The illogical rejection of the idea of South Asia | 18th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It discusses the reasons for the lack of a unified South Asia as a region.


  • GS2: India and its Neighborhood- Relations; Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Note: Also read this linked analysis – BIMSTEC as key to a new South Asian regional order


  • Recent studies on air pollution by the World Bank. Bhutan and Maldives presented a gloomy picture of air quality in the South Asian nations.
  • About two million people die prematurely in South Asia each year as particulate matter concentrations put nine South Asian cities among the world’s top 10 worst affected by air pollution.
  • The solution to the problems of air pollution lies in a “whole of region” approach, and is not one that any single country can resolve on its own.
  • However, unlike Europe and Southeast Asia, South Asia is not a unified region. And this harms the region's overall economic, political, and environmental causes.

What is Regionalism?

  • Regionalism is the development of political and economic systems based on loyalty to distinct geographic regions.
  • Regionalism often results in formal political or economic arrangements between groups of countries intended to achieve common goals.

About South Asia:

  • South Asia is the southern region of Asia, which is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms.
  • The region consists of the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.


Why is South Asia not a unified region?

  • Bad relations between India and Pakistan
  • Cultural, religious, and linguistic diversities
  • Economic Disparities
  • Presence of organised crimes


  • The climate crisis is only one of the immediate challenges of the times where South Asia has failed to build a platform.
  • The failure to build a regional defence to the issues arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and sanctions, means that South Asia has missed the chance to position itself as an energy “cartel” commanding a better price for the region.
  • Apart from crude dependencies, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India buy more than 50% of their liquefied natural gas through the spot market — an indicator of how vulnerable they are to global energy trends.
  • Pakistan has refused talks with India to its own detriment, and now stands to miss out on being part of the South Asia energy grid that is already powering dreams of regional connectivity between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN grouping), and possibly Sri Lanka.
  • Phrases such as “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” and “diplomacy and dialogue” as being the only ways to resolve the conflict sound hollow when compared to India and Pakistan’s act of holding up the SAARC Summit from meeting for nearly a decade.
  • Similar opportunities for regional cooperation in health security are being missed, although India has worked bilaterally with most of its neighbours to provide vaccines and COVID-19 medicines.
  • Another move may be to unilaterally extend copyright waivers on medical products within South Asia of the sort India has proposed, unsuccessfully thus far, at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
  • When it comes to terrorism, the contradictions between what can be discussed at broader multilaterals, but not in the region, are manifold: India and Pakistan talk about terrorism at the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), but will not discuss the issue bilaterally or within South Asia.
  • Given the deepening polarisation in the world, climate chaos, and the growing scarcity of resources, it is clear to see that the underpinnings of globalisation over the past century are about to be upended, and nearly every other nation is finding its moorings in regionalisation and forums closer home.
  • Regional trade now makes up for more than half of global trading.

Way Forward:

  • In any case, it is necessary for the future to boost South Asian cooperation, and to effectively deal with issues such as health, energy, women’s rights, security and terrorism.
  • To reject the idea of a unified South Asia as a region would mean a missed opportunity, with repercussions more dire than those that come from the poisoned air the region breathes today.

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