Far East and Southeast Asia.
The Indian civilizational ties run deep with Nepal that was once a Hindu Rashtra and a majority Hindu-dominated country. Though with the rise of communists in Nepal after the fall of the monarchy, the Indian influence has waned yet India must continue to leverage all the tools it has from civilizational ties to the cultural centres to demographic changes to maintain its sphere of influence over Nepal. Like Nepal, even Bangladesh (earlier East Pakistan) was a part of India before 1947. Bangladesh, a majority Muslim-dominated country has a vast imprint of Indian civilizational ties in the form of Hindu temples and a good number of Bengali Hindus continue to live there. India has as much right to care for its Civilizational Brothers in South Asia as it has the right to advocate for regions that still hold the Indian cultural heritage. India should thus also stand up for Balochistan that is directly or indirectly intertwined with it.
Thus it is evident that India’s civilizational ties extend beyond its man-made borders, and it must assert these civilizational ties and extend communication lines with people of these regions whose destinies are intertwined with each other. For this India mush shed its pacifist doctrines and reinvigorate it ancient glory and project it through its foreign policy across the region and the world through study groups, contacts between political leaders and movements, cultural centres, media, people forums highlighting ties with its civilizational brothers. India must break away from its ostrich syndrome and rise upto its role as the leader in Asia-Pacific and not accept any spiel that it has no interests in the internal affairs of Balochistan as for India to emerge as the leader in the region and a challenger to China, it needs regional peace, security and development in its neighbourhood to be able to facilitate a strong South Asia and later Asia-Pacific.
India must take a leaf out of strategies of Russia and China who have asserted their civilizational ties and used demography to their advantage in Ukraine or Xinjiang. India must encourage and give platforms to Baloch Human Rights activists to expose Pakistan’s duplicity on the State-Sponsoring of terrorism and human rights violations. It is also in India’s interests to bring to the limelight how rigged democracy is being supplanted on the people of POK who have for long vociferously protested against the suppression of basic human rights. It is time for India to show Pakistan a mirror and send a global message that just like Bangladesh in 1971, India will stand for the people in Balochistan and all other regions of South Asia that have civilizational ties with it.
The Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Independence Day address to the nation on 15th August 2016 was historic as he thanked the people of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) for the support and faith they have reposed in him was a step in the right direction. The invocation of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Balochistan in the Independence Day Speech was a first ever by an Indian PM and sent political shockwaves across the region and the world. While Pakistan has for long accused Indian intelligence R&AW for fomenting terror in Balochistan (its largest province accounting for nearly 44 percent area of Pakistan); it has miserably failed to substantiate these outlandish claims and even the EU Parliament has recently asked Islamabad to be held accountable for human rights violations in Balochistan.
Pakistan also conveniently forgets that unlike Jammu & Kashmir that signed an instrument of accession with India at the time of Independence in 1947, the Pakistani army bombed the residence of the Baloch Leader Mir Ahmadyar Khan and used force to occupy Balochistan illegally. It is worth noting that the international media on 11th August 1947 had acclaimed Balochistan to be an independent country. Pakistan attempted a repeat of the above through its guerrillas in Kashmir. Thus, Balochistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have been forcefully and illegally occupied by Pakistan, and the above are clear examples of Pakistan’s psyche at inception which the entire world is now acknowledging.
While there are certain quarters of intellectuals in Pakistan and India that state that India has no right to interfere in Balochistan which is an internal matter of Pakistan; on account of their gravy train; the statement by the PM Modi invoking Balochistan has now established that India is finally willing to be aggressive in its role as the leader in South Asia and beyond leading its civilizational brothers. This message has already been welcomed by Bangladesh and Hamid Karzai, the former President of Afghanistan.
The invocation of Balochistan and POK though primarily aimed at Pakistan has big ramifications on the other big player in the region i.e. China and its proposed CPEC running from POK to Gwadar in Balochistan. India has already raised the matter of CPEC in POK with the Chinese, as it is Indian Territory illegally occupied by Pakistan. Moreover, even the Balochis have long protested the Chinese CPEC and targeted the Chinese officers, and installations in and around Gwadar Port. Thus India’s upping the ante on POK and Balochistan is bound to have a serious impact on CPEC, and the Chinese-state media Global Times recently called it Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) instead of the usual Pakistani Administered Kashmir. The people in POK also recently called for a total shutdown as a protest against the CPEC which was successful and China has now also opened the communication lines with India on regional and global issues given the stakes that are involved. Moreover, the independence of Balochistan will also have great implications for the region. It is the duty of India to fight for the struggle of the suppressed Balochis as a responsible power in Asia-Pacific following its motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the welfare of all the people in the world.
While it is true that civilizational ties can be the foundation of alliances or partnerships, in today’s era, it is equally important that these ties should be leveraged to create strong economic partnerships that will help the developmental goals of all the countries in the region. It is only by promoting an alternate model of sustainable development for all the nations that India will be able to create its order that will be welcomed by its neighbours against the aggressive expansionist Chinese agenda. Others initiatives such as India’s pronounced foreign policy goals of “Neighbourhood First” and “Act East” are also important for India to emerge as the regional giant. India’s setting up of a SAARC satellite for the benefit of other SAARC nations, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the BBIN initiative and the International Solar Alliance for the sharing of solar technology are crucial steps in cementing these civilizational ties.
Going ahead, India will need to de-hyphenate Pakistan from SAARC and make the cost of abetting terror unsustainable for it and reduce it to a pariah nation. At the same time, India should aim for creating an economic union in Asia-Pacific by setting up a comprehensive trade agreement that could include FTA’s and preferential trade and tariffs for nations. The above may also include sharing the advantages of the Chabahar Port, NSTC, and Sagarmala Project with other countries that need access to facilitate their movement of goods. India can position itself as the centre for both Indian Ocean trade as well as access to Central Asia. Apart from this, more military cooperation, joint drills and information sharing can be done which can act as a buffer for countries against the powerful Chinese military. The exchange of students and professionals for mutual benefit can be carried out between the nations in the region which could also strengthen the civilizational ties. India can also set up wellness centres in the nations that focus on Ayurveda and Yoga to promote physical and mental wellbeing based on the ancient holistic principles and also position itself as a centre for medical and religious tourism at preferential prices for the region.
An important component here will be the citizens of the neighbouring countries who are of Indian origin. They can be effective brand ambassadors of India and prove a useful link in connecting the people of their countries with Indians and the Indian way of life. Friendship and cultural forums that celebrate the diversity of festivals, music, language, poetry and literature can also be created which can also serve as a common platform for people to engage and build professional and economic partnerships. India’s population is the second highest in the world after China, and it is high time that it starts using this demographic dividend strategically. It is also in the interests of India and the people in South Asia to assert their common civilizational heritage to maintain peace and stability in the region to stall the Talibanization of parts of South Asia.
Hence while it is true that India believes in the values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam; yet it also must invoke the doctrines of Kautilya in Arthashastra that heralded the Golden Age across the region, and assert its role as a civilizational brother leading the way for countries in the region and the world. As Hu Shih, the former Ambassador of China to the USA once aptly remarked, “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.” They say history always repeats, and the time is ripe for India to ensure that it happens to create a powerful Asia-Pacific that can be a role model for the world to emulate.