After World War II, all decolonised countries faced many problems in their early years. Whether it was based on the differences between their citizens, or weak political systems, it led to a struggle between the government and its people. However India was better off than others in this regard. Due to their size, wealth and a strong political party in the form of the Congress, they had relatively more political stability than others. They pursued a secular mandate and this helped them to grow into a regional hegemon.
As a result, they felt that they had to be involved in any regional problem that might arise and try to ‘help’ other countries solve them. Ultimately they took advantage of the various domestic vulnerabilities of regional states to establish themselves as the main power players in South Asia, with only Pakistan strong enough to stand up to their oppressive moves. There are quite a few different ways a country can intervene in the affairs of another. These can be classified in to four categories, which include humanitarian intervention, protective intervention, defensive intervention and opportunistic interventions. Now India does not have the resources and the political or economic clout to employ any of the first three, however they have made use of opportunistic interventions many times in the past. This involves using issues plaguing other countries to create turmoil locally, in order to exploit their position for your own gain.
An example of India’s interventionist policies can be seen in the armed uprising of the Chakma community in Bangladesh. Eleven ethnic groups belonging to the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHK) in Southern Bangladesh stood up against Bengali nationalism. They formed a political party, with a military wing in order to protect their identity as a minority group. Dhaka was asked to provide the Chakmas with political and economic autonomy, but they refused, which in turn forced the Chakmas to start an armed struggle against the state, providing India with the perfect opportunity to intervene.
The insurgency started in 1975, in the same year that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated. Rahman had been a pro-Indian voice in Bangladeshi politics, and his death prompted India to take action. Even though an armed conflict was contemplated for a while, due to international pressure the Indian army decided to step back and instead focus on training and arming Chakmas, many of whom lived in India, including their leader.
Over fifty thousand insurgents were trained by the Indian forces, a charge they continue to deny to this day. However, the government of Bangladesh openly accused them of sponsoring violence in their country and even took their grievances to the international community as well.
Another example of India’s constant meddling in the affairs of others comes with the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka. Indira Gandhi was one of the main architects of the Tamil community’s struggle, who made up about 15 percent of the population, against the majority Sinhalese community that makes up more than half of Sri Lanka’s population.
The countless differences between the two communities gave rise to several problems, and resulted in the Tamils asking for, first their own province, and then, for their own country. This prompted them to create the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and its main militant wing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India provided them with the strategic support they needed with weapons and training, while RAW trained thousands off the coast of Tamil Nadu. By the 1980s LTTE had turned into a working army, and forced the Sri Lankan government to retaliate. However, India completely ignored the authority of the legitimate government in Colombo and continued to assist the Tamils.
Similarly, in 1988, members of the LTTE attempted to overthrow the government of Maldives’ President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom with the complete support of India. However, when Gayoom managed to escape and the coup seemed destined to fail, India sent in paratroopers to help Gayoom’s forces. This proves that they are even willing to play both sides no matter the consequences, as long as it works to their advantage.
While Pakistan has done well to keep Indian influence at bay, it has not stopped their neighbours from attempting to intervene in their country either. Before 1971, they supported the Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan, and now they support separatist forces in Balochistan. There is also evidence of their support for the TTP in Afghanistan. This is another example of their interventionist policy and their great ambitions for the region. However, other countries in the region have the power to defy India if they unite and it seems that the time is not far when such a move might become a necessity.
The writer is a Strategic and Political analyst. He teaches international politics in NUML Islamabad
Published in Daily Times, June 21st 2018.