“Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”

neighbor

This is an important message which every person must imbibe. India and more importantly Modi must learn to conform to this message. India believes it can one day be on the cusp of attaining an impregnable status not only in its dodgy neighborhood but also worldwide. For it to attain this objective it must show that being the leader comes naturally to it. So far, our foreign policy has been dictated by concerns of local populace, as in the case of our relations with Sri Lanka, being conformist to the agenda of Tamilians. We have not devolved a clear agenda on our neighbors and whilst being seen as a big bully in our neighborhood, we can never claim the Permanent Seat on the UNSC that we so desire. In my opinion, so far, India has failed to develop envious relations with any country, except maybe Russia in the past. Under Modi, one could see glimpses of a change in this field evident by the fact that he invited all the SAARC heads for his swearing-in ceremony, the focus being on Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif. Of late, however, our relations with our aggressive neighbor have dampened owing to the incessant shelling and firing across the international border. Following are our major concerns regarding our immediate neighbors whose instability can spell our doom.

 

Pakistan

India foreign policy without Pakistan is like bread without butter. They go hand in glove. One must see India as the big brother here, due to its stability and greater economic as well as military prowess. Therefore, the onus lies on India to move ahead with the process and prevent adjournments motivated by separatists and infiltrators. However, that said, Pakistan is not absolved of the responsibility of maintaining peace. Pakistan must realize that India as an enemy poses significantly large economic disadvantages to it. While India has granted Pakistan the Most-Favored Nation (MFN) Status in terms of trade, Pakistan has still not extended the same courtesy. Bilateral trade between the two nations is still negligible and Pakistan must frame the season for its own harvest. War is not an option, citing the importance India places on its economy and the presence of nuclear arsenal. The focus must be on the economy and not on militancy and while India can flex its muscles all it can want, it realizes that war with Pakistan is not an option.

China

India-China relations have never been warm. While on the outside their leaders may shake hands but the borders always paint the true picture. As evidenced by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s visit to India recently, marked by a border stand-off, to show India its right place in the relations. While relations between Nehru and Zhou Enlai were friendly to say the least, they took a volatile turn after India’s tough stand on the border issue, ultimately resulting in the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962.

China still dominates the bilateral trade and cheap Chinese products have flooded the Indian market while Indian firms have been facing significant restriction in the Chinese market. There is no doubt as to who the dominant partner is in this relation, again owing to China’s frightening military and economic prowess. China’s foreign policy is much more evolved and it involves keeping Pakistan much closer than India would like. China has also been involved in an encirclement policy in the Indian Ocean Region establishing ties with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. While Chinese influence in Nepal puts India on the back foot, India’s relations with Vietnam or Japan cannot attract similar fears among the Chinese.

India must be weary of the Chinese as they can never even be fair-weather friends (let alone all-weather friends) but are at most ‘not enemies’. India must not only maintain a strong stance on the border without pandering to the Chinese but also keep them at arm’s length. A conflict with China will most certainly spell doom for our economy without ruffling their feathers.

Nepal

Nepal is an important buffer state for India with respect to China. Nepal’s strength and sovereignty must be as important to us as ours owing to its geo-political importance and our cultural ties. Historically, India has been seen as a big bully by Nepal due to the influence (read interference) we have on its internal politics. This has started to dawn on the government in recent times owing to China’s policy of encirclement, Nepal being an important pawn of China in this game. China’s investment in Nepal has been on the rise while our bureaucracy and disastrous foreign policy has meant that India’s influence is starting to wane. Modi, importantly, has understood Nepal’s strategic importance and is leaving no stone unturned in extending credit lines and inking hydropower projects. India must realize that the fruits of its economic expansion must accrue to Nepal if it wants to end Chinese influence on its policies.

Bangladesh

As a nation, Bangladesh must owe us one for helping them attain freedom, although we didn’t assist them totally out of the goodness of our heart. However, tensions have existed ever since its independence over the sharing of water from the Teesta river and infiltration. Bangladeshi refugees residing in Assam have become an important poll issue for many parties. Again, Bangladesh has seen considerable Chinese investment and China exercises a good deal of influence here as well. India has been caught off guard as its Bangladesh hasn’t been able to reap the fruits of our economic progress and enmity has thrived over time. Redrawing of the boundary is a must. Engaging in much more economic dialogue has great advantages for us from a political point of view.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a very important nation national security-wise and a rare friend in the neighborhood. In Afghanistan’s stability lies India’s security. Once the inevitable American forces pull-out begins, the Taliban will have a free hand. Its influence will extend over Pakistan and India will see some spill-over effect. Over the years our investment in Afghanistan has risen and India has also helped train Afghan soldiers and doctors. India’s warm relations with the former Afghan PM Hamid Karzai greatly irked Pakistan. Pakistan has been kept busy on the Afghan front and this reduces its capabilities in Kashmir. Afghanistan can become an important all if India decides to pursue an aggressive policy on Pakistan.

Sri Lanka

The island nation is perhaps India’s Vietnam. India has had dark experiences with Sri Lanka and this has left a bad taste in our mouth. The policy towards Sri Lanka has always been seen the through the prism of the Tamil Nadu populace whose brethren form Sri Lanka’s exploited minority. Sri Lanka is a crucial ally for China, which has already docked a submarine here officially.  In order to thwart any Chinese influence here, investment is the only answer. So while China builds world-class ports in Sri Lanka, what have we been doing? We have been engaging in bitter battles of exchange of poor fishermen who stray in each other’s territories. India must explore new avenues of foreign policy with regard to Sri Lanka instead of acting like the big brother.

Therefore, one must realize that for far too long we have been the big bully in the neighborhood. Our neighbors resent our economic growth for the simple reason that we don’t share it. India’s leadership in SAARC has been nothing but ordinary up till now with no major successes. We are allowing China to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean Region, which has curtailed our influence. Unless we learn to take our neighbors hand-in-hand and show that we can lead South Asia, we do not deserve to sit at the big boys’ table. India has immediate economic and security concerns in South Asia which if left unaddressed can develop into major rivalries. We have been to interfering which paints us as a hypocrite when we cry foul upon Pakistan’s calls to the UN for resolution of the Kashmir issue. Modi has to realize that foreign policy is intricate as running the nation and you can only make friends with muscle power or money power in this region, both of which China hasn’t been afraid to throw around.