People living in Bangladeshi enclaves administered by India are forced to endure harsh living conditions brought about by border tensions. When the sun sets in the horizon, the gates at both the Bangladeshi and Indian border remain closed until morning, and the Bangladeshi people in between are forced to become stateless for twelve hours each day.
Bangladesh is the only country in the world to see the highest number of its citizens shot dead in border shootings, and are unable to access medical facilities and pharmacies; in 2008, my friends and I watched helplessly as a young woman’s child succumbed to illness, even though a pharmacy with a doctor was only 3 kilometers away and within Bangladeshi borders. Situations have ameliorated somewhat from 2011, when both governments introduced some new rules, however, a total solution to this ghastly problem still remains a pipe dream.
The Indo-Bangladeshi case represents one of Asia’s biggest problems: from India-Pakistan to Japan-Russia and from Korean peninsula to South China Sea, almost every two neighboring countries have sustained bitter relationships due to territorial rows for a long time.
The Indo-Bangladeshi border problem has the possibility of becoming exacerbated by proxy while the disputes between great powers in the Asia-Pacific have become more prominent in the media, particularly the fresh tensions that have been triggered by Japan and China’s recent bellicose stance over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. As the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute attracts international attention, this unresolved dilemma has reawakened adversities among nations across the Asia-Pacific. Since most of the influential nations in this region possess formidable military power, any mismanagement in internationals relations can spark an unavoidable regional conflagration, given the sensitivity of this issue.
Sending frigates or flying fighter jets over the disputed territory may intimidate contested parties for a while, but this only worsens the regional economy, and can never bring peace. Japanese trade with China has already plummeted since the commencement of contentious rhetoric.
It appears that this is more than an issue of spreading tensions among neighbors—it is an issue of leadership in the region. That is why the biggest challenge before the leaders of Asia-Pacific appears to be how peacefully they can tackle their territorial disputes. In maintaining regional peace and security, we do not need visionary leaders because so many of the visionaries have already shaped their nation’s fate. Rather, we require leaderships that can move the Asia-Pacific forward, keeping aside ultra-nationalistic attitudes that have been exercised their country’s borders. The landscape of international relations in the twenty-first century dictates that the tighter-knit a regional community of nations is, the stronger the whole world becomes. Hence, a united Asia is a must not only to keep the region’s economic prosperity on track, but also to meet the growing share of global responsibilities that can be solved after reconciling neighborhood differences, such as combating poverty and curbing carbon emissions.
Realizing these demands, Asia-Pacific leaders must promote peace and must not nurture belligerence any longer—there are no progressive alternatives to talks, whether negotiation or back channel diplomacy. Leaders with open hearts who do not allow themselves to be blinded by national pride are most likely to succeed.