In a dramatic and unprecedented escalation, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel on October 7. Hamas militants infiltrated Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, leading to hundreds of casualties and dozens of hostages. This audacious move represents Hamas’s most ambitious strike against Israel launched from Gaza.
Israel swiftly declared war on Hamas, responding with a series of airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas bases, and called for the complete seizure of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to obliterate Hamas, pledging to continue the offensive “without reservation and without respite.”
Within a week, the conflict has resulted in over 2,900 fatalities, including scores of foreigners.
Despite the geographical distance, the repercussions of the violence have resonated directly and indirectly in the South Asian region. Out of the eight countries in South Asia, only Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan have established diplomatic relations with Israel.
Ten Nepali citizens have lost their lives in the attacks, and hundreds of others have sought refuge in bunkers. On October 12, Nepal initiated “Operation Ajay” to evacuate 253 citizens from the conflict zone. These individuals were students engaged in “learning and earning” in Israel, and Kathmandu is preparing the logistics for repatriating the bodies of the 10 victims.
Likewise, India is preparing for the return of its citizens from Israel through “Operation Ajay.”
The initial responses from South Asian nations offer significant insights.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his deep shock over the terrorist attacks in Israel and conveyed his solidarity with the country. India’s ties with Israel have significantly improved in recent years, encompassing defense and trade. Israel currently stands as India’s second-largest defense partner, reflecting the alignment between Modi and Netanyahu’s ethnonational and anti-Muslim ideologies.
This underscores how India-Israel relations have transformed since the Cold War, during which India championed the Palestinian cause. However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has clarified that its policy remains unchanged. In a regular media briefing, MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi asserted India’s advocacy for “a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine… at peace with Israel.”
Nepal has also condemned the terrorist attack and expressed solidarity with Israel. The Nepali Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, reiterated his unwavering commitment to peace for the Palestinian people. Kathmandu maintains diplomatic ties with Israel but consistently supports a two-state solution while denouncing terrorist activities and opposing Hamas and its actions.
Sri Lanka expressed deep concern over the attacks and the escalating violence, emphasizing the need for an immediate end to hostilities. Colombo reaffirmed its commitment to a “negotiated settlement in line with internationally agreed parameters of two states… based on the 1967 borders.”
Pakistan is monitoring the situation closely, emphasizing the necessity of establishing a “viable, sovereign, and contiguous State of Palestine.”
Bangladesh strongly condemned the ongoing armed conflict while warning Israel that “living under Israeli occupation and forced settlements in Palestinian territory will not pave the way for peace.” Dhaka reiterated the viability of the two-state resolution.
In a more contentious statement, the Taliban-led Afghanistan alleged that the conflict was “the result of Israeli Zionists trampling on the rights of the oppressed Palestinian people and repeated insults and disrespect to Muslim holy places.”
The South Asian nations are divided in their views on Hamas. India and Nepal have referred to the group as terrorists, while the Muslim-majority countries in the region, none of which have diplomatic ties with Israel (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Maldives), have refrained from blaming Hamas. These nations have expressed sympathy or outright support for Hamas’s actions.
Mass demonstrations of solidarity with the Palestinians have taken place in Bangladesh and Pakistan, attended by thousands of people.
In summary, South Asian countries, whether or not they have diplomatic ties with Israel, largely unite in their belief in a two-state solution that ensures the coexistence of two states at peace with each other and supports Palestinian statehood. However, the specificities of what this entails differ among the South Asian governments. If the attacks persist, Hamas may find diminishing support among non-Muslim countries in South Asia, as realpolitik considerations and the desire to improve relations with Israel come into play.