India’s neighbourhood call for New Delhi needs to refocus on our immediate vicinity
Four developments in our neighbourhood last week ought to have made foreign policy wonks, security analysts and strategic thinkers sit up and take notice. Collectively, they need to advise the Government to refocus its mind and New Delhi’s efforts on our immediate vicinity given constant monitoring and proactive measures are the price we must pay to guarantee our peace with security in this pretty tough neighbourhood.
First, and arguably the most worrisome development of the lot, is the latest manifestation of China’s ‘string of pearls’ or India-encirclement strategy. Beijing has announced through its mouthpiece media that it will be building yet another deep-sea port, this time in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal at Kyaukpyu, in addition to the ports it has established at Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka thereby completing an East, West, South ringing of the Indian peninsula. That this announcement comes after nearly four years of negotiations, also tied to the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, is significant as it implies that China, which has traditionally had friendly ties with the military junta in Myanmar, has also managed to assuage the concerns of the democratic civilian Government guided by Aung San Suu Kyi. This spells trouble for India which has, over the past two decades, been assiduously balancing its historical support for Myanmar pro-democracy forces with the need to engage with the Generals in control of that country. When all three abovementioned ports are fully operational, the Chinese Navy will, theoretically, have access to bases on the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea from which to venture forth as the regional hegemon in control of maritime activity.
There is not much India can do at the moment to offset the massive strategic depth which China is working with single-minded determination to acquire, except to work in an equally focussed manner to ensure we firm up our strategic footholds in the region. To this end, the move by New Delhi to have first backed the Maldivian people’s democratic right to choose a pro-India administration during the recent elections in that country, and now announcing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be travelling to the Maldives to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, is a good start. The Chinese will have to be thwarted in their attempts to muscle India out of the Indian Ocean nation and security-economic deals with the Maldivian Government must be sealed quickly. The other island nation in our vicinity, Sri Lanka, presents a highly unstable scenario. With a General Election now looking imminent there, New Delhi has to do better than it has done in the past to assess and subsequently assist those who are simpatico to India’s concerns among the major contenders. The crucial caveat which must be entered in relation to Sri Lanka, however, remains that Tamil Nadu’s domestic politics must not be allowed to have any bearing on our attempts to engage with Colombo; that, as it has been in the past, would be the kiss of death for India’s efforts to keep Sri Lanka leaning towards India as opposed to tilting towards China as it has tended to in recent years.
Finally, a word on the non-official participation of an Indian delegation in the Russia-initiated Afghan peace summit in Moscow which Taliban representatives are also attending. Obviously, there is no question of engaging in any meaningful manner with the murderous thugs of the Taliban but statecraft requires the articulation of an Indian position that amplifies our respect for the sovereignty of Afghanistan and all stakeholders in the peace process there. If for nothing else, then to keep Pakistan’s influence at bay. Tough times ahead, for sure.
Writer and Courtesy: The Pioneer