While there are different opinions about which countries make up South Asia, there is little debate over the region’s challenge for permanent peace. Recent wars and assorted conflicts have punctuated the historical prevalence of turmoil.
The reasons for conflicts that have befallen South Asia vary across the centuries. At the core of many of these disputes, have been differences in religion or cultural ideology. It would be easy to contend that peace in the region if ever truly realized, would be temporary at best.
With new peace initiatives on the horizon, let’s look at a brief history of conflict in South Asia and then address the potential for a path to permanent peace in an oft violence-torn part of the world.
What Constitutes South Asia?
South Asia is the southernmost part of the vast continent of Asia. There are a few geographical definitions for the region. Modern definitions of South Asia include eight countries. India is the largest of these eight, which include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Pakistan.
South Asia has the largest population of five cultures. Over 98 percent of the Hindu population and nearly one-third of the world’s Muslim faith live in South Asia. There is also a vast number of Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians. Over 25 million Buddhists and another 35 million Christians call South Asia their homeland.
Centuries of Conflict
Study the wars and conflicts across South Asia reveals a region plagued by turmoil across millennia. India has dozens of conflicts spread across centuries. There are rare moments of extended peace.
Many of these result from conquests in the name of religious ideology. It may seem ironic that the part of South Asia most notably in today’s news has a limited history of actual wars. Bhutan seems to be spared the tendency for strife, experiencing only Ten Great Campaigns during the latter half of the 18th century.
Nearly all the conflict in Sri Lanka has occurred from the beginning of the 20th century, with over half, including the 26-year Sri Lanka Civil War between 1983 and 2009, having occurred in the last half-century.
Likewise, conflict and turmoil in Bangladesh started with Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Conflicts and coups throughout the country have remained constant, the most recent a border conflict with Myanmar.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two countries most notably discussed because of ongoing, seemingly endless military conflict. Afghanistan has experienced four civil wars since the first official Afghan Civil War in 1928. Three of these multi-year conflicts have occurred since 1989.
Two conflicts referred to as an insurgency are ongoing in Pakistan, one in Balochistan and another in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Both insurgencies started at around the same time in 2004. It is the continued conflict in neighboring Afghanistan that has been most troubling to the region.
The War in Afghanistan has its roots in the Afghan Civil War that started in 1978. After a coup in 1973, Pakistan began to exert a persuasive yet subtle influence to trigger violence with their neighbor. The Soviet Union was a prominent player in the country, prompting a standoff with the United States.
In the early 1990s, the Taliban began to exert influence across Afghanistan. Using their fundamentalist view of Islam, the Taliban created turmoil in the country. They received military support from Pakistan and financial support from neighboring nations.
On a dark day in world history, the view of Afghanistan’s turmoil entered the world stage. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States triggered the most notable modern conflict in South Asia. It has produced a time in which peace has been elusive.
Is Permanent Peach Possible in South Asia?
To gain any hope of sustained peace in the region, peaceful resolutions to centuries of ideologically driven turmoil must be reached. There is hope that peace, at least compared to the violence and conflict that has plagued parts of South Asia could be attainable.
The current focus is on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there have been limited uprisings resulting in violence in other countries as well. South Asia is a culturally diverse region. Many of the spiritual beliefs inherent to certain countries harbor extremes.
It has been these extreme viewpoints that have fostered much of the violence. As long as these factions, albeit limited in numbers, continue to exert a violent agenda, any attainment of peaceful relations will be less than stable.
South Asia has a history of being plagued by violence and war. While other parts of the world are not immune to conflict, cultural diversity has been a driving force behind many of these conflicts. This is something that is not going to change soon.
Many of the peoples in South Asia fall woefully below the global poverty line. A poverty rate that nears 85 percent of the citizens is another problem for peace. Often, the lure of any type of life better than the day-to-day sustainable living conditions attracts people to nefarious organizations.
Healing the wounds of war is only one key to the promise of peace. There should be a sustainable effort to help improve the conditions still evident, situations that are ripe for conflict. The countries that makeup South Asia have a history of violent turmoil and war.
Peace in a visible part of this region has attracted attention across the world. Can any peace attained be sustained? What the future holds for peace in South Asia will be written through progress. To make peace permanent in South Asia, progress must be realized.