India and its Neighbours

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  1. nandu

    nandu Senior Member Senior Member

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    India and its Neighbours

    By Kanwal Sibal

    It is considered almost axiomatic that management of relations with neighbours should be the first priority of any country’s foreign policy. The stakes are always high as conditions in its immediate vicinity directly impact on a country. An unfriendly neighbourhood means tensions and a heightened danger of conflict. That implies more military expenditure and diversion of resources away from the economy to meet security needs. Such an environment also creates opportunities for external powers to interfere and distort local relationships. The advantages that flow from mutually beneficial trade arrangements are reduced or lost. A country’s ability to pursue its interests beyond its neighbourhood is also impaired if it is constantly distracted by problems around it. Its political and diplomatic credibility too suffers at the international level if it is seen as being unable to settle its differences with countries at its own door step.

    A stable, friendly and peaceful, neighbourhood, on the contrary, helps to reduce additional political, economic and military burdens on a country. Its capacity to act on a regional or even global platform- depending on its size, strength and resources- is enhanced if it has the support and understanding of its neighbours. At a time when regional arrangements and organisations are seen as instruments for advancing collective regional interests, a fractious neighbourhood can mean collective loss.

    To examine India’s relations with its neighbours in this context, the extent of its neighbourhood would need to be defined. Should we look at India’s strategic neighbourhood or its geographical one? If it is the first then the entire region from the Straits of Hormuz to the Straits of Malacca should be considered. In actual fact, if India had not been partitioned in 1947 and Pakistan hived off it, its western frontier would have extended to the Persian Gulf. In the east, the Andaman and Nicobar islands stretch India’s frontiers to the vicinity of Indonesia. If, however, geographical neighbours alone are to be considered, then we have to confine ourselves to Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar. Oddly, Myanmar has not figured sufficiently in our political consciousness as our neighbour, despite the fact that it is contiguous to our troubled north-eastern states and we have vital security interests to protect in developing close ties with it. Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN has contributed to blurring its identity as our direct neighbour, but its step in May 2008 to seek full membership of SAARC should help us to focus more on that relationship. Afghanistan presents a case of India’s political frontiers not coinciding with strictly legal ones in view of Pakistan’s illegal occupation of the northern areas of Jammu and Kashmir. However, with Afghanistan’s full membership of SAARC, it becomes in practical terms an integral part of our neighbourhood. Historically, China and India have never been contiguous, but China’s occupation of Tibet has made it as our direct neighbour.

    While in theory the case for a peaceful, stable and friendly neighbourhood is quite clear, how can such objective be achieved in practice? How can such balance of interests be created that would bind neighbours in friendly ties? Is it contingent on reciprocity or is the bigger and stronger country required to make unilateral concessions? How can fears, prejudices, the weight of history, traditional animosities and such factors be overcome? Is a smaller country entitled to greater consideration simply because of its size?

    The role of third countries is important as countries have relationships that go beyond their immediate neighbourhood. In today’s globalized world different pulls and pressures operate, helpful or harmful to the interest of individual countries depending on circumstances. Countries look for alliances and partnerships beyond their own region for advancing their own political, economic or security interests. Smaller countries fearful of being overwhelmed by bigger neighbours have interest in seeking ties with external countervailing powers. They, in turn, may have strategic interest in containing regionally influential powers in order to create more space for themselves. Countries cannot act in their neighbourhood as they please purely on the basis of power equations, as more demanding norms of state conduct act as a restraining influence, international opinion reduces freedom of action, especially on humanitarian grounds, and the economic cost of conflict has become less bearable by societies aspiring for higher growth and prosperity.

    There is much self-criticism in India about the state of our relations with our neighbours. It is argued that India as the biggest country in the region has the main responsibility for regional stability. India is criticized for not being sufficiently generous to its neighbours, for reluctance to make unilateral concessions to build confidence and earn trust and goodwill. Such concessions are especially advocated on the economic side in the conviction that India’s interest is served by integrating the neighbouring, much smaller economies, with its large and growing economy, and in the process contributing to rising regional prosperity and positively influencing political attitudes because of the creation of durable linkages. India is also faulted for unsatisfactory border management, failure to create proper border posts and customs infrastructure as well as poor connectivity, all manifestations of a culpable insensitivity to neighbourly needs.

    Such criticism overlooks many complexities and exaggerates India’s capacity to manage its neighbourhood to meet its internal and external needs. India’s internal weaknesses that prevent it from exerting its weight decisively in its neighbourhood are disregarded. On many issues of national interest India’s internal thinking is divided and consensus is lacking. That its legal, political and administrative system hampers it from taking hard decisions clearly in its own interest is ignored. This applies to the proper management of its open or porous borders, large scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India etc. India’s federal structure accounts for some of the deficiencies. A coherent centre-state level effort to deal with those countries contiguous with Indian states is yet lacking. Electoral considerations, self-absorption in our own problems that are of sub-continental dimensions are other reasons why requisite priority is not given to the need to forge an effective policy towards neighbours. India’s size and power may be intimidating, but the neighbours have experience of India’s reluctance to react to provocations, except in extreme circumstances, and believe therefore that they have considerable room for tilting against our interests for one reason or another.

    India’s record in shaping developments in its neighbourhood is poor. It intervened in Sri Lanka, but its withdrawal in difficult conditions led it to abjure an intrusive role there even as the ethnic conflict persevered and other countries exhorted it to take responsibility for steering the peace process to success. It stood largely aloof from developments leading to the defeat of the LTTE, and it is doubtful that it is ready to play a decisive role in helping the triumphant Sri Lankan government to close the last chapter of the Tamil question on a equitable basis. India intervened more successfully in the Maldives at the request of its government, but that specific episode does not constitute a model for future Indian actions to ensure regional stability. The intervention in East Pakistan fell in a different category. Apart from its immediate causes, especially the flow of millions of refugees into India, it is Pakistan’s unremitting hostility towards India, and its use of subversion, infiltration and use of armed force to assert its territorial claim on Kashmir that prompted our intervention. In Bangladesh’s case, India did not intervene when anti-Indian forces took over power there and for decades pursued unfriendly policies. In Nepal, India cooperated in the rise to power of forces traditionally hostile to it in the interest of a stable Nepalese polity. India is loath to micromanage Nepal’s internal affairs even though developments there seriously impinge on its security. All in all, India is a benign and non-interfering neighbour, with elastic red lines because of a disinclination to resort to intimidation or seek confrontation.

    India’s tolerant attitude towards its neighbours is reflected in its handling of the issue of democracy in its neighbourhood. Its basic approach is to do business with whichever government is in power. Even while being aware that a truly democratic system in Pakistan would limit the power of both the armed forces and extremist groups and would benefit India-Pakistan ties, India has remained pragmatic in its willingness to do business with Pakistan’s military regimes, especially that of General Musharraf. Likewise, India has engaged with military regimes in Bangladesh without any fuss. In the case of Myanmar, ignoring international diplomatic flak, India has sought to build functional ties with the military junta there for reasons of overriding national interest. While cherishing its own democratic system, India believes in an approach of live and let live when it comes to propagation of democracy worldwide.

    India, despite its size and power, is, ironically, the biggest victim of terrorism directed against it from within its neighbourhood. Its cities, streets, religious sites, scientific institutions and economic centres have been targeted by Pakistan for years with impunity, culminating in the Mumbai terrorist carnage. It is now living under the shadow of another Mumbai like attack, which if it were to happen, could well lead to reprisals by India despite the risks involved. Pakistan’s unwillingness to deal with the perpetrators of the Mumbai mayhem, and its selective combat against the Pakistan Taliban who are causing domestic mayhem and absence of action both against the Afghan Taliban targeting the international forces in Afghanistan and the Panjab based jihadis targeting India, shows the failure of the international community to deal with the complex terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan. It is not only India that has failed to manage its relations with Pakistan; the international community is now experiencing the truculent nature of that country. Pakistan feels no real compulsion to abjure terrorism as an instrument of state policy. India by itself lacks the capacity to coerce Pakistan to do so, especially as Pakistan now has the nuclear cover for its lawless activities. Pakistan sees the extremist religious forces that resort to terrorism as allies against India and potentially in the takeover of Afghanistan after the western forces depart.

    Within the SAARC region, apart from the Karzai government castigating Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror, other countries remain reticent. All, barring Bhutan, have interest in maintaining good ties with Pakistan for motives that include leveraging Pakistan’s hostility towards India to their own advantage, countering the threat of Indian domination, constraining India’s freedom of action within the region, as well as the need to politically manage their own Muslim communities. SAARC conventions on combating terrorism remain on paper given Pakistan’s complicity with terrorist groups. Pakistan in fact uses Nepal and Bangladesh for infiltrating terrorists into India, or, in the case of Bangladesh, using local extremists for targeting India.

    The debate about unilateral concessions versus reciprocity misses a basic point. A big country has no less responsibility than a small one to legitimately maximise its own interests. No country can sustain a policy of making unilateral concessions. Those who advocate such concessions overlook the conduct of the US, and far more relevant to our situation, that of China. Has China made unilateral concessions to its neighbours on core issues? It is not ready to make any such concessions to us on the border issue in the interest of forging a long term friendly relationship between the two largest countries in the world whose cooperation can radically change the existing balance in international affairs. India has tried a policy of unilateral concessions towards neighbours in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, but with no lasting results. It is ultimately a question of pragmatism. If making a concession in one area can yield a return in another area, it should be made. Reciprocity need not be symmetrical. If Bangladesh, as is the case now, is more cooperative in dealing with anti-Indian insurgents sheltering on its territory, India would find it politically easier to meet some of its demands on the commercial side even if some domestic lobbies are opposed.

    The problem of unilateralism or reciprocity can be addressed more easily through the framework of SAARC. Unfortunately, Pakistan has from the start worked to limit progress within SAARC so that its own policy of linking improvement of relations with India to a resolution of the Kashmir problem does not get undermined. For this reason, it has yet not adhered to its obligations to India under SAFTA. Indeed, Pakistan’s obstructive policies account for poor economic integration in the SAARC region. India’s FTA with Thailand and now with the ASEAN as a whole reflects India’s readiness to take forward looking steps to enhance mutual trade for building mutual prosperity. Now that Afghanistan has joined SAARC, common sense would dictate that Pakistan accord transit rights through its territory to facilitate Afghanistan’s trade with India as part of the process of stabilising Afghanistan.

    India’s physical domination of its neighbourhood creates problems which it cannot master. Most of its neighbours are very small in comparison, geographically, demographically and economically. Even Pakistan, is less than 15 percent of India’s size demographically and economically and not too much more geographically. India and its neighbours share strong civilisational, cultural, linguistic and ethnic ties. This reality makes the neighbouring countries feel insecure in their separate identities. As identity is a core constituent of a sense of nationhood, these countries foster it by consciously asserting their distinct identities. As a corollary, India is projected as a threat and a hegemonic. This serves the objective of the political classes in these countries to rally the people behind them on a nationalist platform against India’s “bullying” tactics.

    The ethnic links, such as those of the Madhesis in Nepal’s Terai region and Sri Lankan Tamils with India also generates tensions. These sections of the population are not as yet fully integrated into the societies in which they live and suffer from disabilities and discriminatory treatment. They are either suspected for their extra-territorial loyalties or are seen as instruments of Indian influence, or the sympathy and support they receive from groups in India create an atmosphere of distrust in bilateral relations.

    India cannot prevent the neighbouring countries from seeking, for reasons of realpolitik, to balance India’s weight by inviting external powers into the region. This gives them greater margin of manoeuvre vis a vis India, added scope for extorting more concessions from it, as well as making themselves more eligible for economic and military assistance from powers wanting to constrain India’s rise or imposing costs on India for pursuing independent policies. Pakistan, in its obsessive pursuit of “parity” with India and a pathological refusal to accept any status of inferiority vis a vis it, has been most responsible for strategically bringing outside powers into the sub-continent. As against India’s nonaligned choice during the Cold War, Pakistan chose to join all possible US-led military blocks against “communism”. It obtained as a result massive amounts of military aid from the US, that in turn emboldened it to pursue its Kashmir agenda aggressively. After the 1962 India-China conflict, Pakistan got an opportunity to use China to counter India, even as it maintained its relationship with the western block. Pakistan and China, in their shared hostility towards India, have forged their “all weather friendship”. The Pakistan-China nexus has sought to permanently neutralize India strategically by transfers of nuclear weapon and missile technology to Pakistan. Significantly, the US has been complaisant, as it too has favoured a strategic balance between India and Pakistan in the belief that this is needed to ensure peace and stability in South Asia. Today China is Pakistan’s biggest defence supplier. The US too has begun supplying advanced arms to Pakistan as part of its policy to reward it for its cooperation in helping combat the insurgency in Afghanistan. Pakistan is now the recipient of arms assistance from the world’s foremost democracy and its foremost authoritarian state.

    US policy of hyphenating India and Pakistan was decisively abandoned by the Bush Administration in its approach to the nuclear question in South Asia, though it sought to balance its new approach to India by declaring Pakistan a “non-NATO ally”. With the change of Administration in the US and the Afghanistan quagmire in which it is caught, Pakistan has been pressing for the involvement of the US in India-Pakistan issues, especially Kashmir, to re-create a degree of re-hyphenation. To resist US demands to step up operations against the Taliban groups targeting the international forces in Afghanistan, it has argued about the danger to its security from the east, that is, India, again to bring India into the US-Pakistan equation. It has not helped its case with the US by resisting action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage and avoiding action against the Afghan Taliban targeting the international forces in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in view of US dependence on Pakistan for its Afghanistan operations and Pakistan’s cynical policies, India is unable to mobilize sufficient US support for forcing Pakistan to end its linkages with terrorism by using the military and economic leverages at its disposal. In Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Indian and US policies have converged far more than was the case in the past, with the result that the governments of these countries are no longer able to use US weight to counter the Indian “hegemony”.

    China, with its increased political, economic and military weight, is stepping up its presence in countries around India. It is pursuing its strategic interests in Pakistan, with current activity in the nuclear field, major road and power projects in POK and involvement in Gwadar. In Afghanistan China is investing heavily in the mineral sector and a railway link. It is likely to accept an opening to the Taliban as insurance for the stakes it is developing in Afghanistan within the framework of its strategic relations with Pakistan. In Nepal it is becoming more assertive in demanding equal treatment with India in terms of our respective treaties with that country. With the Maoists now a powerful political force in Nepal, and given their ideological compulsion to be seen as drawing Nepal closer to China, coupled with their periodic ranting calculated to inflame public opinion against India, the political terrain has become more favourable for China. This can only make India’s task in handling Nepal more difficult. The political and social turmoil in Nepal, with its internal fractures becoming sharper, will continue to cause India serious political headaches. India cannot be indifferent to developments in Nepal because of its border with Tibet, open border with India, the need to prevent linking between the Indian and Nepalese Maoists, not to mention ISI’s mischief making in India through Nepal. At the same time, India cannot openly interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs as that would give a handle to anti-Indian elements there to excite domestic opinion against India.

    China’s position in Bangladesh is entrenched. Even Sheikh Hasina’s friendly government would see it in its interest to maintain close ties with a rising China and the benefits that can bring, including giving India an incentive to woo Bangladesh more. China has earned the gratitude of the Sri Lankan government by supplying it arms that helped in defeating the LTTE. Sri Lanka, along with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Maldives, are targets for China’s naval ambitions in the Indian Ocean area to protect its vital lines of communication through these waters. The so-called “string of pearls” strategy, with commercial goals in view in the short term and military goals in the longer term, includes construction of new port facilities in select countries. To promote these objectives China is bound to step up further its engagement with these countries, especially with increasing material means at its disposal, posing further challenges to India’s interests in its neighbourhood.

    India will not be able to shape its immediate environment optimally for its interests in the foreseeable future. Unless Pakistan is ready to end its politics of confrontation with India, that includes the over-assertion of its Islamic identity, the fostering of the jihadi mentality, the nurturing of extremist religious groups involved in terrorism and the political domination of the military in the governance of the country, the SAARC region will remain under stress. An India-Pakistan reconciliation will of course radically change the internal dynamics in South Asia and the quality of the region’s engagement with the rest of the world. The role of external powers in the region will also get substantially modified.

    Afghanistan presents grave potential problems. If the extremist religious forces ultimately win there, the strategic space for them will expand enormously, with deeply adverse consequences for the region. A triumphant radical Islamic ideology can be destabilising for the religiously composite societies of South Asia. The increasing Talibanisation of Pakistan would be most deleterious for the South Asian environment. Pressure on India would grow.

    The prospects for a border settlement with China remain distant. China has, on the contrary, increased tensions by making aggressive claims on Arunachal Pradesh. India’s military infrastructure in the north is being upgraded in the face of mounting Chinese intransigence on the border issue. China’s hardened posture towards the Dalai Lama and Tibet cannot but retard a resolution of India-China issues. China, meanwhile, continues to build up Pakistan against India. It is quite likely that China’s pressure on Arunachal Pradesh is intended to deter India from taking advantage of a Pakistan currently in disarray. The tactical alliance between India and China at the Copenhagen climate summit should not obscure the deeper sources of India-China problems.

    The political drift in Nepal portends continuing instability there with all its deleterious consequences for the economy. India has to play its role without getting embroiled in domestic controversies to the extent possible, though traditionally anti-Indian forces there would continue to propagate the canard of overbearing Indian interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. The development of Nepal’s energy resources can re-shape Nepal’s economy and its relations with India, but the history of failed attempts to do so in the past suggests caution in expecting a breakthrough.

    With the Sheikha Hasina government in power in Bangladesh India’s relations with that country seem set to improve. Bangladesh is showing an unprecedented willingness to deny safe havens to anti-India insurgents and discuss transit issues. The recent visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister promises to “launch a new phase” in the ties between the two countries. If despite internal resistance from anti-Indian elements and the bureaucracy, India-Bangladesh relations can be steadily transformed, it will considerably improve the political and economic dynamics of the region. Bangladesh can play a positive part in linking the eastern region of South Asia to Myanmar, Thailand and beyond. A solution however has to be found, to the problem of illegal Bangladeshi migration into India.

    The commencement of a dialogue between the US and the Myanmar junta validates India’s policy towards that country. If the US has woken up to the danger of leaving China to consolidate its hold over Myanmar, it is all to the good. India needs to implement its assistance projects, especially the multi-modal transport ones, without further delay. We have to contend with China’s much more purposeful approach in strengthening its strategic presence in our neighbourhood, including using Myanmar’s ports for increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean area.

    India’s very cordial relations with the Maldives need to nurtured, especially in view of the attention it is receiving from China at the highest level. In Sri Lanka, the heady feeling of triumph at eliminating the LTTE needs tempering and a permanent solution that the Tamils can live with should be encouraged with India’s discreet prodding.

    Bhutan has been the only real success story in terms of India’s relations with its neighbours. This underscores the point that good relations between India and its neighbours depend not only on wise policies on our side, but, equally, the pursuit of wise policies by our partners, with Pakistan and China and other external interests not allowed to upset the building of positive equations to mutual advantage.

    Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary of India

    http://www.indiandefencereview.com/2010/05/india-and-its-neighbours.html#more-2305
     
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  3. nandu

    nandu Senior Member Senior Member

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    Dhaka to allow passage for Indian goods to Tripura

    Bangladesh has signed an accord to finalise transhipment deal with India to allow Indian goods to be transported to its northeastern Tripura State.

    Bangladesh Shipping Secretary Abdul Mannan Hawladar confirmed the signing of the accord on Monday. “I have just signed the agreement declaring Ashuganj as a new port of call,” he told the official news agency BSS. Through this accord, heavy Indian consignments for the Palatana power Project in Tripura will be transported through Bangladesh.

    Under this deal, in line with the decision reached during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in January this year, Bangladesh's Ashuganj port would be the second transhipment point and fifth port of call in Bangladesh.

    India has already declared Shilghat as the port of call.

    The Indian government sent the signed-up agreement last week to be countersigned by Dhaka. New Delhi had been seeking to let them use Ashuganj, 49 km off the Tripura border, as a transhipment point since 1980s. Earlier reports said the Shipping Ministry has already formulated a Tk 2.5-billion project to make Ashuganj well equipped to handle the heavy Indian cargoes. The project is expected to complete by 2013.

    The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority officials said preparations were under way to transform Ashuganj into a modern port and renovate the 49 km- road from the port to the Tripura border, with New Delhi bearing the cost.

    The officials said Bangladesh decided to consider its decision as “test case” to allow New Delhi to use its territory, responding to the long Indian request for transit. Dhaka will then move with other proposals of various modes.

    http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/article444093.ece
     
  4. nandu

    nandu Senior Member Senior Member

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    End row over maritime boundary: B'desh to India

    Dhaka: Bangladesh is open to "an amicable settlement" of its maritime boundary disputes with India and Myanmar though it has sought UN involvement, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni has said.

    "We have kept open options for an amicable settlement through bilateral discussions of the maritime boundary disputes with India and Myanmar," the minister said on Sunday.

    The three countries have made overlapping claims because of the funnel-like coastline. The upper reaches of the Bay of Bengal are coveted by all three for exploration of hydrocarbons.

    An international tribunal formed under the UN aegis for speedy resolution of disputes over maritime boundaries has called Bangladesh and India to Germany to discuss arbitration procedures.

    Dhaka, Moni said, was scheduled to submit a memorandum to the UN body claiming its authority over its territorial waters adjacent to Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal by July 01.

    When Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited New Delhi in January, the two countries agreed on the need for an amicable demarcation of the maritime boundary.

    http://www.zeenews.com/news633818.html
     

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