Insights into Editorial: For India, it should be neighbourhood first
Indian presence in global matters is increasing.
For the first time, on this year’s republic day, the leaders of ASEAN shared stage with our PM. The historic gathering came just two months after Indian PM visited Manila to attend the ASEAN Summit which coincided with the 25th anniversary of India becoming a partner of ASEAN.
India’s increased presence in West Asia can be demonstrated by the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, and Indian Prime Minister’s latest forays to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Palestine.
Indian PM’s neighbourhood first policy was hailed by many as a radical approach to Indian South Asian neighbours. However, somehow a perception has gained ground that the policy has not delivered on its potential.
These developments also demand India to contemplate and reflect deeply on what is happening in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
What are the India’s recent developments with its neighbourhood?
Recently, India and the ASEAN commemorated 25 years of their partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction, and five years of strategic partnership. ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit was held on the theme “Shared Values, Common Destiny” with a focus on counter-terrorism, security and connectivity.
India has been engaging successfully with West Asia which is in turmoil for several years. India has been working according to its national interests with a more constructive and long term policies. Indian could maintain good relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of oil to India and at the same time India will get operational control of Iran’s Chabahar Port.
India’s West Asia policy has no reason to share hostility of other countries. It is seen in India’s stand against US decision to consider Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
India could successfully handle an Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India just prior to PM’s visit to Palestine, and yet avoid negative fallout. PM, during his Palestine visit could conclude as many as six agreements and express the hope that Palestine would soon emerge as a sovereign independent country in a peaceful manner.
With UAE, trade and economic ties as also counter-terror aspects have been on a growth curve. India and Oman have close naval co-operation and an agreement was reached to give the Indian Navy access to Duqm port
However, India has some troubled relationship with its immediate neighbourhood.
What are the challenges to India in its immediate neighbourhood?
It is in South Asia where troubles are mounting, where India cannot succeed without looking at some hard options.
Dealing with a new government in Nepal or containing prolonged communal and terror related unrest in Bangladesh will need more than fine gestures; they will need far more closer monitoring.
Another and a more imminent challenge for India is to sort out the imbroglio in the Maldives which is threatening to spill out of control. India cannot afford not to be directly engaged in finding a proper solution.
Anti-Indian tendencies under current President have steadily increased and there has been a pronounced tilt in favour of China. Maldives Free trade agreement with China will provide an excellent opportunity to enhance Chinese influence in western Indian Ocean.
Maldives occupies a crucial position along the main shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. The Southern Maldives has long remained an object of interest to the major powers. With the U.S. taking a step back, China has begun to display a great deal of interest in the area. This coincides with Chinese on-going plans to take control of Gwadar Port and establish a naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
The last year ended with a serious ceasefire violations along the Line of Control with 200% increase in number of violations. Pakistan has also not refrained from persisting with its proxies like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the JeM in its war with India. Pakistan shows no sign of altering its anti-India trajectory even after US president’s changed rhetoric on Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s position today is the worst ever since the 1970s. This January, the capital city of Kabul witnessed one of the worst ever incidents of violence anywhere, in which over 100 civilians were killed following a series of terror strikes. This happened despite the presence of foreign troops, elements of the Afghan military and also of the Afghan police.
What is the way out for India?
India cannot afford to remain idle and must come up with a solution early that is consistent with India’s strategic interests. Else it would have far-reaching consequences for India in terms of losing its stranglehold in South Asia.
With Pakistan, India can hardly afford to remain as relaxed and let things slide, without effectively trying to find ways and means to change a situation which is certainly not to our advantage.
Equally vital for India is to try and find a way out of the Afghan problem. The collapse of the Afghan state does have severe consequences for India and nations in the vicinity. As a regional power, India has significant stakes in Afghanistan. India has spent over $2billion in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. So India’s true stake lies in sustaining the future of the Afghan state.
This is something that demands India’s critical attention and specially for a display of its leadership skills.
India’s immediate neighbourhood directly impacts it geopolitically, geo-strategically and geo-economically because of its vicinity. Whatever be the ambit of India’s reach elsewhere, India’s principal focus, hence, will need to be on this neighbourhood.