South Asia or the Indian Sub Continent is geographically distant from Ukraine, thus the so called, “Special Military Operation,” launched by Russia may not perceive to have significant consequences. Moreover, South Asian nations are not strangers to wars and conflicts. The long war in Afghanistan terminated with seizure of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15th last year but embers of insecurity continue to burn with the impact now being felt in Pakistan. Myanmar is presently in a phase of a quasi-civil war, slowly stepping into the abyss of state failure.
On the conventional front, India China, India Pakistan have fought wars in the past while there is an ongoing standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for the past two years. In terms of refugee and internally displaced, countries in the region have hosted millions from Afghanistan (in Pakistan) and Myanmar (Rohingya in Bangladesh and Chin in India). Thus, a war in Europe may seem too far away, however dynamics of the conflict in Ukraine has raised concerns on multiple fronts for countries in the region.
Of biggest concern to the states in South Asia though not expressed openly by many is breakdown of the UN Charter wherein conflicts between countries are to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy and rule of law devoid of use of force. With two large [China and India] and one substantial [Pakistan] military power in the region smaller states is envisaging the possibility of utilization force for resolution of ongoing disputes as s pretext to subsume their territorial sovereignty. Interestingly almost all countries in the region have territorial disputes that have the potential of being used to breach the present status quo.
China has claims in India and Bhutan, Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir even as it occupies part of the erstwhile princely state which acceded to the Indian Union in October 1947. Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line as boundary with Pakistan. Nepal claims that India’s occupation of the Kalapani area is wrongful possession and there are other small pockets of differences. While these [but for the India China Pakistan triad] appear minor the manner in which the situation has developed in Ukraine, smaller states in the region will remain wary.
And yet they do not have the military wherewithal to defend themselves against a possible invasion by their larger neighbours. Nor do these states like in Europe can spend more on building their militaries which fundamentally remain constabularies. Will a Ukraine like scenario emerge for say Bhutan or Nepal remains to be seen?
A significant real time challenge however is the economy. The region has seen an economic slump with acute distress and complete donor dependency in Afghanistan, severe foreign exchange crisis and spiraling inflation in Sri Lanka, negotiations with the International Monetary Fund by Pakistan and Nepal, unrecorded state of the economic crisis in Myanmar and slowdown in growth in India and Bangladesh [as well as China].
All countries in the region are energy importing to the extent of 80 to 90 percent and are facing the shock of fluctuating oil prices with impact on inflation. What is distressing is food security which is already a major challenge in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka but may emerge in other countries as well which do not have capabilities for indigenous food stock replacement.
Over and above these concerns is geopolitics with demands made by the West and Russia to be, “with me,” testing loyalties. With heavy dependence on Russia in the military as well as other fields as nuclear, even larger states as India are in a bind. While there were hopes of early end to the War, these are fading away. Being prepared for long geopolitical and geo-economic flux that may impact them is the way ahead for the South Asian countries as of now.