[20 March 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Ties that epitomize India’s neighborhood first policy

PYQ Relevance:Mains: 

Q) What is meant by Gujral doctrine? Does it have any relevance today? Discuss. (2013)

Q) Analyze internal security threats and transborder crimes along Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Pakistan borders including the Line of Control (LoC). Also, discuss the role played by various security forces in this regard. (2020)


Q) What is the importance of developing Chabahar Port by India? (2017)

(a) India’s trade with African countries will enormously increase.
(b) India’s relations with oil-producing Arab countries will be strengthened.
(c) India will not depend on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
(d) Pakistan will facilitate and protect the installation of a gas pipeline between Iraq and India.


Prelims: Constitutional Provisions for Women;

Mains: Women Issues; Government Schemes and Initiatives for Minorities;

Mentor comments: Since the recent infrastructure project – ‘Gelephu’, Bhutan has long known that there is no real threat to its sovereignty or identity from its southern flank. Hence, it has looked to India to help it grow, develop and prosper. India has lived up to this expectation. Over the past decade, India has demonstrated its unwavering support for its neighbouring nations during times of crisis. Whether responding to natural disasters, health emergencies, economic challenges, or providing support on the international stage, India has consistently been the first to offer assistance and will continue to do so. Furthermore, we have established sustained diplomatic outreach within India’s Neighborhood First Policy.

Let’s learn. 

Why in the News?

According to recent observations, ‘Neighborhood Policy’  has continued to develop through dialogs and sentiments considering South Asian demography.


  • Gelephu Project is near remote parts of West Bengal and Assam, and the success of this city will have positive socio-economic spillovers for these geographies as well. 
  • It will provide yet another example of the win-win cooperation between India and Bhutan on the lines of Neighborhood First Policy.

About India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy: 

  • The South Asian region, which is home to eight countries, and the Indian Ocean region come under the broad geographic expanse of India’s neighborhood – the nations include Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Tibetan (autonomous region of China) and Sri Lanka. 
  • The ‘Neighborhood First’ policy is a foreign policy initiative introduced by India in 2014 which aims to strengthen India’s relations with its immediate neighbours emphasizing on creating a peaceful, prosperous, and stable neighborhood.
  • Principles of ‘Neighborhood First’ policy
    • Sovereignty and territorial integrity
    • Mutual respect and sensitivity
    • Non-interference in internal affairs.
    • Shared prosperity
    • Connectivity for regional integration 
    • People-to-people exchanges
Govt. of India initiatives to harmonize the relations in the neighborhood: Country-specific initiatives: 

India signed the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1949 and the Agreement on cooperation in Hydropower in 2006. India also provides financial support to Bhutan’s five-year plans. India is also part of the sub-regional grouping of the Bangladesh–Bhutan–India–Nepal (BBIN) network.

Myanmar: India has also been assisting in various fields such as education, healthcare, disaster management, capacity-building
culture etc.Promoting connectivity initiatives such as the Kaladan multimodal transit transport project in Myanmar.

Sri Lanka: India is assisting in implementing the ‘Unitary digital identity framework’. India has also been providing financial support in the face of the recent balance of payment crisis in Sri Lanka.

Afghanistan: PM Narendra Modi went to visit Afghanistan in 2015 and inaugurated the Afghan Parliament, which was made with the help of India. He visited Afghanistan again in 2016 to inaugurate the Salma Dam in Herat. 

Nepal: India signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1950. There are various agreements related to hydropower projects like the Arun hydropower project etc. PM Modi was the first Indian PM to visit Nepal after 17 years in 2014.

Bangladesh: India has signed agreements relating to the sharing of river waters with Bangladesh.

Maldives: Greater Male connectivity project by an Indian company to provide connectivity in Maldives, restoration of Addu atolls, etc.

Other initiatives: 
Development cooperation: Providing development assistance through various initiatives such as the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Program, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), etc.
Vaccine Maitri: India, through its vaccine diplomacy, extended help on priority to its neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leveraging Science and Technology: India successfully launched the first-ever South Asia Satellite (SAS) to boost communication and improve disaster links among its South Asian neighbors. 

What are the challenges in India’s relations with its Neighbours?

India’s relations with its neighbors have been marked by a range of challenges and issues over the years.

  • Terrorism and Illegal Immigration: India has been a victim of terrorism perpetrated by groups based in neighboring states, especially Pakistan and Bangladesh.
    • Example: Recent Assam and Tripura Issue (2024)
  • Border disputes: India has long-standing border disputes, particularly with China (Line of Actual Control) and Pakistan (Line of Control), which have led to military conflicts and tensions.
    • China Factor: India’s growing geopolitical and economic influence in the region has led to competition with China. This has led to tensions over issues such as borders, trade and investment.
      • Example: Recent Galwan Valley and border conflicts with Arunachal Pradesh (2023).
  • Water sharing: India shares rivers with several of its neighbors like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, and water sharing has been a source of tension, which has led to disputes.
    • Example: Disputes over the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan (the recent being on the Ravi water dispute).
  • Political instability: Several of India’s neighbors have experienced political instability and internal ethnic conflicts, which have had an impact on regional stability and security.
    • Example: Recent Manipur issue (2023).

Way forward for strengthening India’s relations with its neighbors:

  • Economic cooperation: South Asia’s intra-regional trade is the lowest globally, constituting only 5% of the region’s total trade. By increasing trade, investment, and cross-border connectivity we can stand on weighted sides.
  • People-to-people exchanges: India can promote people-to-people exchanges by facilitating cultural, educational, and tourism exchanges.
  • Security cooperation: India can strengthen security cooperation with its neighbors to address common security challenges such as terrorism, cyber threats, and transnational crime. SAARC and BIMSTEC frameworks can play an important role in this.
  • Regional integration: India can support regional integration by participating actively in regional forums such as SAARC, BIMSTEC, and IORA.
  • Diplomatic outreach: India should engage in sustained diplomatic outreach to its neighbors to promote dialogue, resolve outstanding issues, and build mutual trust. 
Some of the India’s Neighborhood Policies:

Look East policy: Launched in 1991, it aimed to strengthen economic and political ties with countries in Southeast Asia.

The Gujral Doctrine of 1996: It was a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors.Non-reciprocity with neighbours.Territory should not be used against the interest of another country.Non-interference in internal affairs.Respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.Settle all disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. 

Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), 1997: BIMSTEC was established as a regional organization comprising seven member states (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand) lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity. 

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) of 1997: It is an intergovernmental organization that brings together countries bordering the Indian Ocean to promote regional cooperation and economic integration.




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