[op-ed snap] Ocean of neighbours

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Revival of bimstec is a strategic step in view of neighbourhood integration Policy.


CONTEXT

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit abroad in his second term to Maldives and Sri Lanka is being billed as the reaffirmation of Delhi’s traditional diplomatic emphasis on “neighbourhood first”.

Focus on ocean Island states

  • The visit to Male and Colombo offers the opportunity to firmly place the Indian Ocean island states into India’s regional geography.
  • Modi must now expand the ambit of the strategy to draw in Madagascar, Comoros, Reunion and Diego Garcia. Reunion is part of France and Diego Garcia hosts a major American military facility.
  • Similarly, Delhi should focus on a number of small islands that dot the sea lines of communication in the eastern Indian Ocean — the Cocos and Keeling islands belonging to Australia come readily to mind.

Dysfunctioning SAARC

  • At the only SAARC summit during his first term, held in Kathmandu at the end of 2014, Modi saw the forum’s dysfunction.
  • It could not wrap up regional connectivity agreements negotiated for years before, thanks to Pakistan’s decision to pull the plug at the last minute.
  • With SAARC going nowhere, Modi turned to the BIMSTEC grouping, invited its leaders to join the BRICS summit at Goa during 2016, and again last month for the inauguration of Modi’s second term.
  • Delhi should have no problem recognising that Islamabad is not ready for economic integration with India; it wants a settlement of the Kashmir question to precede any economic and political cooperation with India. That might take a while.

Revival of BIMSTEC

  • Modi’s focus on BIMSTEC was as much about rediscovering a forgotten regional organisation as it was about putting the Bay of Bengal on India’s mental map.
  • Over the last few years, Colombo has been persistent in claiming an “Indian Ocean identity” rather than a South Asian identity.
  • The future of the Maldives, sitting astride one of the world’s busiest sea lines of communication, is in the Indian Ocean.
  • Both of them are acutely conscious of their growing maritime salience and have not been hesitant to develop all-round political leverage.

Realities to be acknowledged

  • First, it needs to recognise that island states and territories — including the smallest pieces of real estate — are coming into strategic play amidst the return of great power rivalry to the littoral.
  • Second, the island states in the south western Indian Ocean form a coherent group and must be dealt within an integrated framework.
  • In eastern Indian Ocean, a focus on developing the Andaman Islands opens up possibilities for sub-regional cooperation with Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
  • Third, India needs to develop its own national capabilities — especially in the delivery of strategic economic and security assistance to the island states. Without that the ambitious goals identified under the SAGAR vision will remain elusive.

Conclusion

Finally, in his SAGAR vision, Modi signalled India’s readiness to work with other powers in promoting regional prosperity and security. There are big possibilities for collaboration with France, the US, Australia and Japan in different corners of the Indian Ocean. The joint bidding by India and Japan for the development of East Container Terminal in the Colombo port underlines the potential.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations
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