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9.2: The Peripheral States of South Asia

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Outline the main physical features of the countries described in this section.
    2. Understand how cultural differences in religion and ethnicity continue to cause conflict and division in South Asian countries and regions.
    3. Outline how and why Kashmir is divided and its importance for the region.
    4. Describe how tourism has been a means of gaining wealth for the listed countries.
    5. Summarize the main environmental concerns that are apparent in each of the countries.

    As detailed earlier, the Indian subcontinent is a large landmass that juts into the Indian Ocean along the southern side of Asia, between Afghanistan and Myanmar (Burma) and south of China. The Indian perimeter includes the southern countries of the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and the northern regions of the Punjab, Kashmir, Nepal, and Bhutan. This landmass has a long tectonic history and has been formed by the collision of the Indian Tectonic Plate with the Eurasian Plate. This tectonic collision has given rise to the highest mountain chains and ranges in the world along the northern and northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent—that is, the Himalayas.

    The Karakoram Mountains are located in northern Pakistan and Kashmir. Together with the other Himalayan Mountain ranges, they form an arc that stretches across the entire northern border of South Asia. Nepal and Bhutan are both located in the Himalayas. The Himalayan ranges have some of the highest peaks in the region, including Mount Everest (located on the border between Nepal and China) and K2 (located in Pakistan). In western Pakistan and western Afghanistan, the Hindu Kush mountain ranges that border this area are found. The Indus River flows from the northern part of the Karakoram mountains and creates a large, fertile flood plain. Along its northern area, the Indus River System has four main tributaries. Together, these rivers constitute the five rivers of the Punjab regions of Pakistan and India; Punjab means the “land of the five rivers” in the Punjabi language.

    The Punjab

    The Punjab is a fertile agricultural region with a high population density located on the border between India and Pakistan. Areas of the Punjab lie in both India and Pakistan. Where there is ample fresh water and bountiful food production, there is usually high population density. The Punjab is the most densely populated region in Pakistan. India has a separate state called the Punjab. Its river valleys are excellent areas for agricultural production and contribute heavily to the provisions needed to feed the enormous populations of the two countries.

    The Punjabi people are found in the Punjab State of India and the Punjab Province of Pakistan. This large cultural area was separated into two countries during Partition at the time of Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Most of the people in the Punjab speak Punjabi, an Indo-European language. In a larger context, people with Punjabi background are considered one of the main ethnic groups in South Asia. Punjabis account for about 45 percent of the population of Pakistan.

    In Pakistan, the Punjabis are grouped in clans and groups that correspond with traditional occupations. Traditionally, Punjabis are farmers and warriors, and in modern times are associated with agricultural professions and military life. Punjabis in Pakistan are predominantly Muslim, although a Christian minority exists. Indian Punjabis belong to traditional groups, including many of the same groups as in Pakistan, but many more. Most of the Muslim populations of the Punjab migrated to Pakistan in 1947 and, thus, most of the Indian Punjabis are Sikh with a Christian minority.

    Figure 9.7


    Sikhs protest against India’s opposition to their proposed homeland (nation-state) in the Punjab called Khalistan.

    People gravitate toward nation-state systems, but globalization supports integration across political boundaries.

    Elliot Brown – Remembering the Sikh Genocide – CC BY-SA 2.0.

    The Punjab region of Pakistan and India is the homeland of the Sikhs, people who follow a religion that is different from Islam or Hinduism. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak Dev (1469–1538). All distinctions of caste, creed, race, or gender are rejected in this religion. In Sikhism there is no priestly class. Every person is equally and fully responsible for leading a moral life, which eventually leads to universal salvation. Heaven and hell are not physical places, and God is the cosmic universal spirit. Historically, traditional Sikh men wear turbans on their heads and never cut their hair or beard. Sikhism is a universal religion. A prominent Sikh landmark and spiritual center is their Golden Temple, located in the city of Amritsar in the Indian state of the Punjab.

    Sikhism is a system of religious philosophy and expression, known as the Gurmat or the counsel of the gurus, or the Sikh Dharma (or way of life). Sikhism comes from the Hindi and Punjabi word sikhna, which means “to learn.” The principal belief in Sikhism is faith in the universal God. Sikhism promotes the pursuit of salvation through discipline and personal meditation on the name and message of God. However, it must be mentioned that Sikhs have a nonanthropomorphic concept of God; that is, Sikhs do not envision God as having any form or shape or mind similar to that of humans. Sikhism has become the fifth-most widely adhered to religion on Earth.

    During British colonial occupation of South Asia, Sikhs were elevated to positions of power to help the British rule over Muslim and Hindu populations. The Sikhs are often overshadowed by the large Hindu and Muslim populations in the realm. Many of the Sikhs would like to have their own nation-state, free from Muslim or Hindu domination, and would like to see the Punjab region become the new homeland for this nation-state, called Khalistan. They have held rallies and demonstrations to promote the creation of Khalistan. The Indian government has, however, cracked down on militant movements that support the Khalistan concept. The Khalistan movement was more popular in the 1970s and 1980s and has been scaled down in recent decades. Proponents still attempt to attract young people and foreign donations to its cause. Khalistan does not have the support of the Pakistani and Indian governments and is not likely to become a reality any time soon. Khalistan is an example of the devolutionary push for a nation-state political unit for a particular group of people with similar aspirations or heritage.

    The Kingdom of Kashmir

    Located in the high mountains of the north is the former Kingdom of Kashmir, a separate kingdom before the British divided South Asia. In 1947, when the British drew the boundary between India and Pakistan, the leader of Kashmir, the maharajah, chose not to be a part of either country but to remain independent. About 75 percent of the population in Kashmir was Muslim; the rest, including the maharajah, were mainly Hindu. This arrangement worked for a time, until the Muslim majority was encouraged by their fellow Muslims in Pakistan to join Pakistan. After a Muslim uprising, the maharajah asked the Indian military for assistance. India was more than pleased to oblige and saw it as an opportunity to oppose Pakistan one more time. Today Kashmir is divided, with Pakistan controlling the northern region, India controlling the southern region, and China controlling a portion of the eastern region. A cease-fire has been implemented, but outbreaks of fighting have occurred. The future of Kashmir is unclear. None of the countries involved wants to start a large-scale war, because they all have nuclear weapons.

    Figure 9.8 The Issues with Kashmir


    Pakistan controls the northern areas, India controls Jammu and Kashmir, and China controls the eastern portion, labeled Aksai Chin on this map. All three countries have nuclear weapons, and it seems apparent that none of the countries wants to start a nuclear war.

    Updated from map courtesy of University of Texas Libraries.

    The conflict in Kashmir is about strategic location and control of water rather than labor and resources. It is unknown whether there are abundant minerals in the mountains in Kashmir to be mined, but regardless, there is little mining activity going on, not enough to cause conflict. One of the main physical geography features of importance is water. The Indus River flows through Kashmir from Tibet and into Pakistan. The control of this river system is critical to the survival of people living in northern Pakistan. If India were to place a dam on the river and divert the water to their side of the border, to the dry regions of the south, Pakistan could suffer a water shortage in the northern part of the country. Another aspect of the Kashmir conflict goes back to the division of Pakistan and India, which pitted Muslims against Hindus along the border region. The religious differences have come to the surface again in the conflict over the control of Kashmir. Extremist movements within Kashmir by the Muslim population have fueled the division between those who support Pakistan and those who support Hindu-dominated India.

    The Kingdom of Bhutan

    Landlocked and mountainous, the small Kingdom of Bhutan is remotely located next to the high Himalayas between China and India. The mountain peaks reach more than twenty-three thousand feet. Bhutan is about half the size in physical area of the US state of Kentucky and has fewer than one million people. The southern plains are warm, with subtropical weather, but the higher altitudes of the snow-capped mountains have polar-type climates. The local people call their country the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” because of the harsh storms they experience. Bhutan has large areas of natural habitat that have not been disturbed by human activity. The natural environment and the unique heritage and culture of the people make Bhutan an attractive destination for world travelers.

    Bhutan is a small country without much industry or high-tech corporate involvement. Forestry and agriculture are the main economic activities, which account for approximately 60 percent of the country’s population. Grazing livestock and subsistence agriculture are the primary types of farming. Increasing the country’s modest infrastructure is hampered by its high mountains and remote location. India is Bhutan’s main trading partner and has played an important role in the country’s development and economic situation.

    Figure 9.9 Bhutan’s Famous Taktshang Buddhist Monastery, Commonly Known as the Tiger’s Nest


    The unique landscapes and cultural experience that Bhutan offers to travelers have promoted tourism as an increasing economic activity.

    Avinash singh – taktsand – CC BY 2.0.

    Modern transportation and communication technologies are being introduced in Bhutan and are changing how the country is connected to the rest of the global economy. Satellite and cable television, mobile phone networks, the Internet, and major airline service are opening the doors of opportunity and interaction between the people of Bhutan and the rest of the world. Introduction of technological services has prompted Bhutan’s government to take steps to protect its environment and unique heritage. Tourism has become a major focus of the changes. The country has stepped up its efforts to develop tourism but has targeted a specific type of traveler. Bhutan is an expensive place to visit, which has been the biggest deterrent for travelers. Visitors from places other than India and Bangladesh must agree to strict requirements set by the suppliers of Bhutanese tourism, including large daily fees just to be in the country. Tourism is increasing in Bhutan but remains highly selective in its requirements and regulations. These measures are to ensure that the environmental health of the country remains intact and that there is minimal cultural impact from outsiders.

    Buddhism is the state religion and is followed by about 75 percent of the population. Hinduism is the second-largest religion and is followed by the other 25 percent of the population. One of the principles of the government in regulating development projects has been the concept of gross national happiness (GNH), which is used as a guide to determine the impact of a project on the culture and people of Bhutan. The stern measures regarding development have protected the country from serious environmental degradation and have helped to sustain the lifestyles of the Bhutanese people. Some measures may appear harsh to outsiders, but the country is implementing these measures to promote the health and well-being of its people. For example, tobacco products are banned from being sold in the country. Democratic elections are becoming standard after centuries of rule by a monarchy. The intent of the transition is to provide the people with more direct control of their government and country.

    Interesting points about the culture of Bhutan include the issue of marriage. Marriages based on love are becoming more common in the cities, while arranged marriages remain a tradition in many of the smaller villages. Under the current legal system, women have the right to inheritance. Homes and personal possessions are passed down through a family’s female children. Traditionally, male children do not inherit. Men are expected to earn their own livelihood and if they get married will most often live in the wife’s house.

    Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. Most villages regularly hold archery competitions, which usually include festivities of serving food and conducting community events.