[Answered]Discuss various features of India’s Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual introduction.

Body. Discuss salient features of India’s Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Conclusion. Way forward.

India shares its geographical boundary with Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. India’s policy towards its immediate neighbourhood is based on efforts to build peace and cooperation in South Asia. Its neighbourhood first policy, accords primacy to nations in periphery with focus on encouraging trade, connectivity and people-to-people contact.

Salient features of India’s Neighbourhood First’ policy:

  1. Immediate priority to neighbours: Priority is to improve the relations with immediate neighbours as peace and tranquillity in South Asia is essential for realizing development agenda. The neighbourhood first policy of actively focuses on improving ties with India’s immediate neighbours.
  2. Dialogue: It focuses on vigorous regional diplomacy by engaging with neighbouring nations and building political connectivity through dialogue. First initiative in this direction was extending an invitation to all heads of government of SAARC countries for the oath taking ceremony of the Prime minister in 2014.
  3. Resolving bilateral issues: Focus is on resolving bilateral issues through mutual agreement. For instance, India and Bangladesh have signed a pact to operationalise the historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA).
  4. Connectivity: India has entered into MoU with members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). These agreements ensures a free flow of resources, energy, goods, labour, and information across borders.
  5. Economic Cooperation: It focuses on enhancing trade ties with neighbours. India has participated and invested in SAARC as a vehicle for development in the region. One such example is the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping for energy development i.e. motor vehicles, waterpower management and inter-grid connectivity.
  6. Technical Cooperation: The policy put emphasis on technical cooperation. Recently a dedicated SAARC satellite was developed to share the fruits of the technology like tele-medicine, e-learning etc. with the people across South Asia.
  7. Disaster management: India’s offer cooperation on disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication and also capabilities and expertise in disaster management for all South Asian citizens. For example, India provided immense assistance to its neighbour Nepal in the aftermath of the 2016 earthquake.
  8. Military and defence cooperation: India is also focusing on deepening security in the region through military cooperation. Various exercises like Surya Kiran with Nepal, Sampriti with Bangladesh aim to strengthen defence relations. Also, India has committed to play a greater role in capacity building of the Afghan National Army by providing training to them.

Various challenges:

  1. Relation with Pakistan: Relation with Pakistan, remains India’s biggest diplomatic and security challenge. India’s challenge is to manage relationships with a state which, openly, uses terror as an instrument of state policy and has fractured, multiple power centres.
  2. Unstable Afghanistan: Afghanistan remains a challenge too. Fragile within and facing state-sponsored external threat from Pakistan, a possible state collapse would spawn jihadist terrorism in all directions from which India is unlikely to remain immune. Indian diplomacy is active in international efforts to stabilise the country.
  3. China: China is another big challenge that is increasing its presence around India. The relationship is marked with suspicion over China’s policy towards Pakistan, including the construction of the Gwadar port. Also, China-Pakistan economic corridor running through POK.
  4. Anti-Indian sentiments: Anti-Indian sentiments are getting rooted in the minds of people of region due to perceived notion of India’s big brother attitude and its economic dependence to India. For instance, the recent step of Demonetization impacted many countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar which use the Indian currency as a parallel currency within their borders.

Way forward:

  1. Transportation: As the largest country, India should be leading to establish cross-border transport and communication links.
  2. Strengthening Markets: India should work with its neighbour in strengthening their markets and its own infrastructure to its neighbours.
  3. Dialogue: India must ensure its neighbour of continuous support for their development. Efforts must be made to strengthen Indian exports in the region.
  4. Soft power: India’s soft power and common culture provide an opportunity for India to strengthen its cultural roots further in the region.

India’s immediate neighbourhood directly impacts it geopolitically, geo-strategically and geo-economically because of its vicinity. Thus, working with them is important for India to rise as a superpower. Emphasis must be on sustainable and inclusive development.

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