Make the neighbourhood first again :-
India’s neighborhood policy :-
- India’s neighborhood policy is clearly adrift
- New Delhi’s connect with its South Asian neighbors is weaker than it has been for a very long time
Problems faced in regional relationships :-
The first problem is that for various reasons other governments in the SAARC region are either not on ideal terms with New Delhi. For exp :-
- In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone out of his way to challenge the Modi government.
- In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is certainly not India’s first choice.
- And no matter which party is in power in Pakistan, it is difficult to see Delhi pushing for official dialogue.
- In Sri Lanka, the recent local election results that have gone the way of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-backed party could be a portent of his future re-election.
- In Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, elections this year and the next could pose challenges for India.
Impact of China :-
- China opened up an array of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade from the highway to Lhasa, cross-border railway lines to the development of dry ports.
- In Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Pakistan, China holds strategic real estate, which could also be fortified militarily in the future
- China stepped in to negotiate a Rohingya refugee return agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh
- It hosted a meeting of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers to help calm tensions and bring both on board with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connection between them.
- It also offered to mediate between the Maldivian government and the opposition.
Use of hard power tactics in the neighborhood :-
- The “surgical strikes” on Pakistan of 2016 have been followed by a greater number of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration on the Line of Control
- The 2015 Nepal blockade and a subsequent cut in Indian aid channeled through the government did not force the Nepali government to amend its constitution as intended.
- Mr. Modi’s decision to abruptly cancel his visit to Male in 2015 did not yield the required changes in the government’s treatment of the opposition
- New Delhi’s dire warnings about Mr. Yameen’s emergency in the past month have led to the Maldives cancelling its participation in the Indian Navy’s “Milan” exercises.
- Even in Bangladesh, the Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s tough-talking last week about immigration has drawn ire there
Use of soft power
- India’s most potent tool is its soft power
- Its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan have much more to do with its development assistance than its defence assistance.
Opposing China not the solution
Instead of opposing every project by China in the region, the government must attempt a three-pronged approach.
- First, where possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor
- Second, when it feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
- Third, India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention
Learning from ASEAN :-
- SAARC needs to learn from the success of ASEAN
- Leaders of SAARC countries should meet more often informally
- They should interfere less in the internal workings of each other’s governments.
- There should be more interaction at every level of government
Way forward :-
- The government’s challenge is to steer India towards a course where it is both feared and loved in appropriate measure and away from a situation in which it is neither feared nor loved.
Transforming the subcontinent: India-China-Pakistan cooperation :-
- Despite being neighbours, India and Pakistan are among the least integrated nations in the world. Because of their unending mutual hostility, South Asia too has become the least integrated region in the world.
- The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) being the most populous region in the world has also remained home to the largest number of poor people in the world.
Poor integration :-
- There are no direct flights between their capitals — New Delhi and Islamabad.
- The frequency of Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi flights have become minimal.
- At less than $3 billion annually, trade with Pakistan accounts for a meagre 0.4% of India’s growing global commerce.
- On the Indian side, it is said that terror and trade cannot go together. The Narendra Modi government has raised the bar higher — terror and talks cannot go together.
- On the Pakistani side, resolution of the Kashmir issue has become a precondition for any substantial bilateral cooperation.
BRI as part of the solution :-
- A three-way India-China-Pakistan cooperation is possible, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides a practical framework for such partnership.
India Arguments in case of CPEC & Counter arguments :-
India against CPEC :-
- The government’s opposition to the BRI is based, among other things, on the basis that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship project under the BRI, violates India’s sovereignty since it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
- It undermines India’s long-term development and security interests.
Counter-arguments by China & Pakistan :-
- CPEC does not recognise PoK to be Pakistan’s sovereign territory.
- Both China and Pakistan have stated that they are open to India joining CPEC.
- China has also expressed its readiness to rename CPEC suitably to both address India’s concerns and to reflect the project’s expanded regional scope.
Benefits for India :-
- The BRI will connect Lahore and Amritsar (also Delhi and the rest of India), the two sides of Kashmir (which all Kashmir-based political parties want), Sindh and southern Punjab with Gujarat and Rajasthan, and Karachi with Mumbai.
- By joining the renamed CPEC, India would gain land access, through Pakistan, to Afghanistan, Iran, Central Asia and western China.
- The CPEC-plus-India can also be linked to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor, thus creating a grand garland of connectivity and integration for the whole of South Asia.
- The rename CPEC is also indispensable for the success of two other mega projects that are critical for India’s energy security and accelerated economic growth — the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipelines.
Connectivity, cooperation and economic integration are the only realistic bases for any future India-Pakistan settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
- An alternative connectivity project by the “Quadrilateral” of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. This is unlikely to take off. Even if it does, its developmental benefits to India will be limited since it will seek to keep China and Pakistan out.
- India’s gains due to Chabahar are modest, and nowhere comparable to those that would accrue by India having a direct land access to Afghanistan through Pakistan.
- The proposed connectivity initiative would thus create strong new bonds of regional cooperation and interdependence, could also help resolve three long-standing geopolitical problems in the region, in which countless people have been killed — terrorism, Kashmir and Afghanistan.
- To realise this vision of a resurgent South Asia, two obstacles will have to be removed blind nationalism and the unfriendly designs of extra-regional powers.