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For a Better South Asian Neighborhood

Context

Recent developments — in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan — underline the geographic imperative that binds India to its neighbours in the Subcontinent.

Relevance

GS-II: India and its Neighborhood- Relations.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Need for intensive regional cooperation for managing the new dangers
  • Hope for transcending internal divide between India and Sri Lanka
  • Relations with Nepal and role of cultural ties
  • Recent trends in India-Pakistan relations
  • Way Forward

Need for intensive regional cooperation for managing the new dangers

  • Working with the logic of geography has become an unavoidable necessity amidst the deepening regional and global crises accentuated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • As higher oil and food prices trigger inflation and popular unrest across the region, more intensive regional cooperation is one of the tools for managing the new dangers.

Hope for transcending internal divide between India and Sri Lanka

  • India’s relations with Sri Lanka underline the importance of continuous tending of political geography.
  • Tradition of hosting political exile: India has had a long tradition of hosting political exiles from the region.
  • Whether it was the Dalai Lama from Tibet or Prachanda from Nepal, Delhi has welcomed leaders from the neighborhood taking shelter in India.
  • Negative consequences: There is a dangerous flip side to this positive tradition in the Subcontinent.
  • India has paid a high price for the decision in the early 1980s to train and arm Sri Lankan Tamil rebels.
  • Hope for transcending internal divide: The current crisis in Sri Lanka raised hopes for transcending the internal ethnic divide in the island nation and rebuilding political confidence between Colombo and Delhi.
  • Material and financial support to Sri Lanka: Delhi’s unstinting support — both material and financial — for Colombo during this unprecedented economic and political crisis has generated much goodwill in Sri Lanka.

Relations with Nepal and role of cultural ties

  • Possibilities in cultural geography: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal, highlights the immense possibilities of cultural geography in reshaping the Subcontinent’s regional relations.
  • The idea of a “Buddhist circuit” connecting the various pilgrimage sites across the India-Nepal border has been around for a long time.
  • India and Nepal have come together in developing the Buddhist circuit.
  • Religion and culture are deeply interconnected in South Asia.
  • Developing all religious pilgrimage sites across the region, and improving the transborder access to them could not only improve tourist revenues of all the South Asian nations, but could also have a calming effect on the troubled political relations
  • That China has built a new airport near Lumbini and Modi is avoiding it points to the turbulent triangular dynamic between Delhi, Kathmandu, and Beijing.
  • Revitalizing the shared cultural geography inevitably involves better management of economic geography.
  • Infrastructure development on Indian side: The last few years have seen the Indian government step up on infrastructure development on the Indian side and accelerate transborder transport and energy connectivity in the eastern subcontinent.

Recent trends in India-Pakistan relations

  • Cultural ties: Despite their frozen bilateral political relationship, Delhi and Islamabad had agreed to open the Kartarpur corridor at the end of 2019 across their militarized Punjab border.
  • There is much more to be done on reconnecting the Subcontinent’s sacred geographies — including the Ramayana trail and Sufi shrines.
  • While parts of the region are aligning their policies with the geographic imperative, Pakistan would seem to be an exception.
  • Ignoring the geographic imperative: Given the depth of its macro economic crisis and massive inflation, one might have thought Pakistan would want to expand trade ties with India in its own economic interest.
  • But Pakistan’s politics are hard-wired against the logic of geography.
  • Delhi had little reason to believe that Pakistan’s new government can alter its self-defeating policy towards India.
  • But it must continue to bet that the geographic imperative will eventually prevail over Islamabad’s policies.

Way Forward

Realists might want to argue that current trends in the Subcontinent point to India’s growing agency in shaping its neighbourhood and that Pakistan will not forever remain an exception. For Delhi, the policy question is whether India can do something to hasten the inevitable change in Pakistan.

Source – The Indian Express

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November 2022
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