[op-ed snap] Farewell to South Asia

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAARC, BBIN, BIMSTEC

Mains level: The end of SAARC era and the need of embracing new diplomatic frontiers by India in regional groupings


Context

Decreasing South Asian influence

  1. Two recent developments on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly suggest that “South Asia” as a political construct, at least the one built from the top down, may have had its moment
  2. According to reports, three of the eight South Asian foreign ministers left the room after making their speeches at the annual gathering in New York
  3. They were from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India
  4. This shows the deepening crisis of credibility of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
  5. The second was an event that did not take place. A meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan.
  6. Within 24 hours after announcing talks, India chose to pull out

Pakistan is a common problem

  1. India, of course, is not the only one having problems with Pakistan
  2. Its other South Asian neighbour, Afghanistan, like India, had entertained hopes for a fresh beginning in the ties with Pakistan
  3. Kabul’s hopes that new PM can quickly deliver on peace have been tempered
  4. Pakistan’s relations with Bangladesh have been in a deep chill for such a long time that no one expects a reversal of fortunes any time soon

Moving ahead of SAARC

  1. The SAARC project has now lost all steam
  2. All countries are finding alternatives
  3. After the Kathmandu Summit, PM Modi declared that he will not hold regional cooperation hostage to Pakistan’s veto
  4. India moved to focus on the so-called BBIN forum that brings together four countries of South Asia — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal — for sub-regional cooperation in the eastern Subcontinent
  5. The government has also sought to reactivate the BIMSTEC forum that brings the BBIN countries as well as Sri Lanka with Myanmar and Thailand

SAARC partners not sharing the same thoughts

  1. Not everyone in these subregional and trans-regional groupings has the same dream
  2. Even as Kathmandu sleeps in the BBIN and BIMSTEC beds, sections of Nepal’s ruling elite want to “escape” South Asia into the vast folds of the Chinese embrace
  3. Sri Lanka has begun to describe itself as an Indian Ocean country
  4. The Maldives, too, has so much to gain by leveraging its Indian Ocean location rather than pin its hopes on the dystopian SAARC

Influence of China increasing

  1. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is connecting different parts of South Asia to the adjoining provinces of China
  2. Pakistan is being connected with Xinjiang, Nepal and Bhutan with Tibet, and Bangladesh with Yunnan
  3. Beijing also seeks to integrate the Maldives and Sri Lanka into its maritime strategy
  4. China’s rise has begun to irrevocably alter the economic geography of the Subcontinent

America’s balancing act

  1. Washington is changing its geopolitical playbook for our neighbourhood
  2. Even as it looks for a way out of Afghanistan, it has embarked on an explicit strategy of balancing China in the region
  3. Its new imagination privileges India and merges the rest of the Subcontinent into the vast Indo-Pacific

Way forward

  1. “Political South Asia” was an invention of the 1980s. It has not survived the test of time
  2. As India’s footprint goes way beyond the Subcontinent, Bangladesh becomes the throbbing heart of the Bay of Bengal and an economic bridge to East Asia and Sri Lanka emerges as an Indian Ocean hub, Delhi needs to reimagine its economic and political geography
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations
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