The Revenge of Geography – India’s Geopolitical Dilemma

The Revenge of Geography

Part IIThe Early-Twenty First Century Map

Chapter XIIIndia’s Geopolitical Dilemma

By Robert D. Kaplan

In the first installment of this article, we looked at the base discussions of the book.

The Revenge of Geography 2We now move on to Part IIThe Early-Twenty First Century Map, and focus on Chapter XIIIndia’s Geopolitical Dilemma.

India is possessed of geopolitical logic – Arabian Sea on the West and South-west, Bay of Bengal on East and South-East, the mountainous Burmese jungles on the east and Himalayas and knot of Karakoram and Hindu Kush on the North and North-West. Internally, too, India is vast. What it lacks is a single nursery of demographic organisation, like Wei Valley and lower Huang He (Yellow River) in China. Even the Ganges River valley did not provide enough platforms for the expansion of a unitary India State into the subcontinent’s deep, peninsular south. Various river system, besides Ganga, Brahmaputra, Narmada, Tungabhadra, Kaveri, Godavari and so on, divide it.

India has the hottest climate and most abundant and luxuriant landscape of all Eurasia population hubs and therefore its inhabitants lacked the need to build political structures for the organization of resources on the scale that temperate zones of Europe or China did.

The key to understanding India is the realization that while as a subcontinent, India makes eminent geographic sense; its natural boundaries are quite weak in place. The present Indian State does not conform to the borders of subcontinent. That is the heart of the dilemma.

The choice of Delhi as the capital of India was of very much function of geography for the invaders from the North-East, during the seventh through sixteenth centuries. Delhi’s back was the Islamic World and front is the Hindu World. The Mughal Empire was cultural and political expression of this fact. The last major ruler of Mughal Empire, Aurangzeb’s position was that of Delhi-based rulers going back hundreds of years – the (geographical) northern and north-western parts of the subcontinent were commonly under a single polity even as sovereignty over southern India was in doubt.

Unlike previous rulers who were essentially land powers, the British constituted the sea power. As evidenced by Bombay, Madras and Calcutta presidencies, it was from the sea that the British were able to conquer India. It was through technology of rail network, ranging from Afghanistan border to Palk Strait near Ceylon and from Karachi to Chittagong that the British made it possible to unite this vast internal space into one polity. British, being the sea power, were a neutral force in the historical drama between native Hindus and the Muslim land-route invaders.

When Indians look their maps of the subcontinent, they see Afghanistan and Pakistan in the North-West and Nepal and Bhutan in the North North-East or Bangladesh in East as all part of India’s immediate sphere of influence, with Iran, the Persian Gulf, the former Soviet Central Asian Republics and Burma as critical shadow zones. Not to view these places as such would tantamount to ignoring the lessons of history and geography.

From a different geographical perspective Pakistan makes up a civilizational intermediary and conduit of trade routes connecting the subcontinent with Central Asia …. A stable and reasonably moderate Afghanistan becomes truly the hub not just southern central Asia but of Eurasia in general… A quiescent Afghanistan would spur road, rail and pipeline construction not only in all directions across Afghanistan but across Pakistan as well. And therein lies the ultimate solution to Pakistan’s own instability.

But this is not the situation that currently obtains…. Hindu majority, albeit secular, Indian State wants to escape from the Muslim history and geography. The very competition and fixation with China can be views as the element of this escape. It is a rivalry with no real history behind it.

The very technologies that defeat geography also have the capability of enhancing geography’s importance. Whereas Chinese Dynasties of old almost completely fall within the current borders of China, the dynasties to which India is heir do not. Thus, India looks to Afghanistan and its other shadow zones with less serenity than doe s China to its own shadow zones. China’s influence extends all the way into Russian Far East and Central and Southeast Asia. China’s potential fear of more democratic way of state stems from Turks, Inner Mongols and Tibetans minorities that are restless. China will have to undertake some basic structural reforms and reorganize its economy. But it has an onerous task of containing the tumultuous transition to a manageable level.

India is a regional power to the degree that it is entrapped by its geography; it is a potential great power to the degree that it can move beyond it.

In the concluding installment of our look at The Revenge of Geography on 4th January, 2016, we will take up the chapter on Braudel, Mexico and Grand Strategy.