- Outline an introduction in the South Asian situation.
- Mention challenges region face.
- Analyse India’s preparedness to deal with them.
- Suggest way forward for a better diplomatic policy initiative.
The nature and dynamics of Southern Asian geopolitics are undergoing a radical transformation, slowly, steadily and in an irrevocable manner. One of the world’s most volatile regions and hitherto dominated by the United States, Southern Asia is today at an inflection point with far- reaching implications for the states in the region, and for India in particular.
Following are the challenges that India faces today in this region-
1. China Pivot in the Region-
There is the emergence of the ‘China pivot’ in the region.
Washington’s role as the regional pivot and power manager is becoming a thing of the past with Beijing assuming that role.
Regional geopolitics, from Iran to Central Asia and from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean region, is increasingly being shaped by China.
When new powers are on an ascendance, its neighbours tend to recalibrate their policies and old partnerships and alliances.
By using its economic strength to expand its relations with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar China has attempted to control India’s rise, while simultaneously supporting Pakistan’s development.
A significant driver of change in South Asia’s political geography has been the string of infrastructure projects in the subcontinent.
The projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka have given China strategic access points in the oceans surrounding India.
2. Trust-Deficit in the Region
Another feature of the current regional sub-system is the presence of an extreme trust deficit among the various actors in the region.
There is trust deficit between India and Pakistan, or China and India.
Trust deficit exists between U.S. and India, Russia and China.
It also exists among traditional partners such as Iran and India, and Russia and India.
Trust deficit combined with other factors such as unresolved conflicts, misunderstandings or the occurrence of a crisis could push the region towards more conflict and friction.
3. War Talk
The rising war talk in the region is yet another contemporary feature of the South Asian regional sub-system.
Possibility of a military conflict between Iran and the U.S, would draw many more countries in the region into it.
It could lead to widespread instability.
4. Other Issues
a. India-Pakistan border skirmishes.
b. Escalating China-U.S. trade war
c.Many proxy and cold wars in Afghanistan and West Asia
India’s Approach has been-
India has found interest in ASEAN countries, Central Asia and its neighbours in the Bayof Bengal region.
ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trade partner with a free trade agreement that has helped
facilitate trade and the movement of manpower and investments.
It has also taken steps to increase its diplomatic engagement with Central Asia, as a part of it “extended neighborhood”.
The International North South Transport Corridor, along with the Chabahar port have been two of India’s large scale projects in the region.
BIMSTEC has received a push for revival from India.
India has used different bilateral and multilateral strategies to pursue a regional leadership role in South Asia.
Its outreach towards Southeast Asia, Central Asia, as well as the wider Indo-Pacific underscores the renewed importance that New Delhi is giving to Asia and its own footprint in the region.
India should adopt a slew of balancing acts. This is perhaps the most appropriate strategy to adopt under the circumstances provided it does so with a sense of clarity and purpose instead of merely reacting.
It would need to balance its innate desire to get closer to the U.S. with the unavoidable necessities of not excessively provoking China both in the maritime and continental domains. Clearly, getting too close to the U.S. will provoke China, and vice versa.
It would have to take care of its energy and other interests (including the Chabahar project) with Iran and not alienate the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel by doing so. While Iran’s share in India’s energy imports is steadily decreasing, alienating Iran might not suit India’s strategic interests in the longer run.
As a third balancing act, dealing with the Russia-China partnership will be crucial for India’s continental strategy, be it with regard to arms sales, the Afghan question or checking Chinese dominance of the region. New Delhi should be clever enough to exploit the not-so-apparent fissures between Beijing and Moscow. A related concern should be the growing relationship between Pakistan and Russia which must be dealt with by smart diplomacy rather than outrage.
While Pakistan is the revisionist power in the region, China, being a rising superpower and an already status quoist power in the region, could potentially be persuaded to check Pakistan’s revisionist tendencies.
Finally, if India is serious about having a say in Afghanistan’s future, it would need to enact several balancing acts there: between Russia and China, China and Pakistan, the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban and Pakistan. In a constantly changing Afghan geopolitical landscape, the contents of India’s interests should also evolve.
A benign uni polarity or a balanced multi polarity with some amount of great power concert is generally better than unbalanced multi polarity. Unbalanced multi polarity when combined with a situation of power transition in the regional sub-system, as is perhaps the case today, might prove to be destabilizing. Engaging in a delicate balancing game is undeniably the need of the hour. India needs to see through many balancing acts to deal with regional tensions.