South Asia as a Region and in the World System
THE STRATEGIC LOCATION OF SOUTH ASIA makes it an area of importance in the world system. Pakistan is almost as much a part of Southwest Asia as it is of South Asia, given its proximity to the Persian Gulf and its border with Iran. It is also a neighbor of Afghanistan and looks beyond that country toward a major role in Central Asia and that region's newly independent states. India, as the second most populous nation in the world, is important not only in terms of its geographic location but also as a potentially huge market, as a destination for foreign direct investment, as a rapidly growing technological power, and as a longtime leader among Third World nations. Both India and Pakistan, as nuclear powers, are important players in the diplomacy of nuclear disarmament. Sri Lanka, which extends south into the Indian Ocean, sits athwart some of the world's important shipping lanes. Finally, Bangladesh lies adjacent to the volatile eastern areas of India.
Many of these features were present when the British ruled South Asia. In fact, they were seen by the British as important attributes of their governance of the region. The establishment of Afghanistan and Tibet as buffer areas between the British dominions and the empires of Russia and China was included among these attributes. Today, neither Afghanistan nor Tibet is a buffer zone, and the successor Chinese power borders directly on South Asia through the Chinese incorporation of Tibet. The Soviet Union attempted from 1979 to 1989 to occupy Afghanistan, which would have placed Soviet power on the borders of South Asia. India, as the largest and strongest power in the region, has inherited much of the British role--although it plays that role in a very different way.