Unravelling the Threads of History: Britain’s Colonialism and its Impact on Today’s Global Conflicts - Part 2

Unravelling the Threads of History: Britain’s Colonialism and its Impact on Today’s Global Conflicts – Part 2

India has maintained a neutral position in the Russia-Ukraine war. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar justified this stance: “We have to do what’s best for India.” This statement has been criticised as a weak justification for India’s being one of the few countries still purchasing Russian oil.

There are aIternative answers; The UN didn’t provide active involvement in India’s war with China in 1962 or the 2020 China-India border dispute when 20 Indian soldiers were killed. Or that when non European countries are persuaded to enter European wars, it has led to two world wars. However, it could be argued the real reason for India’s neutrality lies in the historical context of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. During this conflict, Britain sided with Pakistan and persuaded America, which had good relations with India, to do the same.

Britain supporting Pakistan, as they desired access to the rich oil supplies in the Gulf Arab states as well as control of Afghanistan, was controversial. Especially so considering Britain’s history with India, a country they had invaded, colonised, looted, and oppressed for over 200 years. According to Shashi Tharoor, former UN Undersecretary General, Britain turned India into a “poster child for third-world poverty” instead of aiding its government.

History - Army

During one of India’s most challenging times, when it was surrounded by the Pakistani, British, and American navies, Russia came to India’s aid. Russia blocked the warships with nuclear submarines, leading to Pakistan, Britain, and the USA retreating. As a result, India won the war, leading to the 1971 Indo-Soviet treaty that ensured India and Russia would not act against each other.

History - Navies

Putin’s Strategic Pre-Emptive Visit: A Masterstroke in Global Diplomacy

Before invading Ukraine, Vladimir Putin visited India to ensure that if India did not provide military aid, it would at least uphold their informal agreement from 53 years ago. Consequently, India abstained from the UN votes to take action against Russia.

This decision has been criticised, with arguments suggesting India’s pressure on Russia could have deterred conflict. Having the world’s largest democracy with the world’s largest population, opposing Russia would have been a significant blow to autocracies such as China, North Korea, and Iran, which have supported Russia’s invasion both financially and militarily.

International Criticism and Historical Hypocrisy

Britain has criticised India’s stance, with The Telegraph even suggesting a drastic foreign policy shift: “It’s time to rethink our relations with India. It is getting too close to Russia.” Critics argue that this overlooks Britain’s role in pushing India towards Russia in the first place.

The USA has expressed regret over its past decision to support Pakistan over India, especially in light of Osama Bin Laden’s capture in a military compound in Pakistan and Pakistan’s indirect financing of terrorist attacks on India.

Terrorism and Changing Alliances

The Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) launched a deadly attack on India in 2008, the most brazen terror attack since 9/11, with the support of Pakistani intelligence and al Qaeda.

History - Mumbai

Pakistan’s support for the installation of a Taliban government in Kabul has turned Afghanistan into a haven for several terrorist groups. In contrast, America’s choice of ally is shifting towards supporting a secular democracy over an Islamic republic. The last four American presidents have courted India, with a Biden administration State official stating in March 2024, “The single most important country in the world for the United States in the next 35 years will be India.”

If America had chosen India as an ally over the last 35 years, the landscape of terrorism in South Asia could have been radically different. Some even assert that the 9/11 terror attacks might not have occurred if the USA had allied and worked with Indian intelligence, given that the attack was by Al-Qaeda, who were based in Pakistan from 1991 and from 2002 till today.

Britain’s Role in India and Russia Relations

A candid discussion and admission of guilt from Britain regarding their support in 1971, for a now-bankrupt Islamic state over the world’s largest democracy and fastest-growing economy could help ease tensions. This may weaken India’s ties with Russia and strengthen bonds with countries that have imposed strict sanctions on Russia.

History Unveiled: The Intricate Perspective of Great Britain vs Burma

Britain gained control over Myanmar following three Anglo-Burma wars, the first of which started in 1824. Their policies led to the longest civil war in history, which has been ongoing since Myanmar (then known as Burma) gained independence from Britain in 1948. The war involves the Myanmar government and various ethnic groups, primarily the Karen National Union (KNU). The conflict has resulted in the deaths of 183,000 people, including over 13,000 children, and has also led to the Rohingya genocide that has been ongoing since 2017.

Muslims vs Buddhists: The Root of the Conflict

The conflict in Myanmar is primarily between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, who have been residing in Rakhine State for over two hundred years. However, resentment over the internal displacement of Buddhists dates back to 1826, when Britain annexed the area of Myanmar where most Rohingya Muslims live today.


The Rohingya, who have their language and culture, claim to be descendants of Arab traders. However, the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya citizenship and views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh during British rule.

Before the arrival of the British, education in Myanmar was primarily conducted within the Sangha, with most individuals passing through monasteries as novice monks. This system provided education and a religious vocation and garnered respect for the monastic community.

The arrival of the British in Burma fundamentally undermined this system, leading to contemporary intercommunal and interreligious violence. By undercutting Burmese political and religious authority. The British marginalised the Burman community while granting ethnic minorities access to power. The British introduced a fundamentally different educational system, which the Sangha resisted, maintaining that it contradicted their Buddhist worldview.

The British also oversaw the immigration of thousands of predominantly Arab and Muslim Bangladeshis as cheap labour to support the expansion of the British colonial economic infrastructure. This economic competition added a class dimension to anti-Muslim narratives that continue to resonate today.

History - Bangladesh

However, in today’s narrative, it’s not the British colonists who are blamed but the descendants of these migrant workers. The resulting genocide has claimed over 50,000 lives, with one million Rohingya fleeing their homes. The exodus began in 2017 after Rohingya militants launched deadly attacks on more than 30 police posts. Rohingyas arriving in Bangladesh reported that they fled after troops and Buddhist crowds responded by burning their villages and attacking and killing civilians.

Britain’s Role in the Myanmar Conflict

The UK should spearhead efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, as the roots of the conflict can be traced back to British colonial times. However, the voice of the UK government has been notably absent. Despite initiating the migration of the people that the UN has described as “the most persecuted in the world”, Britain has instead supported the Myanmar military. However, over the past 14 years, it has provided £12 million in humanitarian aid to the ethnic groups. The Spectator magazine states, “Given Britain’s history as Burma’s former colonial ruler, we have a moral responsibility to mobilise other member states at the Security and Human Rights Council into urgent action.”

Great Britain vs Argentina: The Falklands Conflict

Although not a current war, the Falklands conflict is worth mentioning as today is the 42nd anniversary of the war’s turning point – the sinking of the naval ship, the Belgrano, on May 2nd, 1982. This battle resulted in the drowning of 323 Argentinians, accounting for almost half of the total Argentinian deaths.

History - Malvinas

Playing the Long Game

Had Leopoldo Galtieri, the then-dictator of the Falklands, not sent his military to invade the island and instead thought long-term by investing in businesses in the Falklands and increasing the Argentinian presence there, Argentina could have requested a referendum. With a majority of Argentinians, they could have reclaimed the Islas Malvinas, over which sovereignty has been contested since 1833.

However, in 1982, Galtieri chose to seize control of the islands by force. This decision led to a war that claimed over 900 lives, equating to three lives for every mile the island is from the coast of Argentina. Galtieri’s decision to invade rather than take legal action through the UN was primarily driven by his waning power and popularity.

The victory in the Falklands was enough to secure another election win for the then-troubled Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But was her decision the right one? For British children growing up with single mothers, was the loss of their fathers worth it for a tiny, desolate island 300 miles from Argentina and 8,000 miles from Britain that, before the war, 98% of British people couldn’t locate on a map?

The Aftermath

Sore wounds persist, including talk of a further war, which was dismissed by Argentinian president Javier Milei last year. However, Alasdair Pinkerton, a geopolitics professor at the University of London, stated that Argentinian sovereignty claims over the Falklands remain “deeply ingrained, inculcated through the education system, street signage, banknotes and the Argentina constitution”. He added, “You can’t fully eliminate the possibility of confrontation if the conditions are right and there is a distinct trigger event, especially as the world becomes increasingly multipolar.” After 300 years of intermittent conflict, there is no current physical combat, but a verbal and emotional war still rages on.

The Road Forward: Reflecting on the Legacy of Empires

One of the justifications British scholars provided for creating the British Empire was the mission to spread civilisation amongst savages worldwide. However, if one race attacks, persecutes and enslaves another, it raises the question: who are the civilised?

Britain has made significant progress since those brutal days. The appointment of the first non-white prime minister of Indian origin is a testament to this, despite the undercurrents of disguised racism from some quarters. It is hoped that Britain will take greater accountability for the wars it initiated and the resulting genocides rather than attempting to deny its involvement.

Furthermore, Britain must provide more financial aid and support to the victims of its once massive empire. This empire, the largest in history, invaded, oppressed, enslaved, and covered 90% of the world.

This historical reflection serves as a stern lesson to autocracies such as Russia and China, as well as current serial invaders like the USA and UK. The act of occupying a country can lead to centuries of war and countless deaths.

In conclusion, successfully invading a country isn’t the end of your problems; it is merely the beginning.