India’s neighborhood was witnessing increased Chinese presence when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over office in May last year. Experts blamed this trend on India’s passive neighborhood policy which allowed China to fill in the vacuum left by India in South Asia. It was also a classic example of hedging strategy practiced by small nations confronted with presence of two big powers in a regional sub-system.
PM Modi made it a point to reassure Indian neighbors by inviting all the heads of SAARC nations to his swearing-in ceremony. He soon followed it with visits to Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. However, the recent developments have gone on to show that India’s relations with some of its neighbors are not on the right track.
India-Pakistan NSA level talks were called off in August this year. The ensuing war of words saw Pakistan NSA, Sartaj Aziz accusing India of being a regional superpower. He went on to issue a nuclear threat, saying Pakistan was a nuclear power which knew how to defend itself. After the break down of the talks, Pakistan has been trying to internationalize the Kashmir issue. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif described Kashmir as “a flashpoint” between India and Pakistan during his US visit and expressed need for a third party mediation to resolve the issue and end stalemate in the Indo-Pak dialogue process. Army Chief General Raheel Sharif too highlighted Kashmir issue during his recent US visit.
There are no efforts from either side to engage each other and the further details of the dialogue process are not clear.
India’s relations have also soured with Nepal in recent months. India objected to Nepal’s new constitution draft, saying it did not address concerns of Madhesis and Tharus. Madhesis took to violence and a number of people were killed in clashes with the police. Political parties stood united against India while citizens in Nepal protested against India. Madhesis blocked trade and fuel supplies passing from India to Nepal.
Things did not stop here. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, India criticized Nepal’s human rights record, especially in dealing with the Madhesi agitation. India also demanded legal action against those guilty of human rights violations during the years of insurgency in Nepal. A joint statement issued by Britain and India during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK, advised Nepal to address the prevailing grievances of different sections of the people and create a condition for stability and economic prosperity. Nepal objected to the joint statement.
India-Nepal standoff allowed China to make inroads in Nepal yet again. China sent fuel supplies to Nepal and also opened trade routes that were closed during Nepal earthquake.
India’s relations with Maldives too look shaky as Maldives is currently witnessing political instability. Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a one-month emergency recently. The defence minister, the police chief and the vice-president are already behind the bars. Yameen has used the possibility of a threat to his life as a reason to do away with almost all political opposition to him and his government.
The Maldives government has recently allowed foreign ownership of its islands under President Abdullah Yameen. This could allow China to establish naval base in Maldives in future which would be a big worry for Indian security concerns. President Abdulla Yameen is believed to have told External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her Maldives trip that his government will not tolerate foreign interference in domestic issues.
It looks that India needs to spend better diplomatic effort and energy in dealing with its small neighbors and put its neighborhood policy on track.