For many years, the countries of South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) have experienced conflict.
The main point to remember about this region is that there are two major identities in conflict – Hinduism, and Islam.
Muslims first came to the region as part of the invasion by Muslim rulers from Central Asia. Hindus originally dominated, but after a few centuries, the Muslim Mughal Empire invaded Afghanistan. This empire ruled most of South Asia for almost 200 years until it collapsed in 1857. In terms of identity, there were three types of people:
- Those who followed Islam (often with some European influence),
- Those who practiced Hinduism,
- And those who practiced Buddhism or Jainism.
Some people also practice Sikhism, which developed around 1500 AD out of Hinduism and Islam.
Buddhism died out in India because it never drew sufficient followers to develop strong traditions outside South Asia. Jainism is still practiced by some people, especially in the western part of the region.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Europeans from Britain began to establish their influence. In 1857, a rebellion against British control caused India to become a colony under direct rule by Britain. In 1947, India gained independence as a secular state consisting of both Hindus and Muslims (though it was divided into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan). However, violence ensued soon after as hundreds of thousands were killed during religious riots between Hindus and Muslims throughout the country.
It has played a significant part in the Partition of 1947 between India and Pakistan. It should be remembered that it was not just an issue of religion but also of ethnicity as well as land ownership.
The two countries went to war over Kashmir in 1948 because there was much confusion at that time about where the border should be drawn between them. After three wars, Kashmir still disputed territory claimed by both countries.
The peninsula of Kashmir is the major disputed area between India and Pakistan, with Kashmiri separatists demanding independence or union with Pakistan. The Indians fear another war with Pakistan if they don’t keep control of it. Pakistan claims Kashmir as its territory because it’s the only Muslim-majority part of India (though many prefer to call it Azad or “Free” Kashmir).
The government is mostly run by Hindus, but some areas are dominated by Muslims. These groups have been in constant conflict and terrorist incidents and mutual violence occur frequently. Pakistan and India never learned to coexist peacefully with each other, and after several wars, they’re now considered enemies. They have over a dozen countries between them that have been involved in the dispute at one time or another. In 1971 East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan, creating Bangladesh as a separate country. This happened again in 1999 when two regions separated from Indian-controlled Kashmir to form a new country called Azad Kashmir.
Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear program in the world, with over 100 atomic weapons ready to fire at short notice. India is also expanding its nuclear capabilities rapidly. Both countries are developing missiles that can carry nuclear warheads across the region to attack each other’s major cities.
Political Violence in Afghanistan
Afghanistan was invaded by Soviet forces in 1979 and became a battleground between the Soviets and rebels known as Mujahideen (meaning “freedom fighters”). The US supported them via Pakistan with arms, supplies, and training camps for many years while they fought against the invaders. This didn’t end until 1989 when Soviet troops were forced to withdraw due to heavy casualties, but not before inflicting some of their own on Afghanistan.
Afterward, Afghanistan fell into civil war as the former Soviet-supported government collapsed. Numerous groups fought against each other until the Taliban group emerged victoriously. This event led to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 because they were hosting Osama Bin Laden, who was responsible for attacks on US embassies in Africa and the USS Cole near Yemen.
The last decade has seen continued violence by both sides, although successful elections have been held recently. The Akunzada’s government controls most of southern Afghanistan while his opposition controls large parts of northern Afghanistan. There are increasing numbers of suicide bombs throughout the country.
Travelers should avoid all travel to this region due to political instability and terrorism. Some regions may also be dangerous during certain times of the year due to heavy snowfall or flooding.
In 1971, India fought a war with the new nation of Bangladesh which was formed from most of what had been East Pakistan. Millions died in this conflict, known as “The Bangladesh Liberation War”. Now if the Hindus retake control of East Pakistan/Bangladesh they will again be fighting a Muslim country with a strong military.
Bhutan, essentially a Buddhist monarchy, which has closed its borders to all but those who have prior permission is another disputed region where confluence may occur between China and India. This has been yet another point of contention between those two countries for decades now.
A recent development is the rise of Maoist parties that are trying to lead an armed movement against what they term “India’s imperialist expansion into tribal areas”. It seems that their goal is to preserve Hinduism in India by removing all non-Hindus from India. They too use terrorism against local police officers, teachers, sometimes even children at schools (in December 2009).
At times, Hindus themselves have turned on each other for various reasons; one example is the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi where people, mostly Sikhs were killed by mobs of Hindu rioters.
As we can see, the conflict here is mainly between Muslims and Hindus. Even though there are other groups involved (such as Maoists), they tend to follow one of these two identities.