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Factors Responsible for Troubled Neighbourhood Relations
India’s relations within its immediate and extended neighbourhood are seeing a downturn.
Following recent events show evidence for the same:
- Ongoing standoff between armies along LAC with China.
- Nepal’s constitution amendment to update maps in the border row and increased political rhetoric against India.
- Afghanistan peace talks have seen minimal role for India despite billions of dollars of development contribution since the early 2000’s.
- Iran going ahead with Chabahar – Zahedan railway without Indian collaboration by citing delays and also excluding Indian PSU from Farzad B gas field development.
- Increased Chinese infrastructure activities in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Latter has conveyed displeasure against India’s CAA – Citizenship amendment act.
- SAARC has not been functional since 2016
This is in contrast to vibrant ties prior to 2013 where India was seen as a natural leader in the South Asia and Indian ocean region.
Global geopolitics and policies adopted have an impact on regional ties which results in ups and downs. But the downturn in India’s soft power in the neighbourhood is a serious concern. Hence it has to be examined to understand the underlying factors for decline.
India-US partnership and impact on other relations:
India has deepened cooperation with the USA since the early 2000’s.
- Civil nuclear agreement
- Defense and military cooperation:
- Signing foundational agreements like LEMOA(logistics agreement)
- Increased military exercise on large scale like Malabar exercise
- DTTI – Defence Technology and Trade Agreement; Defense framework agreement
- Strategic cooperation in multilateral fora like FATF, UN, Quadrilateral grouping
- People to people ties(students, immigrants)
While deepening this partnership, India has maintained that it pursues strategic autonomy and will not be part of any alliance system.
Yet US policies and Indian response to them are one of the factors in the downturn of relations with Indian neighbours. Following are cases of such:
- Iran: Chabahar port and central asian connectivity has Iran as a pivotal partner for India. Despite agreement for chabahar development in 2003, it got delayed initially due to US sanctions on Iran till P5+1 deal in 2015. After the P5+1 deal India has accelerated the work through tripartite agreement with Iran and afghanistan. But USA has exited the P5+1 deal and reimposed sanctions. Under these sanctions, India has reduced oil imports from Iran to zero. This has been criticized as loss of strategic autonomy and severely impacting traditional ties with Iran. Temporary exclusion from the railway line and Farzad B gas field is seen as Iran’s response to India adopting the US line.
- China: Chinese are perceiving that Indian defense and military cooperation with US is to contain and counter China. This has resulted in Chinese adopting a more aggressive attitude towards India to signal its displeasure. This is reflected in Doklam, 2017; Galwan clashes of 2020.
Domestic politics impacting relations:
CAA(Citizenship amendment act) has offered faster citizenship to persecuted minorities in muslim majority Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. By doing so, it has regionalized domestic problems of countries. Due to this ties with Afghanistan and Bangladesh are impacted directly. In addition, countries with Muslism majority nations like Malaysia, Iran have voiced concerns. Bangladesh in particular has protested CAA and National Register of Citizens(NRC) as well as extreme political rhetoric against Bangladeshis in India.
Abrogation of special status to J&K(Jammu and Kashmir) and bifurcation of state into two UT(Union territories) has impacted India’s relationship with China. Chinese view this as a change in status quo. Chinese aggressive moves in Ladakh can be seen in this context. In addition, prolonged imposition of restrictions on fundamental rights(movement etc) has given propaganda tool for Pakistan.
Nepal’s nationalism has become synonymous to anti Indianism. Political rhetoric and perceptions are that India behaved high handedly during its constitutional crisis in 2015. Further, an updated map of India released in 2020 is shown as evidence of this.
While domestic political considerations in Nepal do play important in rising anti India rhetoric, India must resolutely defend its interests in neighbourhood in a more effective manner. Perceptions of highhandedness must be countered else downturn in relations may ensue.
Use of any forceful methods must be carefully weighed upon. Rising powers must first establish themselves before using more forceful methods as is seen is Chinese strategy from 1970 to 2010.
India has to address the current downturn in ties. Proactive diplomacy must be improved. Foreign policy trajectory must be evaluated continuously to ensure India achieves its strategic goals and autonomy. India’s nuclear deterrence, large military force, naval dominance in Indian ocean region makes it a big power which can influence global events. This strength must be backed up by more strategic depth.
- Discuss the impact of US policies on Indian foreign policy interests? [15 marks, 250 words]