India's Engagement With The World-Part 1(Defining South Asia):

Created On: 23-07-2018,6:41 AM

Defining South Asia

India faced several challenges to being viewed as the dominant power in South Asia and its desire that neighbours look only to India and not to outside powers. Slow economic growth for decades meant that India did not have the economic clout to provide its neighbours with the assistance they needed. Fabian socialism, a mixed economy and the principle of economic autarky meant that until the 1990s India only grew at 3 per cent a year, a growth rate that precluded India’s ability to assist neighbours. The growth of India’s economy in the last two decades has opened the way for India offering aid to neighbours as an instrument of influence.

India’s effort to woo its poorer South Asian neighbours with aid now face competition from China under the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. China launched the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and has promised to invest US $46 billion in Pakistan over the course of the next few years. Economic incentives are also being offered by China to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Indian leaders are aware that managing a sphere of influence is not only a function of telling others what to do but being able to expend resources that deny space to competitors.

India’s neighbours complain that India has a history of big promises and extremely slow follow-through on aid projects. The gap between promise and delivery is seen in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Afghanistan where India is currently the largest regional bilateral donor. Under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and especially since the election of Narendra Modi, India has sought to offer trade concessions, such as zero tariff or removing non-tariff barriers, and concessional loans and credit to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

As Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has articulated a more assertive vision for India’s external relations. South Asia, India’s immediate periphery, is as critical to India under the present Government as it was under its predecessors. Narendra Modi invited all South Asian heads of Government to his inauguration and has travelled to Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh within less than two years of coming to office.

Regional connectivity – trade, tourism and travel – between the South Asian countries has been key to the present Government’s push for South Asia. It would require building infrastructure within India and connecting it to the neighbouring countries. That would be a long-term endeavor requiring consistent investment and policy support. Further, for this connectivity to actualize, a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) agreement along these lines would be needed. That is still a long way away.

In November 2014, the inkling of the SAARC connectivity agreements, including the motor vehicles pact, was stalled as Pakistan asked for time arguing it was yet to complete its internal process. seven months later, in Jun 2015, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a Motor Vehicle Agreement for the regulation of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicular traffic. India is thus trying to build connectivity with its neighbours even if Pakistan remains unwilling to cooperate. India believes that sooner or later Pakistan will understand that if it does not participate it will be left out.

(Excerpt from India's Engagement with the World; Published in CSC August 2018 issue)

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