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Focus: GS-II International Relations


  • As India-China border tensions continue to fester China is chipping away at India’s interests in South Asia.
  • China’s proximity to Pakistan, Nepal moving closer to China and China wooing Bangladesh by offering tariff exemption to 97% of Bangladeshi products – can be a major cause for concern.
  • Most South Asian nations are now largely dependent on China for imports despite geographical proximity to India.

Reinvigorating SAARC

  • Several foreign policy experts argue that India’s strategic dealing with China has to begin with South Asia.
  • In this regard, it is important to reinvigorate SAARC as India’s political interest in SAARC dipped significantly (due to increasing animosity with Pakistan).
  • India has been trying hard to isolate Pakistan internationally for its role in promoting terrorism in India.

What about Bimstec?

  • India has invested in other regional instruments, such as BIMSTEC, as an alternative to SAARC, however, BIMSTEC cannot replace SAARC for reasons such as lack of a common identity and history among all BIMSTEC members.
  • Moreover, BIMSTEC’s focus is on the Bay of Bengal region, thus making it an inappropriate forum to engage all South Asian nations.

How to revive SAARC?

  • Reviving the process of South Asian economic integration is an important step as South Asia is one of the least integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade teetering at barely 5% of total South Asian trade, compared to 25% of intra-regional trade in the ASEAN region.
  • India should take the lead and work with its neighbours to slash the tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • There’s a need to resuscitate the negotiations on a SAARC investment treaty, pending since 2007.
  • The SAARC region can likewise benefit from higher intra-SAARC investment flows.

Domestic challenges

There are two major domestic challenges that India faces in revitalising SAARC:

  1. There has been an unrelenting top-dressing of anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobia on the Indian soil- to reap political dividends at home. There’s also a recurrent use of the ‘Bangladeshi migrant’ rhetoric. It dents India’s soft power of being a liberal and secular democracy, which gives moral legitimacy to India’s leadership in the region.
  2. The economic vision with slogans of atma nirbharta (self-reliance) and ‘vocal for local’ should not indicate a return to the obsolete economic philosophy of import substitution. If this marks sliding back to protectionism, one is unsure if India will be interested in deepening South Asian economic integration.

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-Source: The Hindu

March 2024