Don’t let domestic politics hamper neighborhood ties
Violence against Hindu minorities in Bangladesh and incidents of counterviolence in India, most recently in Tripura at a rally led by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, are a chilling reminder of the deep vulnerabilities of the South Asian region. . Our shared histories, cultures and geographic interconnection are a source of great strength and power. But without special attention, these interconnections and shared histories are a tool for a deep, confrontational and violent politics that is increasingly gaining national legitimacy in the countries of the region. Such a policy will leave each individual nation more vulnerable and at much greater risk of reliving the traumatic violence of its past. A strong, peaceful and connected South Asia is central to protecting national interests in the region.
Earlier this month, an independent group of political thinkers released a discussion paper titled “India’s Path to Power – Strategy in a Drifting World” which is hosted on the websites of the Takshashila Institute and the Center for Policy Research. The paper offers some ideas for realigning India’s strategic priorities in the context of the tectonic changes taking place around the world and in India. During our discussions, India’s relationship with our neighbors in the South Asian region was a central theme. In our view, a politically stable and economically interconnected neighborhood, in which India plays a leading role, holds the key to India’s path to power.
In the long run, a turbulent South Asia will compel India – leaving us continually vulnerable (and concerned about) violence and a politics of division. Alternatively, South Asia has the potential to become a dynamic platform for economic and social integration that will enable the region to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Currently, less than 7% of global trade and only 3% of investment comes from the region. On critical challenges – climate change, water, energy and food security, technology, public health – regional collaboration is virtually absent, even though our shared geographies make it imperative to overcome these challenges collectively, in our own national interest. As the largest country in the region, India can and should take the lead in building this regional collaboration.
The critical first step towards this end, as we argue in the report, is to reconnect with SAARC. The current policy of rejection of SAARC undermines the potential for regional economic integration, but it also runs counter to our strategic interests in creating new opportunities for deeper Chinese penetration into the region. If other countries remain attached to SAARC and move forward without India, China may well be invited to join, leaving India speechless. Beyond SAARC, India must take steps to ensure that national security concerns, especially border security, do not impede the cross-border movement of goods, people and services.
For India to emerge as a regional leader, the focus must be on its strengths. It cannot compete, at least in the short term, with China on âhardwareâ – physical infrastructure and megaprojects. But it can, much better than China, deliver the âsoftwareâ – through regional links, markets, infrastructure and services, especially digital infrastructure. India’s leadership in the region must be built by becoming a source of public goods for its neighbors.
Finally, to the elephant in the room – Pakistan. India’s relations within the region have long been held hostage to the dynamics of our relations with Pakistan. For the foreseeable future, the conflicted relations with Pakistan are likely to remain a reality. Our aim should therefore be to effectively manage this relationship by making cross-border terrorism a costly and risky business for Pakistan while keeping the channels open for dialogue and gradually reviving trade and transport rather than the current freeze. This will also strengthen institutional links in the region.
But none of this will be possible without clear-sighted recognition among the political leaders of India and the region that domestic politics can and distort the pursuit of national interest on the world stage. A conscious effort must be made not to succumb to the temptation to use our troubled and violent past for domestic political purposes. This will require developing a policy that builds on our shared histories for mutual benefit. The free and open movement of people, goods and services is the only way to develop such a policy. This may seem naive given the realities of growing majoritarianism and the communitarization of politics in the region. But this is the only way to go. For India in particular, as we argue in our article, the fundamental source of influence on the world is the power of its example: a strong and prosperous economy founded on the foundations of social inclusion and order. liberal constitutional. It is in our national interest to preserve and strengthen these foundations. Only then will we emerge as a true world power living in peace and prosperity with our neighbors.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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