Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Test of regional solidarity lies aheadop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Prospects of revival of SAARC and India's leadership in the aftermath of COVID-19.


If PM Modi’s gesture to SAARC is to go some way towards a solution for the region, India, which will be picking up the pieces itself, must have something to offer to its neighbours.


  • Not a viable option: Since 2014, when the last SAARC summit was held in Kathmandu, India had made it more than clear that it no longer considers the South Asia grouping viable.
    • It was Islamabad’s turn to host the next summit in 2016, but the Uri attack intervened, and India refused to attend.
  • SAARC in limbo: Under the SAARC charter, the summit cannot be held even if a single nation stays away, and the grouping has remained in limbo since.
  • India’s increased engagement with other groups: In the last five years, India has actively sought to isolate Pakistan in the region.
    • India hyped up its engagement with other regional groupings such as-
    • BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal), and
    • BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), which includes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

How to read the sudden resurrection of SAARC?

  • Officials denied revival speculation: Despite hopes that this might be a SAARC revival, officials have discounted such speculation. That would require India to climb down from its position that Pakistan has taken verifiable steps to address India’s concerns on terrorism. There is no evidence at all that Delhi is about to do that.
  • No hope of move from Pakistan: It would need Pakistan to turn over a new leaf, stop playing with free radicals to use against India, in Kashmir or elsewhere when the time is ripe. Neither is about to happen.

No cooperative response in the works

  • First to call the neighbours: At a time when leaders across the globe appeared to be engrossed in the COVID-19 calamity of their own nations, Modi was the first to think of calling the neighbours.
  • Why cooperation among neighbours matter? Almost all South Asian countries are bound to each other by land borders and frequent inter-travel, and it is important that the region liaises to stop the disease from spreading across the Subcontinent.
  • Countries not willing to learn from each other: It was a trifle disappointing, therefore, that beyond the experience of witnessing a unique video summit, there is not much to suggest that a cooperative response is in the works.
    • There is no evidence that each country is willing to learn from the other’s experiences, or public health systems, or that we are tracking each other’s data and responses.
  • What were the proposals made in the summit? Two proposals were made:
    • One by India for a regional fund that Modi has generously offered to put aside $10 million for.
    • Pakistan proposed the setting up of a diseases surveillance centre for sharing real-time data. India has said it would prepare emergency response task forces to help out the member countries in need.
    • Delhi is said to be in the process of sending medical supplies worth $1 million to Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives, which sounds like a fraction of what they may eventually require.
    • Pakistan has said China will give it testing kits, protective gear and portable ventilators, as well as a cash grant for a state-of-the-art isolation centre.
    • Beijing, eager to live down its image as the point of origin for this global mayhem, will make the same offer to other South Asian countries soon.

What were the lessons India need to learn from video-summit?

  • Indian need to go beyond Big Brother events: If the intention was to try and restore the aura Prime Minister Modi enjoyed in the region at the beginning of NDA-1, as some have not improbably suggested, it has to go beyond this Big Boss event.
    • The video summit saw polite attendance by all SAARC leaders, with the exception of Pakistan which sent its health minister.
    • But going by the scant media coverage that the summit, the first after six years, received in the neighbourhood, no one is holding their breath.
  • India has lost heft it once held: For many countries in the region now, India has lost the heft it used to have in the last century.
    • A proximate reason is that it is no longer an economic powerhouse nor holds the promise of being one in the near future.
    • The other reason is that it no longer offers itself as a model nation, pulling together its complex diversities, pluralism and political ideologies in a broad-minded vision.
  • CAA factor and changing the perception of India: The real damage to India’s standing was, of course, done by the badmouthing of the Muslim countries in the neighbourhood to justify the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019.
    • Larger image of themselves: Seen from the eyes of other countries in South Asia today, India is now just a larger version of themselves and their political and economic dysfunctions.
    • While additionally possessing and wielding the instruments to be vengeful and punitive in its foreign policy — including arm-twisting them now and then in its constant quest to isolate Pakistan.


  • The real test for India lies ahead: The real test of Modi’s leadership of South Asia, and by extension of India’s, will come after the pandemic subsides, when each country has to deal with what remains of its economy.
    • The tourism economy of Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka would have been crushed by then. Pakistan will be worse off than it is now.
    • There will be more unemployment and hardship everywhere in the region.
    • Some of these countries will inevitably turn to China.
  • India must have something to offer as a solution: If Modi’s gesture is to go some way as part of the solution for the region, India, which will be picking up the pieces itself, must have something to offer to its South Asian neighbours six months to a year down the line.
    • Is there such a plan? Can India put aside the prejudices of its domestic communalism, and its own economic woes, demonstrate large-heartedness to all the countries of the region, irrespective of what religion its people follow, irrespective of its historical hostilities with at least one?
    • There may be more economic refugees knocking on India’s doors, apart from a host of other inter-regional problems.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Going regionalop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC and BIMSTEC

Mains level : Paper 2- Why should India revive the SAARC?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi signalled a change in India’s rejection of SAARC as a platform for regional cooperation by inviting all heads of state and government of SAARC countries to a video summit to promote a region-wide response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

SAARC in virtual deep freeze

  • Who attended the video conference? The video summit was attended by all SAARC leaders, except for Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, who deputed his special assistant for health to represent him.
  • Status of SAARC: SAARC has been in a virtual deep freeze since India conveyed it would not attend the 19th SAARC summit, to be hosted by Pakistan in 2017, in the wake of the cross-border terrorist incidents at Pathankot and Uri.
    • Other SAARC leaders also declined to attend.
    • The summit was indefinitely postponed.
  • Focus on BIMSTEC: Since then India has downgraded SAARC as an instrument of its “Neighbourhood First” policy and shifted the focus to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) instead.

Backdrop of SAARC revival

  • For his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, PM Modi had invited leaders of all SAARC countries including Pakistan.
  • For the swearing-in ceremony in 2019, it is BIMSTEC leaders who were the invited guests.
  • Soon after taking over as external affairs minister, S Jaishankar referred to SAARC having “certain problems” while BIMSTEC was described as having both energy and possibility and “a mindset which fits in with that very optimistic vision of economic cooperation that we want.”
  • Deliberate political message: Against this backdrop, Modi’s initiative in convening a SAARC video summit, instead of a BIMSTEC video summit, conveys a deliberate political message.

Proposal of SAARC Covid-19 Fund and Health Ministers’ Conference

  • At the conference, Modi gave a call for the countries of SAARC “coming together and not going apart.”
  • A SAARC Covid-19 Fund has been proposed with India committing US$10 million.
  • Modi referred to the role which could be played by an existing SAARC institution, the Disaster Management Centre, in enabling a coordinated response to Covid-19.
  • Suggestions were made by several leaders, including the Pakistani representative, for a SAARC Health Ministers’ Conference to follow up on the summit. This is likely to be convened soon.

Pakistan on defensive

  • India seen as undermining SAARC: Modi’s initiative has put Pakistan on the defensive. So far, it was India which was seen as undermining SAARC in which other South Asian countries have a keen interest.
  • BIMSTEC no alternative to SAARC: While there has been readiness on their part to participate in BIMSTEC, they do not consider the latter as an alternative to SAARC. In taking this initiative, Modi may be responding to these sentiments.
  • Onus on Pakistan: If Pakistan now drags its feet, then the onus will be on her for weakening the Association.
    • There is a new situation as a result of the abrogation of Article 370 relating to Kashmir, which has been denounced by Pakistan.
  • Difficulty for Pakistan: It would be difficult for Pakistan to accept cooperation with India under SAARC because this would compromise its stand on Kashmir.

BIMSTEC not delivered expected results

  • Not yielded the expected result: It is also a fact that the focus on BIMSTEC has not yielded the results India may have expected.
  • Trade below the set target: Current trade among its members is US$40 billion, though the potential was set at $250 billion.
  • Act East policy stalled: India’s Act East policy, which involved a key role for India’s Northeast, has stalled.
  • RCEP factor: The Northeast is in political turmoil while India has opted out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would have added substance to BIMSTEC.

Why India should revive SAARC

1.BIMSTEC not a credible option to SAARC

  • Today it is difficult to see BIMSTEC as a credible and preferred alternative to SAARC.
  • Cooperation both through SAARC and BIMSTEC: In any case, it makes better sense for India to pursue regional economic cooperation both through SAARC as well as BIMSTEC rather than project them as competing entities.
  • SCO membership a contradictory position: If the argument is that regional cooperation involving Pakistan is a non-starter due to its ingrained hostility towards India, then being part of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), where both are members, becomes a somewhat contradictory position.

2.The China factor

  • China making inroad into the neighbourhood: In determining its position towards SAARC, India must also take into account the significant inroads that China has been making in its sub-continental neighbourhood.
  • BRI initiative: With the exception of Bhutan, every South Asian country has signed on to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
    • A number of Chinese infrastructure projects are already in place or are being planned in each of our neighbours.
  • China likely to become a key player: With SAARC becoming inoperative and BIMSTEC not living up to its promise, China is likely to become a key economic partner for South Asia and India’s hitherto pre-eminent role will be further eroded.
    • On this count, too, it is advisable for India to advance regional cooperation both under SAARC as well as BIMSTEC. Both are necessary.

3.Pakistan factor

  • Should not give up on Pakistan: Despite the frustration in dealing with Pakistan, India should not give up on its western neighbour.
  • Relation needs to be managed: Relations with Islamabad will remain adversarial for the foreseeable future but still need to be managed with two ends in mind.
    • One, to ensure that tensions do not escalate into open hostilities and,
    • two, to reduce leverage which third countries may exercise over both countries on the pretext of reducing tensions between them.
  • No compromise in position on terrorism: This does not in any way compromise our firm stand against cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The revival of SAARC could be an added constraint on Pakistan’s recourse to terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

4.Afghanistan factor

  • Finally, the revival of SAARC would also support the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul in navigating through a difficult and complex peace process involving a Pakistan-sponsored Taliban.


While these are essentially tactical considerations, there is a compelling reality which we ignore at our peril. Whether it is a health crisis like the Covid-19 or climate change, the melting of Himalayan glaciers or rising sea levels, all such challenges are better and more efficiently dealt with through regional cooperation. The Indian Subcontinent is an ecologically integrated entity and only regionally structured and collaborative responses can work.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

A revival of multilateralism, steered by Indiaop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Opportunity for India to assume global leadership in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic


A leadership role by India in mobilising world collaboration would be in keeping with its traditional activism globally.

Challenges and two aspects associated with it.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out in sharp relief the compelling reality that has been staring us in the face for the past several years.
  • This reality has two aspects.
  • First aspect: That most challenges confronting the world and likely to confront it in the future are cross-national in character. They respect no national boundaries and are not amenable to national solutions.
  • Second aspect: These challenges are cross-domain in nature, with strong feedback loops.
    • A disruption in one domain often cascades into parallel disruptions in other domains.
    • For example, the use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides may promote food security but have injurious health effects, undermining health security.
    • Whether at the domestic or the international level, these inter-domain linkages need to be understood and inform policy interventions. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect this awareness.

Rise in nationalism

  • Need for multilateral approach: The intersection of cross-national and cross-domain challenges demand multilateral approaches.
    • They require empowered international institutions of governance.
    • Underlying these must be a spirit of internationalism and solidarity, a sense of belonging to common humanity.
  • Moving in the reverse direction-Rise of nationalism: Over the past decade and more, the world has been moving in the reverse direction. There has been an upsurge in narrow nationalism, an assertion of parochial interests over the pursuit of shared interests and a fostering of competition among states rather than embracing collaboration.
  • The global challenge of COVID-19: COVID-19 has brought these deepening contradictions into very sharp relief. This is a global challenge which recognises no political boundaries. It is intimately linked to the whole pattern of large-scale and high-density food production and distribution.
  • Health crisis turned into economic crisis: It is a health crisis but is also spawning an economic crisis through disrupting global value chains and creating a simultaneous demand shock. It is a classic cross-national and cross-domain challenge.

How countries are dealing with COVID-19 and possible outcomes

  • No coordination at the international level: But interventions to deal with the COVID-19 crisis are so far almost entirely at the national level, relying on quarantine and social distancing. There is virtually no coordination at the international level.
  • Blame game at the international level: We are also seeing a blame game erupt between China and the United States which does not augur well for international cooperation and leadership.
  • The hopeful outcome of international cooperation: While this is the present state of play, the long-term impact could follow alternative pathways.
    • One, the more hopeful outcome would be for countries to finally realise that there is no option but to move away from nationalistic urges and embrace the logic of international cooperation through revived and strengthened multilateral institutions and processes.
  • The depressing outcome of intense nationalist trends: The other more depressing consequence may be that nationalist trends become more intense, countries begin to build walls around themselves and even existing multilateralism is further weakened.
    • Institutions such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization which are already marginalised may become increasingly irrelevant.
    • There could be a return to autarkic economic and trade policies and an even deeper and more pervasive anti-globalisation sentiment.
  • Depression decade ahead: Unless there is a conscious effort to stem this through a reaffirmation of multilateralism, we are looking at a very depressing decade ahead.
    • This is when the world needs leadership and statesmanship, both in short supply.
  • Contrast with the financial crisis: This is in contrast to the U.S.-led response to the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 when the G-20 summit was born and a coordinated response prevented catastrophic damage to the global economy.

Leadership role for India

  • Is there a role here for India which is a key G-20 country, the world’s fifth-largest economy and with a long tradition of international activism and promotion of rule-based multilateralism?
  • In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks at the recent Economic Times Global Business Summit are to be welcomed.
    • While speaking of the COVID-19 crisis, he said, “Like today, the world is facing a huge challenge in the form of Corona Virus. Financial institutions have also considered it a big challenge for the financial world. Today, we all have to face this challenge together. We have to be victorious with the power of our resolution of ‘Collaborate to Create’.”
    • He went on to observe that while the world today is “inter-connected, inter-related and also interdependent”, it has “not been able to come on a single platform or frame a Global Agenda, a global goal of how to overcome world poverty, how to end terrorism, how to handle Climate Change issues.”
  • From “Equal distance” to friendship with all: Modi lauded government’s policy of seeking friendship with all countries as contrasted from the earlier policy of non-alignment. He seemed to suggest that non-alignment was a defensive policy which advocated “equal distance from every country”.
    • Now, he claimed, India was still “neutral” — presumably meaning non-alignment — “but not on the basis of distance but on the basis of friendship”.
    • He cited India’s friendship with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and with the U.S. as well as Russia.

India’s foreign policy

  • Non-alignment: Mr Modi may wish to distinguish his foreign policy from that of his predecessors, but what he describes as its “essence” is hardly distinguishable from the basic principles of Indian foreign policy since Nehru.
  • Non-alignment was not defensive: India’s non-alignment was anything but defensive. The international peace-keeping contribution that the Prime Minister referred to has its origins in Nehru’s sense of international responsibility.
  • Friendship with all: India has always professed its desire to have friendly relations with all countries but has been equally firm in safeguarding its interests when these are threatened.
  • Mutually beneficial partnership: India’s non-alignment did not prevent it from forging strong and mutually beneficial partnerships with major countries.
    • The India-Soviet partnership from 1960-1990 is an example just as the current strategic partnership with the U.S. is.
  • Foreign policy rooted in a civilisational sense: The foreign policy of his predecessors had been rooted in India’s civilisational sense, its evolving place in the international system and its own changing capabilities.
    • Their seminal contributions should be acknowledged and built upon rather than proclaim a significant departure.

Move in line with traditional foreign policy

  • The Prime Minister’s plea for global collaboration to deal with a densely interconnected world is in line with India’s traditional foreign policy.
    • Move in keeping with traditional activism on a global scale: A leadership role in mobilising global collaboration, more specifically in fighting COVID-19 would be in keeping with India’s traditional activism on the international stage.
  • Commendable SAARC move: The Prime Minister has shown commendable initiative in convening leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations for a regional collaborative effort on COVID-19.
    • International initiative: This should be followed by an international initiative, either through the G-20 or through the U.N.

Way forward

  • Reformed and Strengthened U.N. should be India’s agenda: The Prime Minister made no reference to the role of the U.N., the premier multilateral institution, as a global platform for collaborative initiatives. There may have been irritation over remarks by the UN Secretary-General on India’s domestic affairs and the activism displayed by the UN Commissioner for Human Rights on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act controversy.
    • The U.N. Secretary General’s statement on India’s domestic affairs and activism by UN Secretary-General on India’s domestic affairs should not influence India’s long-standing commitment to the U.N. as the only truly inclusive global platform enjoying international legitimacy despite its failings.
    • If one has to look for a “single platform” where a Global Voice could be created, as the Prime Minister suggested, surely a reformed and strengthened U.N. should be on India’s agenda.
  • Opportunity for India in the pandemic: The COVID-19 pandemic presents India with an opportunity to revive multilateralism, become a strong and credible champion of internationalism and assume a leadership role in a world that is adrift. The inspiration for this should come from reaffirming the wellsprings of India’s foreign policy since its Independence rather than seeking to break free.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

From virtual conferencing to real leadershipop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Need to revive the SAARC to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak


SAARC has become the ‘virtual’ platform through which leaders of the eight countries of our troubled region agreed to work together to combat unarguably the greatest immediate threat to the people: the COVID-19 health pandemic.

Success depends on India

  • The success of the Modi-SAARC initiative will largely depend on India—the dominant power of the region, in every sense.
  • Pakistan’s position may become marginal: Once New Delhi demonstrates that it has the capacity, the political willingness to institutionalise and to lead a mutually beneficial cooperative regime in the region, Pakistan’s “churlish” behaviour will become marginal to SAARC.
    • Various international relations theorists view this as a function of “hegemonic stability”.
  • Much needs to be done: Much more will need to be done by New Delhi to establish that the video conference was not a mere event, but the assertive expression of its new willingness to stabilise the region through cooperative mechanisms, for our common future.
  • Rare opportunity: This is a moment thus of a rare opportunity for India to establish its firm imprimatur over the region, and to secure an abiding partnership for our shared destiny.

The genesis of SAARC

  • SAARC was born at a moment of hope in the 1980s.
  • An initiative by Zia Ur Rehman: The idea was initiated by one of the most inscrutable leaders of the region, General Zia Ur Rehman of Bangladesh, who, met many of the other leaders personally and dispatched special envoys to the capitals of the countries of the region.
    • Dhaka’s persistence resulted in the first summit of the seven leaders of the region in 1985.
    • Afghanistan joined in 2007.
  • Not lived up to expectation: In the nearly 35 years of its existence, even its champions will concede however that SAARC has, to put it euphemistically, not lived up to the promise of its founder.

How the SAARC has performed?

  • The dismal performance in the trade: South Asia is the world’s least integrated region; less than 5% of the trade of SAARC countries is within. A South Asian Free Trade Zone agreed on, in 2006, remains, in reality, a chimera.
  • Moribund state: The last SAARC summit, scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November 2016, was postponed after the terrorist attacks in Uri; none has been held since then, and until Mr. Modi’s initiative, no major meeting had been planned.
  • Marginal in our collective consciousness: A quick look at some of the questions posed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on SAARC, in the last years, suggest that Indian MPs seek answers on why India is still a member of SAARC and on the strength of other organisations such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) that India is engaged with.
    • Thus SAARC had become almost marginal to our collective consciousness.

The fadeout and revival of SAARC

  • India-Pakistan tension: Clearly, most of the smaller states and external players believe that the India-Pakistan conflict has undermined SAARC.
  • How Pakistan derails the initiatives? Bilateral issues cannot be discussed in SAARC but since the organisation relies on the principle of unanimity for all major decisions, Pakistan has often undermined even the most laudable initiative lest it gives India an advantage.
    • Relative gains by India are more important for Pakistan than the absolute gains it secures for itself.
  • Pakistan’s use of terror: For India, Pakistan’s use of terror as an instrument of foreign policy has made normal business impossible.
  • Need of the revival to deal with the COVID-19: There is no doubt that the impact of COVID-19 will be unprecedented, in terms of those it targets and the way we live. It is too early to judge the consequences , but it will take years for the world to return to the old and familiar.
    • Strategies to cope with this new insidious, scheming and diabolic strain of the coronavirus have to be dynamic and ad hoc.
    • Two principles to deal with the epidemic: Containment and the possible prevention of community transmission are the only two principles that are firmly tested.
    • If community transmission occurs and cannot be contained, the consequences will be calamitous.
  • Time to act together: This is indeed a time for SAARC and the experts of the region to think and act together and India can lead this effort.


It is evident that Mr Modi is an out-of-the-box lateral thinker, especially on foreign policy. More importantly, the tragedy of COVID-19 may provide an opportunity for India to demonstrate its compassionate face to secure a region at peace with itself. India cannot afford to not to harvest this opportunity, after having sowed the seeds of a New South Asia.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Regional bonding: On Ranil Wickremesinghe’s prescription for peaceop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Issues in the SAARC, India need to move sub-regional grouping to increase the intra-regional trade.


Former Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s push for regional economic integration and for India-Pakistan dialogue should be studied carefully by New Delhi.

What are the issues with SAARC?

  • Recent moves by India: India has more or less shut down all conversations on the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
    • India also walked away from the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
  •  Mr Wickremesinghe set out a number of suggestions:
  • The original purpose of SAARC-Regional growth: India-Pakistan tensions have brought economic integration within the SAARC region to a “standstill”.
    • That the original purpose of the South Asian group was to build a platform where bilateral issues could be set aside in the interest of regional growth.
  • Start at the sub-grouping levels: To engender more intra-regional trade, an even smaller sub-grouping of four countries with complementary economies: India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand, can start the process of reducing tariffs and demolishing non-tariff barrier regimes.
    • When it comes to the intra-regional share of total trade, SAARC and BIMSTEC languish behind groupings such as ASEAN, EU and MERCOSUR.
  • Economic Integration Road Map: The Sri Lankan leader also suggested that with India’s leadership, a more integrated South Asian region would be better equipped to negotiate for better terms with RCEP so as not to be cut out of the “productivity network” in Asia, and envisioned an Economic Integration Road Map to speed up the process.

Governments stand

  • Talks with Pakistan off the table: The government has made it clear that talks with Pakistan are strictly off the table, and that a SAARC summit, which has not been held since 2014, is unlikely to be convened anytime soon.
  • More reliance on bilateral deals: The government, which has taken a protectionist turn on multilateral trade pacts, is relying more on direct bilateral deals with countries rather than overarching ones that might expose Indian markets to flooding by Chinese goods.
  • India’s trade deficit with the neighbours: For any regional sub-grouping in South Asia to flourish, it is India that will have to make the most concessions given the vast trade deficits India’s neighbours have at present, which it may not wish to do.


  • The overall projection that India’s global reach will be severely constrained unless it is integrated with its neighbours, and tensions with Pakistan are resolved, cannot be refuted. India needs to be more accommodative for the realisation of its ambitions.



Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Putting neighbours firstop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India's relation with its neighbours and progress on SAARC and BIMSTEC.


India has promoted regional cooperation in South Asia in a spirit of generosity, without insisting on reciprocity.

Relations with Sri Lanka

  • Beginning of new chapter in ties: The visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in February marked the beginning of a new chapter in ties with a friendly neighbour.
    • The neighbour with which India has close historical bonds straddling culture, religion, spirituality, art and language.
  • Growing convergence against terrorism: More relevantly, there is a growing convergence against terrorism following the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka last April.
  • There is deep appreciation in Sri Lanka for the free emergency services provided through 280 ambulances gifted by India, now operational in eight of the country’s nine provinces.
  • Prospects for tri-lateral cooperation: There are much better prospects today for tri-lateral cooperation between India, Japan and Sri Lanka in the development of the East Container Terminal at Colombo port and the proposed joint development of the Trincomalee oil storage tanks.
  • Indicators of a new warmth in relations:
    • Several infrastructure projects.
    • Direct flights between Chennai and Jaffna.
    • Resumption of ferry services.
    • India’s new lines of credit and construction of houses for the internally displaced.
    • Homeless and landless people are indicative of a new warmth in relations.
  • First visit to India: That both Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother President Gotabaya chose India as the destination for their first overseas visits after assuming office bodes well.

Relations with Maldives

  • First visit by PM Modi: After the general elections last year, PM Modi’s first foreign visit was to the Maldives in June 2019.
    • India first: The visit was to establish warm and friendly relations with President Ibrahim Solih, who has done much to promote closer relations with India through his “India First Policy”.
  • First visit to India: India was the first country that Solih had visited in December 2018, a far cry from his predecessor’s brazen anti-India slant.
    • Soon after assuming office, Solih’s government annulled a controversial 2015 law that was meant to allow foreigners, particularly from China, to arbitrarily own islands.
  • Projects worth 180 crores inaugurated: The inauguration during Modi’s visit of two projects worth Rs 180 crore-the Coastal Surveillance Radar System and the Composite Training Center of the Maldivian National Defence Forces-has deep significance for the success of India’s neighbourhood policy.
  • $800 million worth lines of credit: India’s offer of lines of credit worth about $800 million and other capacity-building projects for water supply and sewerage are strong planks in our economic ties.
  • Terrorism and radicalisation are subjects of common concern.
  • DOSTI exercise: The agreement to restart the tri-lateral DOSTI naval exercise as also the tri-lateral NSA-level dialogue between India, Maldives and Sri Lanka lay the ghost of the Yameen era to rest.

Relations with Nepal

  • Inauguration of first cross-border petroleum pipeline: In September last year, India and Nepal jointly inaugurated South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum products pipeline from Motihari in India to Amlekhgunj in Nepal.
  • Prioritising the rebuilding of houses: India is also prioritising the rebuilding of houses in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, with “Build Back Better” as the guiding principle in keeping with Modi’s clarion call for a Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).
  • Role played by geography: Geography plays a determining role in creating inter-dependence.
    • Even as Nepal, like other South Asian countries, seeks closer ties with China, there is a much better appreciation today that India’s role as a key economic and developmental partner is unique and indispensable.

Relations with Bangladesh

  • Model partnership: India’s relations with Bangladesh under Modi and Sheikh Hasina have evolved into a model partnership, consolidated by-
    • High-level exchanges.
    • Mutual trust and-
    • Enhanced cooperation on security matters.
  • Border firing incidents: Incidents of border firing, though rare, have an adverse fall-out on public perception and need to be handled with sensitivity.

Relations with Bhutan

  • The India-Bhutan friendship runs deep, with growing cooperation in the vital hydro-power sector providing it a fresh impetus.
    • Notably, the centrepiece Mangdechhu project (750 MW) was completed on schedule last year.
  • RuPay card in Bhutan: The introduction of the RuPay card in Bhutan and elsewhere in the neighbourhood will further cement economic and people-to-people ties.

Relations with Myanmar

  • Security cooperation: When India shortly hands over to Myanmar the INS Sindhuvir, a Kilo Class submarine, it will propel security cooperation to a higher pedestal.
    • Cross-border strike in Myanmar: Close coordination with Myanmar was evident earlier in the cross-border strike on insurgents by Indian forces in 2015.

Unrealised potential of South Asia

  • South Asiasome figures: has 1.8 billion people and a combined GDP of nearly $3.47 trillion, with India’s economy the largest by far.
  • South Asia has great potential but has been held back by Pakistan.
    • Hindrance for cooperation with Afghanistan: Pakistan has not only denied India and Afghanistan the overland transit route for trade, but has also thwarted Modi’s efforts to place at centre stage the common struggle against poverty, illiteracy and natural disasters.

Cooperation within SAARC: Pakistan has held to ransom cooperation within SAARC by raising extraneous matters, perpetuating terrorism and rejecting the ineluctable logic of intra-South Asian trade, which remains abysmally poor.

  • Pakistan opt-out of satellite project: Islamabad decided to opt-out of the SAARC satellite project proposed by India, and it was finally launched in 2017 without Pakistan’s participation.
  • Motor Vehicle Agreement: Pakistan also played the role of a spoiler at the 18th SAARC Summit in November 2014, preventing progress on the proposed Motor Vehicle Agreement for the regulation of passenger and cargo vehicular traffic amongst SAARC member states.
  • Implications for Afghanistan: Pakistan’s intransigence on connectivity impairs Afghanistan’s ability to link up with other countries in South Asia.
    • The air corridor between India and Afghanistan cannot cater to the full potential of trade ties.
    • Sustainability of Chabahar port: Recent tensions between the US and Iran have cast a shadow on the sustainability of Chabahar port as an alternative maritime supply route to Afghanistan at a crucial juncture in its history.
    • India’s role in Afghanistan: India’s proactive role in recent years in building much-needed infrastructure and capacities in Afghanistan is widely recognised.
    • Deepened defence cooperation: Defence cooperation too has deepened under Modi, with India dropping its traditional coyness in such matters.
    • Much more may have to be done, though, to help Afghanistan achieve stability through economic prosperity.
    • Afghanistan’s true destiny lies with South Asia.

Key aspects of Neighbourhood First Policy

  • Response to security challenges: Neighbourhood First involves India’s willingness to respond to security challenges with new grit.
  • Humanitarian assistance: It also involves for India to be an enthusiastic responder in providing humanitarian assistance and conducting disaster relief operations in Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the extended neighbourhood.
  • Developmental assistance: Even more important is the steady progress made by India to expand developmental assistance and improve project execution based on collaborative partnerships.
    • India’s developmental assistance to six South Asian countries was over Rs 21,100 crore. 

Progress on BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC, the other regional grouping, has done well.
  • Participation in disaster Management Exercise: In February this year, delegates and rescue teams from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar enthusiastically participated in disaster management exercises conducted at Ramachandi Beach at Puri in Odisha.
  • Cross-border electricity grid: The signing of the MoU on BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection at the fourth BIMSTEC Summit, attended by all seven nations in Kathmandu in August 2018, provides a fillip to cross-border electricity trade.
  • India’s focus on BIMSTEC and its Act East Policy have served to highlight India’s key role in promoting cooperative growth and development in several parts of South Asia.


In a world increasingly characterised by a “my country first” approach, India has endeavoured to harness the impulse for regional cooperation in a spirit of generosity, without insisting on reciprocity, to realise the motto of Security And Growth For All In The Region (SAGAR).




Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Sagarmatha SambaadPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC, Sagarmatha Sambaad

Mains level : Fading relevance of SAARC


Nepal has invited the PMs of India and Pakistan along with several other heads of government and heads of state for the Sagarmatha Sambaad.

Sagarmatha Sambaad

  • Sagarmatha Sambaad is a multi-stakeholder, permanent global dialogue forum initiated by the Government of Nepal.
  • It is scheduled to be held biennially in Nepal.
  • The Sambaad (dialogue) is named after the world’s tallest mountain Sagarmatha (Mount Everest).
  • The Everest is also a symbol of friendship and is meant to promote the notions of common good and collective well-being of humanity.
  • The first episode of the Sambaad is scheduled to be held from 2 to 4 April 2020 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Nepal).
  • The theme of the first Sambaad is “Climate Change, Mountains and the Future of Humanity.”


  • This is the first ever multi-stakeholder dialogue and a biggest diplomatic initiative in Nepal’s recent history.
  • India and Pakistan have been caught up in a cycle of hostility, which had prevented Islamabad from hosting the SAARC Summit in 2016.
  • The Kathmandu event aims to draw all the SAARC leaders and provide an opportunity to break the ice.
  • India had accused Pakistan of cross border terrorism while boycotting the Islamabad summit leading to its cancellation.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[Op-ed snap]The new worry of depleting diplomatic capitalop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : India and its neighborhood-relations.


India’s recent actions at home like the decision to amend Article 370, or the CAA 2019, may take a toll on its international relations.

Effects on the relation with the U.S. and Europe:

  • In the U.S. bipartisan support for India had been the norm for at least two decades.
  • The dwindling of Democrat support was evident early on during the “Howdy Modi” event in September 2019.
  • In that event, only three out of the two dozen lawmakers at the event were from the Democratic Party.
  • In the weeks that followed the event, the State Department and several bipartisan committees have issued statements of concern over continued detentions in Kashmir and the CAA.
  • They also held hearings in the U.S. Congress, and even referred to Kashmir in the annual Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020.
  • The same issue found a voice in the U.K. parliament.
  • In the European Parliament, there was also discussion on Kashmir.
  • Kashmir became a campaign talking point between Labour and Conservative candidates in the U.K. elections.

Deterioration in relations with Bangladesh and the neighbourhood

  • In the neighbourhood, Pakistan is predictably angry.
  • While Afghanistan is more muted.
  • The real damage has been done to ties with Bangladesh.
  • In the last decade, Dhaka and New Delhi had worked hard on building connectivity, opening energy routes, trade and developing travel links.
  • Bangladesh is upset for being clubbed together with Afghanistan and Pakistan on the issue of treatment of minorities.
  • At the same time, Bangladesh’s repeated requests for help on the Rohingya refugee issue were unheeded.
  • The OIC plans for a special meet on Kashmir and the CAA in April 2020.
  • If Bangladesh which defends India at the OIC feels that India’s actions are discriminatory, Arab countries could also become more vocal.

Possible fallouts

  • The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has already recommended sanctions be considered against Home Minister.
  • In the U.S. Congress lawmakers can effectively block defence sales to India, or pursue sanctions on the S-400 missile system purchase from Russia.
  • On the international stage, the United Nations and its affiliated bodies could provide a platform for India to be targeted.
  • At FATF, India hopes to blacklist Pakistan for terror financing.
  • Break in ties with Turkey and Malaysia for their comment at UN on Kashmir could also lead them to veto India’s position at the FATF.
  • Unrest in the country could lead to a lower number of foreign visitors and visit cancellation/postponement by leaders.
  • All this also takes a toll on its diplomatic resources that have been diverted for much of the year in firefighting negative international opinion.


  • The government must consider the impact of its domestic actions on India’s diplomatic capital.
  • This capital is a complex combination of the goodwill the country has banked on over decades as a democratic, secular, stable power, bilateral transactions it can conduct in the present, and the potential it holds for future ties, particularly in terms of its economic and geopolitical strengths.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed of the day] India’s foreign policy needs rework in the next five yearsMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Changes required in India's Foreign Policy

Note- Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. Aspirants should try to cover at least this editorial on a daily basis to have command over most important issues in news. It will help in enhancing and enriching the content in mains answers. Please do not miss at any cost.


In the coming five years, a host of geopolitical and economic issues need to be reconciled.


  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has maintained a frenetic pace, renewing contacts with world leaders ever since the results of general election 2019.
  • G-20 – He was the cynosure of all eyes at the G-20 meeting in June, in Osaka.
  • BRICs informal meeting – At the BRICs informal meeting, also in Osaka, he called for the strengthening of the World Trade Organisation and for a global conference on terrorism. He discussed counter-terrorism and climate change issues at separate meetings with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
  • Japan-India-U.S. trilateral grouping – He participated in the Japan-India-U.S. trilateral grouping, arguing for a “rules based order” in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • He met with U.S. President Donald Trump, to discuss the future of India-U.S. relations.

Present Situation

  • The global situation has altered.
  • Rivalries among nations have intensified.
  • There is virtual elimination of the middle ground in global politics, and it has become far more adversarial than at any time previously.
  • Even the definition of a liberal order seems to be undergoing changes.
  • Several more countries today profess support for their kind of liberalism, including Russia and China.
  • At the other end, western democracy appears far less liberal today.

China, U.S. and Asian realities

1.South Asia –

  • South Asia, in particular, and the region of our highest priority, according to the new External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, needs close attention.
  • The region is one of the most disturbed in the world and India has little or no say in any of the outcomes taking place.
  • Pakistan – India-Pakistan relations are perhaps at their lowest point.
  • Afghanistan – India has no role in Afghan affairs and is also excluded from current talks involving the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan, the U.S. and even Russia and China.
  • India might have recouped its position more recently in the Maldives, but its position in Nepal and Sri Lanka remains tenuous.


  • Across much of Asia, China is the major challenge that India has to contend with.
  • BRI – Smaller countries in the region are being inveigled to participate in China’s programmes such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • India and Bhutan are the only two countries in this region that have opted out of the BRI, and they seem like the odd men out.
  • The challenge in the coming years for India is to check the slide, especially in Asia, and try and restore India to the position it held previously.


  • New Cold War – Deepening India-U.S. relations today again carry the danger of India becoming involved in a new kind of Cold War.
  • Not to be a paw – India must ensure that it does not become a party to the conflicts and rivalries between the U.S. and a rising China, the heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and also avoid becoming a pawn in the U.S.-Iran conflict.
  • National Defence Authorisation Act  – There is little doubt that current India-U.S. relations provide India better access to state-of-the-art defence items; the recent passage of the National Defence Authorisation Act in the U.S. makes India virtually a non-NATO ally. However, such close identification comes with a price.
  • Tensions between India and China – Closer relations with the U.S. also carries the risk of aggravating tensions between India and China, even as China and the U.S. engage in contesting every domain and are involved in intense rivalry in military matters as well as competition on technology issues.

The U.S.-China-Russia conflict –

  • The U.S.-China-Russia conflict has another dimension which could affect India adversely.
  • The strategic axis forged between the Mr. Putin’s Russia and Mr. Xi’s China will impact not only the U.S. but also India’s position in both Asia and Eurasia, with India being seen as increasingly aligned to the U.S. Hence, India needs to devise a policy that does not leave it isolated in the region.

Disruptive Technology domain

  • Dominant power – Today, disruptive technologies have tremendous danger potential and nations that possess these technologies have the ability to become the dominant powers in the 21st and 22nd Centuries.
  • Lagging Behind others – A major challenge for India will hence be how to overcome our current inadequacies in the realm of disruptive technologies rather than remaining confined to the purely military domain.
  • Cyberspace – The U.S., China, Russia, Israel and few other countries dominate these spheres as also cyberspace and cyber methodologies.
  • Growth in disruptive technology matrix – New policy parameters will need to be drawn up by India, and our capabilities enhanced in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and cyber methodology, all of which constitute critical elements of the disruptive technology matrix.

Focus on Economy

Notwithstanding India’s ambition to become a $5-trillion economy by 2024-25, the reality today is that the economy appears to be in a state of decline. Jobs, especially skilled jobs, are not available in sufficient numbers and this should be a matter for concern.


The looming challenge for India in the coming five years, therefore, would be how to build a strong economic foundation, one that is capable of providing the kind of power structure needed for an emerging power, and also one possessing the best liberal credentials.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Why South Asia must cooperateMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Transnational approach in south asia to achieve SDGs Goals


South Asia covers only about 3.5% of the world’s land surface area but hosts a fourth of its population, making it a region of significant importance for international development.

Current situation

  • In spite of the geographic proximity countries in this region enjoy and their common socio-cultural bonds, this is one of the world’s least integrated regions.
  • Intra-regional trade is a meagre 5% of the total trade these countries do globally, while intra-regional investment is less than 1% of the region’s overall global investment.
  • South Asia’s average GDP per capita is only about 9.64% of the global average. Accounting for more than 30% of the world’s poor, the region faces myriad economic and environmental challenges.

Lack of initiatives

Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  –

  • For a region with common development challenges of inequality, poverty, weak governance and poor infrastructure, a shared vision of attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides enormous opportunities for cooperation, collaboration, and convergence (3C).
  •  The 17 goals and their 169 targets are inter-connected and cannot be implemented by countries working in isolation.
  • Many are transnational in nature and require regional efforts.
  • South Asian countries could benefit a lot by adopting a regional framework of cooperation that can support, strengthen and stimulate the SDGs.
  • In the SDG Index 2018, which is an assessment of countries’ progress, among 156 countries only two South Asian countries, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, are in the top 100. India is ranked 112th.

Other Challenges

  • Most South Asian countries have made good progress in ending extreme poverty, but they face persistent challenges to goals related to industry, innovation and infrastructure, zero hunger, gender equality, education, sustainable cities and communities and decent work and economic growth. 
  • These apart, most of South Asia continues to be vulnerable to climate change and climate-induced natural disasters.

Varying performances of south Asian countries

  • A closer look at the country-level data shows that India is performing well in Goal 1 (no poverty), Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 12 (sustainable consumption and production), Goal 13 (climate action) and Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) while doing poorly in goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 5 (gender equality) and Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).
  • Like India, Bangladesh is doing well in Goals 1, 6, 12 and 13 but poorly in Goals 2 and 9, and lagging behind in Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy).
  • While doing well in Goals 1 and 12, Pakistan needs improvement in Goals 2, 4, 5 and 9, similar to India and Bangladesh.
  • It also needs improved performance with respect to Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth).
  • There are a lot of similarities among these three big economies of South Asia with respect to achieving some specific SDGs as well as exhibiting poor performance in some common goals.

Transnational Approach to SDGs

Transnational Areas – SDGs related to energy, biodiversity, infrastructure, climate resilience and capacity development are transnational, and here policy harmonisation can play a pivotal role in reducing duplication and increasing efficiency.

Required Funds – In a study titled ‘SDGs Needs Assessment and Financing Strategy: Bangladesh Perspective’, Bangladesh has undertaken exemplary initiatives for analysing its available resources and additional funding requirements for SDG implementation, suggesting that the country requires an additional $928 billion to fully implement the SDGs.

Sources for funding – The study identifies five possible sources for SDGs financing: public sector, private sector, public-private partnership, external sector and non-government organisations.

Sharing of approaches – Similarly, India has formulated some pragmatic plans and initiatives to improve food and nutrition security from which many of the neighbouring countries can benefit.

Increasing flow of FDI – To address institutional and infrastructural deficits, South Asian countries need deeper regional cooperation. On financing the SDGs in South Asia, countries can work towards increasing the flow of intra-regional FDI. The private sector too can play a vital role in resource mobilisation.

Taking everyone along

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the platform for regional economic cooperation in this region, has become moribund and remains unsuccessful in promoting regional economic cooperation. If the countries of South Asia, the fastest growing region of the world, can come to a common understanding on regional integration and cooperation in achieving the SDGs, it can unleash a powerful synergistic force that can finally make South Asia converge.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Smart diplomacy in five movesMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India should go for a layered approach to secure its interests in sub continent


Southern Asia is today at an inflection point with far-reaching implications for the states in the region, and for India in particular. Is New Delhi adequately prepared to weather the incoming geopolitical storm?

Face of Politics in Region

1.Great Power Play

  • To begin with, there is a sharp, though often understated, great power competition in the region.
  • The resultant geopolitical competition for space, power and influence in the regional scheme of things is undoing the traditional geopolitical certainties in Southern Asia.
  • Russia and China are jointly and individually challenging the U.S.’s pre-eminence and drafting smaller countries of the region into their bandwagon/s.

2.The China pivot

  • Then 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 .
  • Regional geopolitics, from Iran to Central Asia and from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean region, is increasingly being shaped by China.
  • China is the new regional hegemon with states in the region jumping on its bandwagon without much resistance.
  • Regional holdouts and challengers such as India will need to balance themselves tactfully to steer clear of the rising hegemon’s ire.

3.Trust deficit in the region

  •  That India and Pakistan, or China and India do not trust each other is not news, but a trust deficit exists between even seemingly congenial partners such as the U.S. and India, Russia and China, and among traditional partners such as Iran and India, and Russia and India.
  • In sum, a power transition in the Southern Asian sub-system, an extreme trust deficit and the escalating war talk pose ominous signs for the region.

The layers

There are at least five layers of balancing acts that India would need to adopt in order to weather the incoming geopolitical storm.

1.First step

At level one, 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. 

2.Second step

  • The second layer of this balancing game should drive India’s West Asia policy.
  • Here 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.

3.Third Step

  • 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.
  • A related concern should be the growing relationship between Pakistan and Russia which must be dealt with by smart diplomacy rather than outrage.

4.Fourth step

  • Yet another layer that requires careful balancing by India is the strategic partnership between Pakistan and China.
  • This again requires a great deal of subtle effort from New Delhi to convince Beijing that it has great stakes in regional strategic stability.

5.Fifth Step

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.


New Delhi should keep in mind that it must, by all means, be careful to avoid getting caught in a nutcracker geopolitical situation in the region. Engaging in a delicate balancing game is undeniably the need of the hour, and let us remember that balancing such seeming contradictions is what smart diplomacy is meant to achieve.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Ocean of neighboursMains Onlyop-ed snap


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.


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.


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

[op-ed snap] The immediate neighbourhoodMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC, Bimstec

Mains level : Bimstec can't be a replacement of SAARC.


The government has shown its commitment to its strategy of “Neighbourhood First” by inviting the leaders of neighbouring countries for the second time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30. . The focus will continue this week when he makes his first visit in this tenure to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, something that has become tradition for all Indian Prime Ministers.

Importance of SAARC

South Asian identity – SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries, historically and contemporarily.

Geographically independent – This is a naturally made geographical identity. Equally, there is a cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South Asia.

Common concerns –

As a result, since 1985 when the SAARC charter was signed, the organisation has developed common cause in several fields: agriculture, education, health, climate change, science and technology, transport and environment.

Modest growth –

  • Each area has seen modest but sustainable growth in cooperation.
  • For example, from 2010, when the South Asian University began in Delhi, the number of applicants for about 170 seats has more than doubled.

Failure of SAARC – SAARC’s biggest failure, however, comes from the political sphere, where mainly due to India-Pakistan tensions, heads of state have met only 18 times in 34 years; it has been five years since the last summit in Kathmandu.

  •  It is essentially a grouping of countries situated around the Bay of Bengal, and began in 1997 (Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2004), a decade after SAARC.
  •  While it has made some progress in technical areas, leaders of BIMSTEC nations have held summits just four times in 22 years.
  • With India’s growing frustration over cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it hopes to build more on BIMSTEC’s potential.

No alternative for SAARC

  • One of BIMSTEC’s two founding principles is: “Cooperation within BIMSTEC will constitute an addition to and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member States.”
  • Its official literature describes it as “a bridge between South and South East Asia” and a “platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] members.”

India’s SAARC aversion

  •  Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is clearly the biggest stumbling block cited by the government. 
  • This principled stand by India, however, doesn’t extend to other organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
  • It is difficult to reconcile the staunch opposition to attending a SAARC summit where India is at least the largest country, with the acquiescence to the SCO, where Russia and China take the lead.
  • Another reason offered by those declaring SAARC becoming defunct is the logjam because of Pakistan’s opposition to connectivity projects such as the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA), energy sharing proposals and others such as the South Asia Satellite offered by Mr. Modi.

Way Forward

ASEAN minus X – Going forward, SAARC could adopt the “ASEAN minus X” formula — members who are unwilling to join the consensus can be allowed to join at a future date, while members who wish to go ahead with connectivity, trade or technology cooperation agreements are not impeded.

An alternative to Chinese interference – In a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans, SAARC could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms for South Asian labour around the world.

This potential has not yet been explored, nor will it be till SAARC is allowed to progress naturally and the people of South Asia, who make up a quarter of the world’s population, are enabled to fulfil their destiny together.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Eastward courseMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : India's focus on BBIN is a better alternatice to SAARC.


It is tempting to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to the leaders of a Bay of Bengal forum for the inauguration of his second term, as a “snub to Pakistan”.

Rational behind Marginalising SAARC

  • But the talk of a snub misses the story of the larger regional dynamic that has emerged over the last few years.
  • When he travelled to the Kathmandu summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu at the end of 2014, PM Modi may have figured out that the future of SAARC was bleak.
  • At the summit, Nawaz Sharif pulled out of regional connectivity agreements that were ready for signature.
  • Officials from Islamabad were very much part of the prolonged and painful negotiations to finalise the agreements.
  • Quite clearly, the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi had pulled the plug at the very last minute.
  • The fiasco at Kathmandu evidently led the PM to shift the focus to India’s sub-regional cooperation within South Asia with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal.
  • Instead of holding the rest of the region hostage, India chose to expand regionalism with the BBIN forum.
  • The PM also looked beyond SAARC to revive the moribund BIMSTEC regional forum that brings together five South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and two South East Asian countries (Myanmar and Thailand).

Pakistan still holds importance

  • That it is not invited to the PM’s oath-taking ceremony on Thursday does not mean Pakistan will disappear from India’s foreign policy agenda.
  • During the last few years, Modi has demonstrated his political will for either peace or war with Pakistan.
  • If he travelled to Lahore on short notice at the end of 2015, he was ready to attack a terror camp at Balakot in February 2018. Modi will have an opportunity to engage Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at a Central Asian summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan next month.
  • Any productive meeting with the Pakistani leadership needs significant preparation and hopefully, there are back channel conversations underway.


  • While Pakistan to the west is a big challenge that needs to be carefully managed, the east is full of opportunities — marked by the economic resurgence of Bangladesh and Myanmar that form a bridge to the dynamic region of East Asia.
  • Modi has talked the talk on BIMSTEC in the first term. He must now walk the walk, by committing substantive resources for the strengthening of BIMSTEC and removing the multiple obstacles within India for the rapid economic integration of the Bay of Bengal littoral.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The IBSA task listMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : IBSA

Mains level : Kochi meet revive IBSA to secure south south cooperation.


Even as two member-states (India and South Africa) of the IBSA Dialogue Forum have been busy with national elections and the third (Brazil) is settling down after its recent presidential elections, their foreign policy mandarins met in Kochi, May 3-5. The central goal was to develop a blueprint to rejuvenate IBSA, widely viewed as a unique voice for the Global South. Will this endeavour succeed?

History of IBSA

  • The idea of creating a grouping composed of major democracies of three continents, Asia, Africa and South America, emerged from the disarray at the end of the 20th century, and the perceived need for developing countries to forge decisive leadership.
  • IBSA was launched through the Brasilia Declaration in 2003.
  • Its summits, between 2006 and 2011, gave it a special global profile.

Downfall of IBSA

  • But, 2011 onwards, BRICS, the larger group comprising IBSA countries, China and Russia, started to overshadow IBSA.
  • IBSA has been unable, until now, to hold its sixth summit.
  • Nevertheless, a series of events marking its 15th anniversary, held during 2018-19, have imparted new momentum to the endeavour to revitalise IBSA.

Importance of IBSA

Solidarity among developing countries – Throughout the period of its marginalisation by BRICS, a strong body of officials and experts in the three countries has held the view that IBSA is the true inheritor of solidarity among developing countries, which was nurtured from the Bandung Conference (1955) through UNCTAD and G-77 to the BAPA+40 Declaration (2018).

South – South Cooperation – It is the champion of South-South Cooperation, and the advocate of a coordinated response by developing economies to secure the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 Shared Values – The glue that binds IBSA countries together is their faith in democracy, diversity, plurality, inclusivity, human rights and rule of law. This was reiterated through the IBSA Declaration on South-South Cooperation, issued in Pretoria in June 2018.

Reforms in International Organisations –

  • Notably IBSA remains determined to “step up advocacy for reforms of global governance institutions in multilateral fora”.
  • In particular, it is strongly committed to the expansion of the UN Security Council.
  • As Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj put it, “We three have to ensure that our collective voice is heard clearly in BRICS and other groups on UN Security Council reforms, since if we do not speak for our own interests, no one else will.”

Kochi meeting

  •  The IBSA Academic Forum, comprising independent experts, held its sixth session in Kochi after a hiatus of over seven years.
  • This forum hosted a candid and comprehensive exchange of views on the continuing relevance of IBSA; the need for a strategy to secure SDGs and cement South-South Cooperation; expanding trade cooperation; and the shared goal of enhancing academic collaboration on issues relating directly to the needs of democratic societies.

Revitalisation Of IBSA

  • First, the three Foreign Ministers have been meeting regularly to provide coordinated leadership to the grouping.
  • Second, while the India, Brazil and South Africa Facility for Poverty and Hunger Alleviation (IBSA Fund) is small in monetary terms, it has succeeded in implementing 31 development projects in diverse countries: Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, State of Palestine, Cambodia and Vietnam, among others.
  • Third, India has been running an innovative IBSA Visiting Fellows Programme through the Delhi-based think tank, RIS or Research and Information System for Developing Countries.



  • The idea of IBSA remains valid.
  • The special responsibilities it bears cannot be discharged by BRICS. I
  • n fact, strengthening IBSA could increase the effectiveness of BRICS and encourage it to follow a more balanced approach on key issues of interest to India, Brazil and South Africa.
  • Hence, the current endeavours to infuse greater dynamism in IBSA are well-timed.
  • They would need buy-in by the government that comes to power in India. Support by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who has just won re-election as President, would be crucial.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The case for informal regional diplomacy’Mains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : Informal meetings may provide enhanced relationship with neighbors.


Rather than pray for the success of SAARC, the new government in Delhi should double down on informal diplomacy that could help pave the way for more purposeful regional cooperation — both bilateral and multilateral.


  • If Modi used the invitation in 2014 to signal his commitment to South Asian regionalism, he was also quick to see the limitations of SAARC (the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) at the Kathmandu summit in 2014.
  • The summit had failed to sign off on the connectivity agreements that were painfully negotiated by senior officials, because Pakistan chose to pull out at the last stage.
  • Apparently Rawalpindi was not ready for trade and economic cooperation with India.

Steps taken to enhance regional coperation

  • At Kathmandu, Modi recognised that South Asian regionalism can’t be allowed to become a hostage to Pakistan.
  • To be sure, Islamabad had the sovereign right to decide on the need, nature and pace of its integration with the rest of the subcontinent.
  • The only sensible course, then, is for the rest of the SAARC to move forward wherever they can and let Pakistan join the process whenever it feels comfortable.

Multilateral Mechanism

Since then Delhi has emphasised other multilateral mechanisms — including sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal and trans-regional cooperation in the east — the littoral of the Bay of Bengal including Burma and Thailand.

Reviving bilateral engagements –

Modi also revived the bilateral engagement with countries like Sri Lanka that were constrained in the UPA years — thanks to Tamil Nadu’s veto over the engagement with Colombo.

Regular Office Visits to neighbour countries

  • Regular official visits to the neighbouring capitals have become the norm at all levels.
  • It has become the convention for any new foreign secretary to travel first to all the neighbouring capitals.

Focus on informal meetings

  • The Subcontinent can do with more of this kind of engagement — leaders seeing each other on short notice for informal consultations or just watch a cricket match or join a social or spiritual occasion.
  • Informal diplomacy in South Asia will make it easier for India to sustain high-level engagement with the neighbourhood.
  • These include pre-set multilateral summits — from BRICS and SCO to the ASEAN, G-20 and the UN — as well as annual meetings with friendly nations through the year.
  • Meanwhile, some of these multilateral summits could throw up the possibilities of a meeting with the Pakistani leadership.
  • If meetings with Pakistan’s leadership become routine and informal, Delhi will be able to prevent each encounter seem like a gladiatorial contest that must address all issues and produce joint statements, every word of which is analysed to death.

While Pakistan is a special case, informal high-level diplomacy could also help liberate the region from the stuffy and unproductive formalism of the SAARC.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Indian elections, South Asian concernsMains Onlyop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : South Asian region's want for stability


The rest of South Asia wants the very best of democracy for India, plus to share in the peace dividend, growth and camaraderie.The level of worry is also at a pitch, for India should be the bulwark against weakening democracy in a world of Bolsonaro (Brazil), Duterte (the Philippines), Erdoğan (Turkey), Putin (Russia) and Trump (the U.S.) not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

The current democratic scenario in India

  • The term ‘world’s largest democracy’ is achieving banality as India gains majoritarian momentum.
  • Centralisation and majoritarianism – Centralised control of society would never be possible in such a vast and variegated society of sub-nationalities.
  • Degradation in quality
    • The high principle and probity of India’s political class, bureaucracy, academia and civil society are now exceptions rather than the rule.
    • India’s Ambassadors are no longer the self-confident professionals we knew for decades, they act today like timid note-takers.
    • Higher education is directed by those who insist that the achievements of Vedic era science included flying machines and organ transplants.
    • Meanwhile, the adventurism that marked economic management, including immiseration through demonetisation, has been ‘managed’ through loyal social and corporate media.

India As an Example for others in Subcontinent

  • Parliamentary democracy – Parliamentary democracy is the governance procedure adopted by each and every country of South Asia, and the Indian practice has always been held up as the example.
  • The professionalism of the civil service – The precedents set by India’s courts are studied elsewhere, the professionalism of the civil service is regarded as the benchmark, and everyone else seeks the aspirational welfare state set in motion in India in the middle of the 20th century.

Neighbour’s Observations

  • Pakistan – Lahore intellectuals watch with apprehension as India copies the excesses of Pakistan’s theocratic state.
  • Bangladesh – Dhaka observers are numbed into silence with New Delhi’s vigorous backing of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed as she constructs an intolerant one-party regime.
  • Sri Lanka – Colombo rides a geopolitical see-saw as New Delhi shadow-boxes Beijing.
  • Nepal –  Kathmandu wonders whether New Delhi has it in itself to concede that the amplified Chinese involvement in Nepal is the result of the Great Blockade of 2015-16.


  • India is indeed large and important, but the chest size of a country does not translate into equity, social justice or international standing.
  • Inequality – Because nearly 20% of humanity lives within its boundaries, when India falters, the pit of despair and the potential for violence open up wide and deep.
  • Imagining south asian regionalism in right way
    • The South Asia that New Delhi’s policy and opinion-makers should consider is not the centralised Jambudvipa mega-state of the RSS imagination. Instead, the ideal South Asian regionalism is all about limiting the power of the national capitals, devolving power to federal units and strengthening local democracy.
    • Damage to SAARC -The freeze put by India on the inter-governmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is only a cynical means to keep Pakistan out of the club.
    • The sabotaging of SAARC can hardly be considered a victory, for that feather-light geopolitical stratagem fails to consider that regionalism is a potent means to bring economic growth and social justice to India’s own poverty-stricken ‘peripheral regions’ from Assam to Purvanchal to Rajasthan.
    • For its own security and prosperity as well as that of the rest of us, India must re-connect with South Asia.

Way Forward

  • Subcontinental regionalism – Subcontinental regionalism is also important to achieve New Delhi’s ambitions on the world stage, including that coveted seat at the UN Security Council.
  • Think tanks approach -India’s global comeback will start the day New Delhi think tanks begin questioning South and North Block rather than serving as purveyors of spin.
  • Gujral Doctrine – On South Asian matters, they should pull out a copy of the Gujral Doctrine from the archives, to be dusted and re-examined.
  • India that is prosperous and advancing at double digit growth,  would mean much not only for its 1.35 billion citizens, but to the other 500 million South Asians. For its own selfish interests, the rest of South Asia wants India to succeed in the world.






Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Deepening insecurityop-ed snap


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ASAT

Mains level : Relevance of arms race and disproportionate cost of it.


Indian PM announced that India had carried out a successful anti-satellite missile test (ASAT), Mission Shakti. It might lead to a arms race in the subcontinent.

Reliance on  Deterrence to enhance security

  • After ‘Mission Shakti’ — India’s anti-satellite test — there is a feeling that India needs this form of deterrence for its security.
  • To be visibly strong in order to deter any enemy from attacking is a concern that goes back to pre-historic times.
  • But when this ancient urge is exerted by nations with nuclear weapons, it must be an occasion to revisit the arms race, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine and their long-term implications.

The emergence of the doctrine of deterrence

  • The doctrine emerged during the Cold War in the mid-20th century when the U.S. and the erstwhile U.S.S.R. had stockpiled so many nuclear weapons that if launched, the weapons could destroy both nations many times over.
  • Since there was eventually a ‘détente’, or a relaxation of hostilities between the two, it is tempting to think that MAD is a valid doctrine that should continue to be applied by all countries with nuclear weapons capability.

HIgh spending on Arms

  • Globally, the annual spend on armaments is now estimated to stand at about $1.7 trillion.
  • Estimates of the total number of nuclear weapons in the world range from 15,000 to 20,000, with each one of these weapons being far more powerful than the bombs dropped by the U.S. on Japan in 1945.
  • The U.S. and Russia still maintain about 1,800 nuclear weapons in a state of high alert, ready for launch within minutes.
  • According to the Global Peace Index, in 2017, the economic impact of violence globally was estimated at about $14.76 trillion, which was 12.4% of global GDP.
  • Since 2012, there has been a 16% increase in the economic impact of violence largely due to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Does deterrence work?

  • It is vital to note that having competing weapons, in terms of quality and quantity, has not acted as a deterrent either in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or in the Syrian war or the prolonged conflict in Colombia.
  • What did finally end the conflict in Colombia, after almost 50 years, was a protracted process of negotiation between all parties of the conflict.
  • The Global Peace Index also shows that over the last 70 years the per capita GDP growth has been three times higher in more peaceful countries.
  • This is partly why, compared to 10 years ago, 102 nations are spending less on the military as a percentage of their GDP.
  • According to the website of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the failure of the nuclear powers to disarm has heightened the risk that other countries will acquire nuclear weapons.

Mutually assured destruction’s impact

  • Theoretically, MAD is supposed to eliminate the incentive for starting a conflict but it also makes disarming almost impossible.
  • This is partly why, long after the Cold War ended, the U.S. is poised to spend enormous amounts of money over the next 10 years in updating and modernising its nuclear arsenal.
  • The tragic irony of this trend is that nuclear defence actually deepens insecurity in both countries by causing millions of lives to perpetually be at the risk of instantaneous annihilation.

Opposition to MAD Doctrine

  • All through the Cold War and even now, the MAD doctrine has been opposed on both moral and practical grounds by a variety of disarmament and peace groups.
  • The most prominent of these, War Resisters’ International (WRI), which will turn 100 in 2021, has 90 affiliated groups in 40 countries. Such groups ceaselessly serve as a counter to all those who glamorise or justify war or an arms race.
  • Above all, they constantly draw attention to the fact that the only true security lies in dissolving enmity by going to the roots of any conflict.


Once the joy about India’s technological achievements, in the realm of missiles, has settled down, perhaps attention can shift to the much bigger challenge of seeking answers to a key question: what really makes us, the world a whole, more secure?

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Powering South Asian integrationop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-SAARC relations


  • The Ministry of Power (MoP) has issued new guidelines for import and export of electricity and power trading with neighboring countries.

Problems in the 2016 guidelines

  1. 2016 guidelines imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
  2. There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016.
  3. They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.
  4. The guidelines prevented anyone other than Indian generators in the neighbouring country, or generators owned by that country’s government, from selling power to India.
  5. Excluded were scores of privately held companies, particularly in Nepal, that had hoped to trade with India.
  6. In restricting access to the vast Indian market, the economic rationale for Nepali hydropower built for export was lost.
  7. Bhutan was worried about a clause that required the exporting generation companies to be majority owned by an Indian entity.
  8. This created friction in joint ventures between India and Bhutan.
  9. Bhutan also fretted about limited access to India’s main electricity spot markets, where it would have been well placed to profit from evening peaks in demand.
  10. Bangladesh had sensed an opportunity to partially address its power crisis with imports from Bhutan and Nepal routed through Indian territory but the guidelines complicated this by giving India disproportionate control over such trade.

Key features of the 2018 guidelines

  1. The Ministry of Power (MoP) has issued new guidelines for import and export of electricity and power trading with neighboring countries.
  2. The 2018 guidelines will replace the existing guidelines on cross border trade of electricity issued in 2016.
  3. The objective of the new guidelines is the same as the previous one – to facilitate and promote cross-border trade of electricity, developing a dynamic and robust electricity infrastructure for import export of electricity and reliable grid operation and transmission of electricity.
  4. While the earlier guidelines allowed cross border power transactions only through bilateral agreements between two countries, the new guidelines allows power generating or distribution companies of India to export electricity generated by coal (with certain restrictions), renewable energy or hydro power to companies of neighboring countries directly or through trading licensees of India after taking government approval.
  5. Moreover, any  Indian power  trader  may,  trade in Indian Power Exchanges on behalf of any company of neighboring  country,  for  specified  quantum  as  provided  with government  approval  and  complying with CERC Regulations.

Why course correction?

  1. The current revision is a response to two years of intense backroom pressure from neighbours, particularly Bhutan and Nepal, to drop trade barriers put up in 2016.
  2. Ideas of tying South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries together with cross-border energy flows  that punctuated the early 2000s began to gain steam with substantial power trade agreements between India and Bhutan (2006) and Bangladesh(2010).
  3. These were driven by India’s need for affordable power to fuel quickened growth in a recently liberalised economy.
  4. The apotheosis came in 2014 with the signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the India-Nepal Power Trade Agreement in quick succession.
  5. Yet, two years later, the Union Ministry of Power released guidelines that imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
  6. There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016. They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.

Significance of 2018 guidelines

  1. After two years of protests from neighbours, the new guidelines resolve all these issues and restore the governance of electricity trade to a less restrictive tone.
  2. The new guidelines meet most of their demands, that were timed to coincide with the recent visit of Bhutan’s new Prime Minister.
  3. Earlier concerns that India was enabling the incursion of foreign influence into neighbouring power sectors seem to have been replaced by an understanding that India’s buyer’s monopoly in the region actually give it ultimate leverage.
  4. More broadly, India seems to have acknowledged that the sinews of economic interdependency created by such arrangements have the political benefit of positioning India as a stable development partner rather than one inclined to defensive realpolitik.
  5. India has thus signalled that it is serious about working with neighbours on the issues that should undergird 21st century South Asian regionalism, such as electricity trade.
  6. This course correction is a return to a trajectory of incremental, hard-earned progress developed over the decades.

How the new regulations will help India in achieving the greener grid?

  1. A liberal trading regime is in India’s national interest.
  2. As India transitions to a power grid dominated by renewables, regional trade could prove useful in maintaining grid stability.
  3. Major commitments to renewables, which could amount to half of India’s installed power within a decade, have prompted justifiable concerns about stabilising the grid when the sun goes down or in seasons when renewables are less potent.
  4. Harnessing a wider pool of generation sources, particularly hydropower from the Himalayas that ramps up instantly as India turns on its lights and appliances after sunset, could be an important instrument in achieving a greener grid.
  5. Nepal and Bhutan have long recognised that their prosperity is tied to the sustainable use of vast hydropower reserves.

Political implications of the new guidelines and way forward

  1. The new guidelines are a tentative first step towards the creation of a true regional market in which generators across the subcontinent compete to deliver low-cost, green energy to consumers.
  2. Since this would soften the hard borders of South Asia, it is essentially a political vision.
  3. The new guidelines are a significant step in this direction because, for the first time, they allow tripartite trading arrangements, where power generated in a country is routed over the territory of a neighbour to be consumed in a third.
  4. This is a crucial move towards the evolution of complex, multi-country market arrangements. Such markets require the construction of regional institutions that absorb the politics and manage the technicalities of electricity trade.
  5. At present, this function is managed by the Indian state because of its geographic centrality and the ready availability of institutions that manage its domestic power sector.
  6. As volumes increase and experience in regional trade grows, South Asian nations might feel the need to build joint, independent regional institutions that proffer clear and stable rules of the road. The political vision to create this — felt in the new guidelines — must be maintained.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Being a good neighbourop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations.

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SAARC

Mains level: Need for better regional integration in South Asia


Weak regional integration of India

  1. If South Asia is one of the world’s least integrated regions, India is one of the world’s least regionally-integrated major powers
  2. While there indeed are structural impediments (posed by both India and its neighbours) in fostering regional integration, the most significant handicap is New Delhi’s ideational disinclination towards its neighbourhood
  3. Successive regimes have considered the neighbourhood as an irritant and challenge, not an opportunity
  4. Seldom have India’s policies displayed a sense of belonging to the region or a desire to work with the neighbourhood for greater integration and cooperation

Neighbourhood policy shaky

  1. The Narendra Modi government’s neighbourhood policy began exceptionally well with Mr. Modi reaching out to the regional capitals and making grand foreign policy commitments
  2. But almost immediately, it seemed to lose a sense of diplomatic balance, for instance, when it tried to interfere with the Constitution-making process in Nepal and was accused of trying to influence electoral outcomes in Sri Lanka
  3. While India’s refugee policy went against its own traditional practices, it was found severely wanting on the Rohingya question and seemed clueless on how to deal with the political crisis in the Maldives
  4. While it is true that 2018 seems to have brought some good news from the regional capitals, it has less to do with our diplomatic finesse than the natural course of events there
  5. The arrival of an India-friendly Ibrahim Mohamed Solih regime in Male has brought much cheer, and the return of Ranil Wickremesinghe as Sri Lankan Prime Minister is to India’s advantage too
  6. Nepal has reached out to India to put an end to the acrimony that persisted through 2015 to 2017
  7. Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh are also positively disposed towards India, though the relationship with Pakistan continues to be testy and directionless
  8. What this then means is that New Delhi has a real opportunity today to recalibrate its neighbourhood relations

Learnings from the past

  • India must shed its aggression and deal with tricky situations with far more diplomatic subtlety and finesse
  1. The manner in which it weighed down on Nepal in 2015 during the Constitution-making process is an example of how not to influence outcomes
  2. The ability of diplomacy lies in subtly persuading the smaller neighbour to accept an argument rather than forcing it to, which is bound to backfire
  • It must be kept in mind that meddling in the domestic politics of neighbour countries is a recipe for disaster, even when invited to do so by one political faction or another
  1. Preferring one faction or regime over another is unwise in the longer term
  • New Delhi must not fail to follow up on its promises to its neighbours
  1. It has a terrible track record in this regard
  • There is no point in competing with China where China is at an advantage vis-à-vis India
  1. This is especially true for regional infrastructure projects
  2. India simply does not have the political, material or financial wherewithal to outdo China in building infrastructure
  3. Hence India must invest where China falls short, especially at the level of institution-building and the use of soft power
  4. India could expand the scope and work of the South Asian University (SAU), including by providing a proper campus (instead of allowing it to function out of a hotel building) and ensuring that its students get research visas to India without much hassle
  5. If properly utilised, the SAU can become a point for regional integration
  • While reimagining its neighbourhood policy, New Delhi must also look for convergence of interests with China in the Southern Asian region spanning from Afghanistan to Nepal to Sri Lanka
  1. There are several possible areas of convergence, including counter-terrorism, regional trade and infrastructure development
  2. China and India’s engagement of the South Asian region needn’t be based on zero-sum calculations
  3. For example, any non-military infrastructure constructed by China in the region can also be beneficial to India while it trades with those countries
  4. A road or a rail line built by China in Bangladesh or Nepal can be used by India in trading with those countries

What India can do?

  1. There needs to be better regional trading arrangements
  2. The reason why South Asia is the least integrated region in the world is because the economic linkages are shockingly weak among the countries of the region
  3. The lead to correct this must be taken by India even if this means offering better terms of trade for the smaller neighbours
  4. Several of India’s border States have the capacity to engage in trading arrangements with neighbouring counties
  5. This should be made easier by the government by way of constructing border infrastructure and easing restrictions on such border trade
  6. India prefers bilateral engagements in the region rather than deal with neighbours on multilateral forums
  7. However, there is only so much that can be gained from bilateral arrangements, and there should be more attempts at forging multilateral arrangements, including by resurrecting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

Way forward

  1. India’s neighbourhood policy is at a critical juncture: while its past policies have ensured a steady decline in its influence and goodwill in the region, the persistent absence of a coherent and well-planned regional policy will most definitely ensure that it eventually slips out of India’s sphere of influence
  2. India must have a coherent and long-term vision for the neighbourhood devoid of empty rhetoric and spectacular visits without follow up
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Bhutan’s Elections & Their Significance To India’s Foreign Policyop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India’s time-tested strong relationship with Bhutan and how to ensure that it remains the same


Elections in Bhutan

  1. Bhutanese democracy and electoral process are unique in several ways
  2. The Constitution declares Bhutan to be a sovereign Kingdom, where the form of government is that of a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy
  3. The Parliament – Chi Tshog has two Houses: National Council (Gyelyong Tshogde) and National Assembly (Tshogdu), both with a five-year term
  4. The National Council has 25 members of which 20 are elected while five are nominated by the King; candidates contest the Council elections as independents and not as party nominees
  5. However, elections to the National Assembly which has 47 members are held on party lines
  6. National Assembly elections are held first in a primary round where registered political parties contest on party symbols
  7. The two parties that get the highest number of votes in the primary nominate candidates for the 47 seats in the General Elections which are held after nearly one month
  8. Bhutan argues that the process helps multiparty contests in the primary while ensuring that the “tyranny of two-party system” is avoided

Lessons which India can adopt from Bhutanese Election System

  1. The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has, over the last decade, put in place clear-cut guidelines, rules and regulations for conducting elections, as per Constitutional directives and the Election Act, 2008
  2. The ECB provides for public campaign finance through elaborate guidelines for allocation of finances, monitoring, auditing, and strict penalties for misuse
  3. The Constitution, under Article 3, specifically enjoins upon religious institutions and personalities to remain away from and above politics
  4. The Election Act, 2008 bars such personalities from joining a political party or participating in the electoral process
  5. They also cannot take part in the election campaign or show any electoral preference, thereby ensuring a secular political system
  6. The ECB provides for common forums for parties to address the electorate at a specified venue for electioneering
  7. Later, two public debates are organized in which the presidents of the parties or their nominees take part
  8. The first public debate is based more on party ideology and the second on election manifestos
  9. The ECB has strict guidelines, with all media outlets having to submit an undertaking on responsible reporting and to ensure a level playing field
  10. Social media rules and regulations were issued this year, emphasising accountability and responsibility
  11. The election advertising regulations, media coverage of elections rules and regulations and code of conduct for media persons strive to put a check on misuse of mass media during election times

Importance of election results for India

  1. For India, Bhutanese elections have a special significance, considering the very close relations that New Delhi shares with Thimphu, especially in the context of increased Chinese involvement and the Doklam stand-off
  2. Keeping the 79-day Doklam standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies in view, the leanings of the Bhutanese PM are crucial
  3. India will be eagerly looking at the outcome of the third parliamentary elections in Bhutan, a country that has been a positive constant in its foreign policy framework
  4. Some of the Bhutanese concerns include access and connectivity, their currency Ngultrum being pegged to the Rupee, the share of trade to total trade, the Rupee Reserve, etc., besides the China factor
  5. Prime Minister Tobgay had developed a very good rapport with Indian leaders, especially with a change of government in New Delhi
  6. People’s Democratic Party (PDP), led by Tobgay in its manifesto describes India as “our closest neighbour and friend”, and says it will ensure further engagement with New Delhi
  7. It talks of striving to foster good relations with neighbouring West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Assam and Bihar
  8. It will also explore possibilities of creating infrastructural linkages with Indian railway networks to boost export
  9. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), of Dr Pema Gyamtsho in its manifesto, says it remains committed to maintaining and furthering excellent bilateral relations by deepening economic ties and carrying forward the mutually beneficial cooperation
  10. Some doubts, though, have been expressed if DPT’s vision of “sovereignty, security and self-sufficiency” is intended as a thinly veiled reference to Indian interests

Why India’s chances are better in Bhutan?

  1. The Chinese will offer greater funding than Indians can afford but Bhutan may not be looking for huge investments
  2. It has propagated the concept of Gross National Happiness Index over that of GDP, to the whole world
  3. Recently, they declined to ratify the Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement
  4. The reasons advanced by Bhutan are the reservations of a section of its population on environmental grounds
  5. As such, huge Chinese investments shouldn’t be Bhutan’s priority
  6. The country and its people are not focused on rapid industrialisation

Bhutan-China relations not that strong

  1. China has a disputed border with Bhutan that includes Doklam and a few more areas
  2. The Chinese have reportedly offered Bhutan other areas in exchange of approximately 100sqkm at Doklam
  3. As per the old Indo-Bhutanese Agreement of 1949 Bhutan was to be guided by India in regard to its external relations
  4. The treaty signed in 2007 lays down that the two governments will cooperate with each other on issues relating to National Interests
  5. PM Tshering Tobgay and his party were with India during the Doklam standoff
  6. The Bhutanese government had given a statement clearly stating that the Chinese were on Bhutanese territory
  7. A change in guard at Thimphu does not necessarily mean a pro-China tilt, however, it could lead to Bhutan trying to pursue a more equated relationship with both India and China

Way forward for India

  1. Bhutan has supported the Indian stance on most issues except for a few affirmations of independent strategic policy making on a few occasions
  2. Bhutanese politics, despite the transition to democracy, respect the monarchy heavily. For India, this is a major pivot to ensure continuity in India-Bhutan relations and mutually arrived at geopolitical stances
  3. With our longstanding relationship with Bhutan, the Indian focus needs to be on contributing in areas that affect the populace more and in areas that are a priority for the man on the street
  4. Such issues include education, healthcare, agriculture, development of the tourism industry
  5. India already purchases hydropower from Bhutan and is committed to constructing additional hydropower projects in Bhutan
  6. In fact, the sale of power to India is Bhutan’s biggest foreign exchange earner
  7. India-Bhutan relationship has a huge ancient cultural linkage which needs to be leveraged. The revered Guru Padmasambhava associated with Vajrayana Buddhism that has a huge following in Bhutan was from India
  8. The Indian approach to Bhutan has necessarily to be tailored while being sensitive to the growing Bhutanese aspirations of being considered as an equal

Original Article: Bhutan’s Elections & Their Significance To India’s Foreign Policy

With inputs from the article: Why Bhutan’s 2018 general election results could concern India

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Farewell to South Asiaop-ed snap


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


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

[op-ed snap] Green shoots of revival: on BIMSTEC summitop-ed snap


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: BIMSTEC, Kathmandu declaration, Bangkok declaration

Mains level: Importance of BIMSTEC for India and areas of focus for its revival


BIMSTEC Summit 2018

  1. The road to the fourth summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in Kathmandu, Nepal was marked by scepticism and hope
  2. Grouping’s past performance has been modest in the previous 19 years and promising in the past two years
  3. On the positive side, the fact that the summit could be held was a success in itself as it had been delayed

Important decisions taken to revive BIMSTEC

  1. Work begins now on drafting a charter for BIMSTEC, which has functioned so far on the basis of the Bangkok Declaration of 1997, and outcomes of the past three summits and the Leaders’ Retreat in 2016
  2. A Permanent Working Committee will be set up to provide direction during the period between two summits and also to prepare the Rules of Procedure
  3. The Secretariat has been promised additional financial and human resources and enhancement of its role to coordinate, monitor and facilitate the grouping’s activities
  4. As the institution has been handicapped due to lack of financial muscle, the leaders took the bold decision to establish the BIMSTEC Development Fund
  5. A push to increase its visibility and stature in the international fora will also be made by BIMSTEC
  6. Recognising that 16 areas of cooperation represent too wide a spectrum, the BIMSTEC governments will make a serious endeavour to review, restructure and rationalise various sectors, identifying a few core areas

Groundwork achieved in the summit & what remains to be done

  1. Of at least six legal instruments awaiting finalisation, only one, the Memorandum of Understanding on Grid Interconnection, could be inked in Kathmandu
  2. Fourteen years after signing the framework agreement on the Free Trade Area (FTA), the leaders could only renew their “commitment to an early conclusion” of FTA negotiations
  3. The grouping had established its Energy Centre in 2009, but it was still struggling for the “early operationalisation” of the Centre

Various new forums established

  1. There are plans to revitalise the Business Forum and the Economic Forum
  2. Cooperation in the security domain has been widened with a new instrument added to the arsenal: a meeting of home ministers
  3. This will be in addition to annual meetings of national security advisers and the first meeting of army chiefs to be held this year in India
  4. There is a sound plan to establish forums for parliamentarians, universities, cultural organisations and the media community

Focus on connectivity

  1. India emphasised that the biggest opportunity is connectivity — trade connectivity, economic connectivity, transport connectivity, digital connectivity, and people-to-people connectivity
  2. The Kathmandu Declaration has spelt out a number of measures, old and new, to secure this objective
  3. But the Motor Vehicle Agreement and the Coastal Shipping Agreement would still need more time for finalisation

Way Forward

  1. The summit articulated a vision for the Bay of Bengal Region heading towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future
  2. The region is now widely viewed as a common space for security, connectivity and development
  3. BIMSTEC can become a dynamic, effective and result-oriented organisation if it focuses on not just to deliberate, but also to deliver
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] India needs to walk the talk on BimstecIOCRop-ed snapPriority 1


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: BIMSTEC, SAARC

Mains level: The bleak possibility of revival of SAARC and how BIMSTEC can fill the void created by the unofficial ending of SAARC


India’s focus on BIMSTEC

  1. As the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) is unlikely to make a comeback, India’s efforts to promote regional cooperation will continue to focus on the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec)
  2. But unless leaders from the seven Bimstec member-states use this week’s summit in Kathmandu to strengthen the organization’s capacity and set clear priorities, we will be left with just a few more speeches and declarations of intent

Why does India need to do more?

  1. India has a special responsibility to prove that it sees Bimstec as more than a rebound relationship to Saarc
  2. In October 2016, just after the cancellation of Saarc summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened a Brics-Bimstec outreach summit in Goa and then promised to revive Bimstec as India’s priority organization to promote regional cooperation
  3. While Modi spoke in Goa, India had still not placed its director to the Bimstec secretariat in Dhaka, more than two years after its establishment
  4. Also indicating India’s lack of interest, the ministry of external affairs’ (MEA’s) estimated budget for Bimstec that year was just ₹12 lakh

Expectations from BIMSTEC

  1. Bimstec is now supposed to perform at the level of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations or the European Union
  2. Bimstec is mandated to deepen regional cooperation through nothing less than 14 working groups, covering everything under the Bay of Bengal sun, including a free trade agreement, poverty alleviation, tourism, energy and climate change, and even counterterrorism and disaster management

Increasing BIMSTEC’s efficiency

  • Nothing will progress unless the Bimstec secretariat is significantly empowered
  1. With a paltry budget of $0.2 million and a total staff of less than 10 people, including the secretary general and three directors, the secretariat will need significantly more human and financial resources to implement its bold mandate
  2. Member-states will also have to delegate autonomy to the secretariat to hire technical experts, set the multilateral agenda, and serve as the driving force between summits and ministerial meetings
  • India will need to take on an informal Bimstec leadership role and let its practical commitments lead by example
  1. Officials from Thailand, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have repeatedly expressed their willingness to focus on Bimstec, provided India walks the talk and takes the first step
  2. This requires taking on an asymmetric burden, ensuring that India is always represented at the highest level and also willing to walk the extra mile, whether by keeping the momentum diplomatically or committing financial and human resources to strengthen Bimstec
  • Bimstec will have to prioritize economic connectivity, which is the prerequisite for regional integration in any other domain
  1. While the Bimstec free trade agreement has stalled once again, India has instead focused on security issues, including by hosting the first meeting of the Bimstec national security chiefs
  2. With its limited resources, Bimstec’s success continues to primarily hinge on removing the formidable physical and regulatory obstacles to the free flow of goods, capital, services and people between its member-states

Way Forward

  1. Geostrategic imperatives, security dialogues, or counterterrorism cooperation initiatives are no substitute for Bimstec’s primary mandate to increase regional connectivity and revive the Bay of Bengal community
  2. Bimstec will continue to underperform in each and every regard unless member-states commit significant resources to strengthen the organization
  3. Bimstec can be the natural platform for India to simultaneously implement its regional connectivity, Neighbourhood First and Act East policies
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Sovereignty and sensitivity: on India-Bhutan relationsop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Border Roads Organisation, Project Dantak

Mains level: India’s efforts in helping Bhutan in building infrastructure & its effects on foreign policy


Highway building in Bhutan & issue of encroaching rights

  1. The Border Roads Organisation, which helps build Bhutanese roads under Project Dantak, decided in July to make highway markers in shades of the Indian tricolour
  2. Highway markers are the reflective stickers on railings that guide traffic on Bhutan’s steep mountain roads
  3. Citizens were worried that this was an attempt by India to impose its flag on their countryside
  4. The incident was a blip in India-Bhutan relations

Issues that can be resolved in coming months

  1. The ensuing months may also be a useful interlude to revise India’s Bhutan policy and address several issues that have come up in the past few years
  2. These include the hydropower projects where delays in constructing and commissioning in Bhutan by Indian companies have led to the country’s burgeoning national debt
  3. India also needs to focus on policing cross-border trade better
  4. The goods and services tax still hurts Bhutanese exporters, and demonetisation has left lasting scars on the banking system

Dealing with China

  1. The biggest issue between India and Bhutan will remain how to deal with China
  2. The Doklam crisis has brought home many realities for the Bhutanese establishment
  3. Doklam, which has long been discussed as part of a possible “package solution” to the Bhutan-China border dispute, could become a point of India-China conflagration, with Bhutan becoming a hapless spectator in the middle
  4. China’s actions since last June, to build a permanent military presence above the stand-off point, mean that Bhutan has a much-reduced advantage in any forthcoming negotiations on the issue

Way Forward

  1. Unless India finds ways to help Bhutan, it will be accused of the same sort of “debt-trapping” that China is accused of today
  2. India must step lightly and thoughtfully around the upcoming election
  3. Raising concern about highway sticker may be a small incident but it is a clear indicator of heightened sensitivities in the Himalayan kingdom and India should take steps to ensure that the sovereignty of Bhutan is not compromised in its support efforts
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India to host first BIMSTEC war games in September


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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: BIMSTEC, Particulars of the Exercise

Mains level: BIMSTEC as a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN


A Counter-Terrorism Exercise

  1. India will host the first military exercise of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) group focussing on counter-terrorism in September.
  2. As part of this, a conclave of the Army chiefs of all seven member-states is being planned.
  3. The exercise is scheduled to be held in Pune in the second week of September.
  4. The aim of the exercise is to promote strategic alignment among the member-states and to share best practices in the area of counter-terrorism.
  5. The theme includes “counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search”, and each side will bring in some 30 soldiers.

What is so special?

  1. The conclave of Army chiefs is scheduled on the last two days of the exercise.
  2. The chiefs will debate the challenge of terrorism and transnational crime, which is a major concern among all the states and on how they can promote collective cooperation.
  3. BIMSTEC countries held a disaster management exercise in 2017, but this is the first military exercise of the grouping which brings together important neighbors of India in South and Southeast Asia



  1. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
  2. This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  3. The regional group constitutes a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries.
  4. BIMSTEC has also established a platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.
  5. The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economies
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

LNG diplomacy: India plans to build terminals in 4 nations


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Petronet LNG Ltd (PLL), liquefied natural gas (LNG), SAARC Energy Initiative, SAARC electricity grid

Mains level: India’s energy diplomacy

Establishing clout in regional energy scenario

  1. State-run Petronet LNG Ltd (PLL) is planning to set up liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Mauritius
  2. It may boost India’s role in creating a new energy security architecture for its neighbors
  3. PLL is also exploring a similar opportunity in the Maldives

Petronet LNG Ltd (PLL)

  1. Petronet is promoted by four Indian state-owned firms—GAIL (India) Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd, Indian Oil Corp. Ltd and Oil and Natural Gas Corp. Ltd
  2. The firm set up India’s first LNG terminal at Dahej in Gujarat

Importance of these terminals

  1. These terminals will reconvert natural gas shipped in a liquid form into gas and would help India exert economic and strategic influence in the region
  2. India, the world’s fourth-largest LNG importer, has been trying to leverage the glut in global LNG supplies

SAARC Energy initiative

  1. India is also championing for a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Energy Initiative to create sub-regional hydrocarbon infrastructure such as gas networks
  2. This is along the lines of the SAARC electricity grid which envisages meeting electricity demand in the region
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India helping South Asian countries in developing climate servicesIOCR


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: SASCOF, SAARC, World Meteorological Organisation

Mains level: India’s role in neighbourhood


India hosts SASCOF

  1. Pune hosted the 12th edition of South Asian Climate Outlook Forum (SASCOF) on April 19 and 20
  2. India has hosted six editions so far

What is SASCOF?

  1. SASCOF was established in 2010 as a platform where meteorologists from South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member countries along with Myanmar, could discuss some of the common weather and climate-related matters
  2. All these South Asian countries — except for Afghanistan, which is located in extreme northwest — experience common weather and climatological characteristics, like Southwest monsoon
  3. Since 2015, the forum issues Climate Outlook even for the Northeast monsoon

Why such forum?

  1. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) encourages co-operation and establishment of Regional Climate Outlook Forums in every region that share similar weather and climate
  2. WMO has recognised Pune office of IMD as the Regional Climate Centre (RCC)

Role of Regional Climate Centre

  1. Under this, IMD issues a four-monthly forecast with details of temperature and rainfall for the entire region
  2. Besides this, India also extends all kinds of support to them, be it in the form of software or tools required for weather predictions, providing training to meteorologists, providing country-specific forecasts or inviting meteorologists to work in India in order to improve their skills
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The ‘new’ South Asiaop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Problems faced by India in improving its relations with South Asian Nations.



  1. As China’s leverage increases, India has to reimagine its terms of engagement with neighbours

Priority to the immediate Indian neighbors

  1. Soon after coming to power, the Modi government had promised to give priority to the immediate neighbourhood
  2. Relations with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh saw a dramatic improvement while Nepal was given due attention
  3. With Afghanistan, ties were galvanised with security cooperation taking centre stage
  4. Except for the Maldives, Mr. Modi visited all of India’s neighbours and tried to reassure them of New Delhi’s commitment to deliver the goods

But situation is different now: Concern for India

  1. In Sri Lanka, domestic political developments are affecting India, while in the Maldives, India has found its diminishing clout being publicly taken apart
  2. A vocal critic of India has assumed power in Nepal, and with a massive political mandate
  3. In the Seychelles, India is struggling to operationalise a pact to build a military facility
  4. China’s influence is growing markedly around India’s periphery, further constraining India’s ability to push its regional agenda

According to some experts, there was never a golden age of Indian predominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region

  1. Smaller states in the region have always had enough agency to chart their own foreign policy pathways;
  2. sometimes they converged with those of India and at other times they varied significantly
  3. There have always been ‘extra regional’ powers which have come to the aid of India’s neighbours, often to New Delhi’s discomfiture

China’s entry is affecting the policies of South Asian Nations

  1. China’s entry into the South Asian region has opened up new avenues for smaller neighbours which can be leveraged in their dealings with India
  2. As a result, the very idea of what South Asian geography means is undergoing a change

Importance of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation(BIMSTEC )

  1. The idea of the BIMSTEC is gaining currency in Indian policy-making
  2. It can potentially allow India to break through the straitjacket of the traditional confines of South Asia and leverage its Bay of Bengal identity to link up with the wider Southeast Asian region
  3. In that sense, it is about reimagining India’s strategic geography altogether

Difficulties faced by India in South Indian Nations

  1. India’s structural dominance of South Asia makes it a natural target of resentment and suspicion which India has often found difficult to overcome
  2. India is also part of the domestic politics of most regional states where anti-India sentiment is often used to bolster the nationalist credentials of various political formations
  3. South Asian states remain politically fragile and the economic projects in the region have failed to take off as a result
  4. This means that the room available for India to manoeuvre in the region is severely limited despite what many in India and outside would like to believe

The way forward

  1. Successive Indian governments have struggled to get a grip on the neighbourhood
  2. India will not only have to more creatively reimagine its strategic geography but also evolve new terms of engagement with its neighbours
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Make the neighbourhood first againop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), SAARC, ASEAN, BCIM corridor

Mains level: India’s dwindling relationship with neighborhood


India’s neighborhood policy

  1. India’s neighborhood policy is clearly adrift
  2. New Delhi’s connect with its South Asian neighbors is weaker than it has been for a very long time

Problems faced in regional relationships

  1. The first problem is that for various reasons other governments in the SAARC region are either not on ideal terms with New Delhi, or facing political headwinds
  • In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone out of his way to challenge the Modi government
  • In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is certainly not India’s first choice
  • And no matter which party is in power in Pakistan, it is difficult to see Delhi pushing for official dialogue
  • In Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, elections this year and the next could pose challenges for India

2. Impact of China

  • China opened up an array of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade
  • In Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Pakistan, China holds strategic real estate, which could also be fortified militarily in the future
  • China stepped in to negotiate a Rohingya refugee return agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh
  • It hosted a meeting of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers to help calm tensions and bring both on board with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connection between them
  • It also offered to mediate between the Maldivian government and the opposition

3. Use of hard power tactics in the neighborhood

  • The “surgical strikes” on Pakistan of 2016 have been followed by a greater number of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration on the Line of Control
  • The 2015 Nepal blockade and a subsequent cut in Indian aid channeled through the government did not force the Nepali government to amend its constitution as intended
  • Mr. Modi’s decision to abruptly cancel his visit to Male in 2015 did not yield the required changes in the government’s treatment of the opposition
  • Even in Bangladesh, the Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s tough-talking last week about immigration has drawn ire there

Use of soft power

  1. India’s most potent tool is its soft power
  2. Its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan have much more to do with its development assistance than its defense assistance

Opposing China not the solution

Instead of opposing every project by China in the region, the government must attempt a three-pronged approach

  1. First, where possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor
  2. Second, when it feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia
  3. Third, India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention

Learning from ASEAN

  1. SAARC needs to learn from the success of ASEAN
  2. Leaders of SAARC countries should meet more often informally
  3. They should interfere less in the internal workings of each other’s governments
  4. There should be more interaction at every level of government

Way forward

  1. The government’s challenge is to steer India towards a course where it is both feared and loved in appropriate measure
  2. And away from a situation in which it is neither feared nor loved
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Parliament panel questions Centre on ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy


Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Free trade agreement

Mains level: India’s changing relationship with its neighbors

India’s neighbourhood first’ policy questioned

  1. Consultative Committee of the Parliament on External Affairs pointed out that India’s ties with several South Asian neighbours faced challenges, with particular mentions of Maldives and Nepal
  2. The Consultative Committee examined ties with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Afghanistan

Maldives-China ties building up

  1. India’s ties with the Maldives has turned cold since the first week of December when Male signed a Free Trade Agreement with China after rushing it through parliament
  2. Read full issue here

Nepal concern

  1. The return of K.P. Sharma Oli as the newly elected leader of Nepal will have adverse effect on India-Nepal ties as Mr Oli is known to be a critic of India’s policies towards Nepal
  2. For the first time, a party campaigned on clearly anti-India platform and people have voted that party to power
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Debt, project delays worry Bhutan

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Amid Doklam Standoff, the relations of India and Bhutan have become more important, also it is a hot topic of discussion these days.


Concerns of Bhutan on Indian projects

  1. In a two-day conference in Bhutan, they mention that Bhutan wants more focus of India on issues like hydropower project constructions
  2. According to Bhutanese experts, Hydropower projects are critical for the Bhutanese economy
  3. And are at the core of Bhutan’s plans for self-reliance ever since the first five-year plans in 1961

Rising Debt of Bhutan and issues related to it

  1. As of July 2017, Bhutan’s debt to India for the three major ongoing projects: Mangdechhu, Punatsangchhu 1 and 2
  2. It is approximately 12,300 crore which accounts for 77% of the country’s total debt, and is 87% of its GDP
  3. The cost of the 720 MW Mangdechhu project has nearly doubled in the past two years
  4. Both Punatsangchhu 1 and 2, each of 1200 MW capacity have trebled in cost and been delayed more than five years over the original completion schedule

Indian Government Stand on the issue

  1. The Indian government is looking at the proposals of the hydropower committee of Bhutan
  2. But accepted that it would be difficult to meet many of them, given India’s own power sector needs to compete in the same area
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Sharing the futureop-ed snap

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: What is demographic dividend?

Mains level: It is important to know about the issues related to Nepal, as it is our very important neighbour and partner.



  1. The article talks about current situation of Nepal and talks about some regional commons

Achievements of Nepal

  1. Despite modest economic growth, Nepal halved absolute poverty in the past two decades
  2. It dramatically reduced rates of child and maternal mortality
  3. Primary school enrolment, exceeds 97 per cent, and average life expectancy has crossed 70

Future targets of Nepal

  1. Nepal’s target is to get middle-income country tag by 2030, peopled by a vibrant middle-class
  2. To achieve this, Nepal needs to mobilise an unprecedented volume of public revenue and private investment

The Areas where India and Nepal can help each other
(1) Wider Connectivity

  1. Nepal needs to connect with electric railways, expressways and expanded air routes directly connecting more cities in Nepal to more cities in its neighbouring countries

(2) Augmenting Productivity

  1. Nepal’s formidable topography makes material access to world markets costly
  2. However, the availability of clean energy, an affordable workforce make Nepal uniquely tempting to investors

(3) Tapping new economic possibilities

  1. Nepal today faces an enormous trade deficit with India
  2. The share of Nepal’s manufacturing sector has plunged from a peak of 10 per cent of GDP in 1996 to around 5 per cent today

(4) Applying mass social innovation

  1. Nepal must adopt social protection measures to counter the challenges posed by inequality and vulnerability

(5) Protecting the regional commons

  1. South Asia will face a major shortfall in the supply of fresh water over the next decade
  2. Nepal’s big rivers can be a source of fresh water and clean energy that can displace dirty sources of power in the Subcontinent
  3. But Nepal support for this, due to its limited resources

The way forward

  1. Both India and Nepal are dominated by a youthful population with demographic dividends
  2. By 2020, the median age will still just be 29 in India and 25 in Nepal
  3. This young population is yet to be reaped
  4. Cooperation on governing our regional commons is vital for our shared quests of good health and progress
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed] Rebooting India-Nepal tiesop-ed snap

Related image

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Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

Discuss how India’s interventions led to a trust-deficit in India-Nepal relations? What should be India’s priorities in rebuilding it?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: India-Nepal relations



  1. Indian interventionism in Nepal having backfired, the Nepal PM’s visit is an opportunity to raise the level of bilateral ties
  2. India’s interest to secure its own neighbourhood, and that can only be through letting national politics and governance of the smaller neighbours evolve without interference.

India’s Nepal policy – What went wrong?

  1. India played a valued role in ending the Maoist insurgency in 2006, but the period thereafter was marked by escalating micro-meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.
  2. In Constitution-writing, there were attempts to define the new provincial boundaries according to Indian dictates
  3. The presence of India’s heavy hand contributed to the distortion of consensual governance needed in transitional times.
  4. India ‘noted’ rather than welcomed the Constitution.
  5. A society trying to emerge from the April 2015 Great Earthquake was slapped with the punitive Great Blockade
  6. While keeping silent for years on Nepal’s post-conflict transitional justice process, in 2015 India’s representative in Geneva cynically utilised the forum of the Human Rights Council to influence government change in Kathmandu.
  7. Indian interlocutors pushed the Nepali Congress to renege on its promise to continue in coalition with the mainstream left Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist)
  8. Indian strategists are seeking ways to get Kathmandu to allow the construction of high dams and deep reservoirs on Nepal’s rivers — for flood control, navigation, urban use and irrigation in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
  9. New Delhi made deep inroads into Nepal’s political class, but none did it use more than the Madhesbaadi parties
  10. The Great Blockade, forced the Kathmandu to reach out to Beijing and sign a slew of trade, transit and infrastructural agreements with it.
  11. Nepal is today better connected by air to Chinese cities than to India.

Pending matters

Nepal and India have to concentrate on the numerous matters that need concentration and resolution

  1. Open border -While it is Nepal’s Left that has traditionally demanded restrictions on the border, the call now rises from the Indian security establishment.
  2. Massive floods in Nepal plains have also affected downstream areas across the border. A permanent bilateral mechanism is required to save the plains population of Nepal from suffering
    • The Kosi Barrage and attendant embankments have the possibility of wreaking havoc because siltation of six decades has raised the riverbed within the levees far above the outlying tracts
    • The easy answer for the Indian politician is to demand a high dam in the hills of Nepal even as alternatives are not studied, such as redistribution of waters into various older channels of the Kosi in Bihar.
  3. The rights of migrant Indian labour in Nepal and Nepali labour in India is a topic that rarely comes up
  4. Border disputes pending between the two countries — at Susta, Kalapani and the ‘tri-junction’ of Lipulekh
  5. Nepal has planned to sell electricity to India once it has a hydropower surplus.
    • But Indian government directive that it will not allow import of electricity other than from power companies with more than 51% Indian equity.
  6. Neglect by the Kathmandu intelligentsia, such as regarding the impact of demonetisation and the application of Goods and Services Tax on Nepal’s economy and citizenry.
  7. The arbitrary blockages and go-slow at Indian Customs at border points, the selective use of quarantine for the export of Nepali agricultural produce, the increasing high-handedness of the Sashastra Seema Bal in dealing with Nepalis crossing over


Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India moves to revive TAPI gas pipeline

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the TAPI

Mains level: It is a strategically important energy project for India.


Hosting of Steering Committee

  1. India will host the next steering committee meeting of the proposed 1,814 kilometre-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline
  2. The decision was came during the sixth joint Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) meeting on trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation

India’s Objective

  1. India’s effort is to tap Turkmenistan’s Galkynysh gasfields, which are the fourth largest in the world



  1. The Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline (TAPI), also known as Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, is a natural gas pipeline being developed by the Asian Development Bank
  2. The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India.
  3. Construction on the project started in Turkmenistan on December 13th, 2015
  4. The abbreviation TAPI comes from the first letters of those countries
  5. Proponents of the project see it as a modern continuation of the Silk Road
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Nepal proposes Constitution amendment to meet Madhesis demands

  1. What: Nepal’s government has registered the Constitution amendment bill in Parliament
  2. It is aimed at carving out a new province to meet the demands of agitating Madhesis and other ethnic groups
  3. The bill also proposes to address 3 other key issues — citizenship, representation in the Upper House and recognition of languages spoken in various parts of the country
  4. The bill proposes to list all the mother tongues of Nepal in the schedule of the constitution on the recommendation of the Language Commission
  5. On citizenship, the bill proposes that foreign women married to Nepali men can obtain naturalised citizenship after initiating the process to renounce their citizenship
  6. Re-demarcation of the provincial boundary and citizenship issue are the two major demands put forth by the agitating Madhesi parties
  7. Madhesis, mostly Indian-origin, launched a 6-month-long agitation from Sept last year to February this year
  8. The agitation had also crippled the landlocked country’s economy as supplies from India were blocked
  9. The bill does not say anything about the rights of the naturalised citizens and citizens by birth


This news is mainly important from the mains perspective. The Madhesi agitation drastically affected India’s relations with Nepal, allowing China to make inroads. Indian citizens are also impacted by citizenship issues due to intermarriage in border regions of India and Nepal. Add this to your notes on India-Nepal relations.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Strengthening the India- Nepal bilateral ties IIop-ed snap

  1. Indian contribution in Nepal: Nepali Rs.4,000 crore is disbursed annually after the OROP implementation in terms of pensions
  2. India’s welfare schemes: solar electrification and drinking water supply to ex-servicemen’s villages
  3. Medical care and provision of ambulances and education and scholarships for their children
  4. 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship enables Nepali citizens to find easy employment in India
  5. Nepali students will now be eligible to sit for IIT entrance exams
  6. Additional scholarships for PG studies in water resources management and hydel power at IIT, Roorkee
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Strengthening the India- Nepal bilateral ties Iop-ed snap

  1. Background: Anti-Indian sentiment fanned among Nepalis
  2. Indian President’s Address: Nepal should complete the political transition that began a decade ago when the Maoists came overground to join democratic political process
  3. To consolidate gains of multiparty democracy, all sections need to be brought on board for new constitution to succeed
  4. Highlighted historical and civilisational links between people of the two countries
  5. Linked destinies of the two countries by emphasising that they have a “vital stake in each other’s well-being and security”
  6. He spoke about spiritual ties among the people by invoking Ram and Sita without mentioning either Hinduism or secularism, a sensitive issue in the new constitution
  7. Visited Pokhara to address ex-servicemen, tribute to the bravery of the 32,000 Gurkhas currently serving in Indian Army
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India hopes Bhutan will ratify vehicles pact II

  1. The Bhutanese govt could try to pass the law again in a year
  2. In the meanwhile, the BIN (Bangladesh-India-Nepal) countries could go ahead with building their logistics
  3. BBIN has potential as a road link that will extend to rail and waterways reducing circuitous shipping routes by 1,000 km
  4. It is also seen as India’s way of countering Pakistan in the SAARC grouping
  5. Pakistan has refused to let the MVA be ratified in SAARC, as a consequence of which land-locked Afghanistan had to stay out as well
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India hopes Bhutan will ratify vehicles pact I

  1. Issue: A vote in Bhutan’s National Council (NC) disallowing the sub-SAARC motor vehicle zone among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN)
  2. Reason: Protests from the Bhutanese opposition, mainly over environmental concerns of vehicular pollution increasing have derailed the process
  3. India, Bangladesh and Nepal have already ratified the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA)
  4. India has been wary of leaning too heavily on the Bhutanese govt to speed up the BBIN ratification, despite excellent relations between the two
  5. Reason: It could offend the sensitivities of the smaller neighbour
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Indo-Nepal tiesop-ed snap

  1. Context: Coalition government of—the Maoists and the Nepali Congress—completed 100 days in office
  2. Existing issues: Mass anger of Nepalis against India over border blockade, caused shortage of essential goods in Nepal
  3. Pranab Mukherjee’s visit: Large number of comments on social media that said “we have not forgotten the blockade” when Mukherjee visited
  4. The bilateral visits have brought the relations back on track
  5. Absence of political stability and Nepal’s reactive diplomacy may not be the basis for durable and dependable policy
  6. China is at a distance for now, but it continues to command more trust and respect in Nepal
  7. Some western and Indian thinktanks are keen to bring the Madhesi and ethnic hill groups together
  8. Reason: So that Nepal’s politics is driven more by caste and ethnicity than by class and political ideology
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Pranab Mukherjee to visit Madhes region during Nepal visit

  1. Event: First visit by an Indian President in 18 years
  2. Significance: It is the first state visit from India after the months long blockade
  3. The blockade began due to an agitation for greater political space for the Madhesis of Nepal’s plains
  4. Madhesi sources said that the visit to Madhes region is symbolic of India’s special ties with the plains of Nepal and will strengthen India’s commitment to Nepal’s diverse polity
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Strengthening ties between Nepal and Indiaop-ed snap

  1. India’s treatment: offers Nepali citizens national treatment on its soil. Nepalese are free to come and work in India even in Central government services.
  2. Nepal allows its citizens to serve in the Indian army.
  3. Issue: Delhi’s over involvement in Nepal’s internal affairs fuels the demands in Nepal for breaking the interdependence. Every political churn in Nepal has its resonance in India.
  4. Messiness on political front leads to economic losses of Delhi and Kathmandu.
  5. Steps to be taken: Madhesis fighting for their rights should be addressed.
  6. Nature of the frontier should be changed through trade facilitation, simplifying transit arrangements, removing non-tariff barriers, improving transborder roads and ease of business for Nepali enterprises, and making life easier for Nepali citizens working in India.
  7. China’s role: Political efforts in Kathmandu to construct a political symmetry between relations with Delhi and Beijing. Beijing is trying to overcome its geographic disadvantage through mega projects like the Tibet Railway.
  8. Advantage for India: However, the logic of economic geography tilts Nepal massively towards India. Nepal’s nearest ports will always be in India and the Gangetic plain will remain its largest market.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Govt nod for new pact on trade, transit with Bhutan

  1. What: The Cabinet has approved a new Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between India and Bhutan
  2. The agreement provides for a free trade regime between two countries, and duty free transit of Bhutanese merchandise for trade with third countries
  3. Bilateral trade between will continue to be transacted in Indian Rupees and Bhutanese Ngultrums
  4. The bilateral trade had grown by 55% year-on-year in FY’16 to $750 million, with India’s exports rising 40.4% to $469 million
  5. While imports from Bhutan jumping 87 per cent to $281 million
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

BIMSTEC a sunny prospect in BRICS summit at Goa II

  1. Way forward: India should lead BIMSTEC positively with a much broader, inclusive vision driven by economic merits of cooperation and not just the aim of isolating Pakistan
  2. Present progress: There are new projects on connectivity, building infrastructure and sharing resources, both inter-regionally as well as bilaterally
  3. India’s “Act East” policy is spurring the government to extend the Trilateral highway project all the way to Cambodia
  4. And to help with port infrastructure in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, while recently rescued ties with Nepal will see the government step up its hydel and road projects there
  5. In addition, the ‘SASEC’ grouping that also includes the Maldives, met last month to clear infrastructure projects funded by the Asian Development Bank
  6. The BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) groupings are seeing their projects on seamless connectivity moving at a quicker pace
  7. This will help India assume a new leadership role in the region
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

BIMSTEC a sunny prospect in BRICS summit at Goa I

  1. Background: BRICS countries economies are in trouble, with the exception of India
  2. There are many disagreements among members, e.g. India and China over NSG
  3. Among all these problems, the BIMSTEC outreach is a sunny spot for host India
  4. The seven-nation grouping of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand, was founded in 1997 as BISTEC
  5. Then refurbished as the Bay of Bengal initiative for Multi-sectoral technical and economic cooperation (BIMSTEC), but has floundered since then for lack of funding
  6. BIMSTEC’s success will depend on keeping the grouping away from politics that bedeviled SAARC
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] An Unwanted Past – India’s lack of enthusiasm for SAARCop-ed snap

  1. Theme: India’s disdain for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and its embrace of new global fraternities.
  2. India’s aspirations for power: The West represents the apex of power aspirations, but Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa—which with India make up the BRICS grouping—are good company to keep, while awaiting a permanent place at the high table.
  3. India’s lack of enthusiasm for SAARC: Because of India’ centrality within the political geography of the region, India feared that a regional grouping could become little more than a forum for all neighbouring countries to ventilate bilateral grievances.
  4. The last place India wants to be is in a neighbourhood group where its aspirations for regional hegemony are constantly challenged by smaller countries, where even the internal concord essential to projecting external strength continually eludes it
  5. Reasons behind ineffectiveness of SAARC: SAARC’s charter specifies that it would not deal with any issue of a bilateral character. This, in effect, neutralised much of the potential of the regional grouping because South Asia’s political geography makes almost every issue bilateral in nature, with India occupying one pole and the other countries by turn, the other.
  6. In its 31-year career, SAARC has on an average held one summit every 21 months. This does not speak of a spirit of great neighbourly cordiality since the SAARC charter commits member states to annual summits.
  7. Where common perceptions are possible because of shared geographical features, such as South Asia’s mountains and rivers, resource competition has impeded action, even at the risk of irreparable ecological damage.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

SAARC summit postponed indefinitely

  1. News: Blaming India for derailing the SAARC Summit, Pakistan announced that the summit scheduled for November 9 and 10 in Islamabad will now be held on an alternate date
  2. Why? Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan & India have opposed the summit under the prevailing environment seeking postponement
  3. SAARC Charter: Decisions at all levels shall be taken on the basis of unanimity, and this applies to the convening Heads of State or Government of SAARC Member States as well
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The SAARC gambitop-ed snap

  1. Theme: India along with Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh has pulled out of the forthcoming SAARC summit in an effort to diplomatically isolate Pakistan.
  2. A brief background: This decision was prompted by a number of reasons. First, Pakistan has blocked all SAARC protocols to better link the region (the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement and the SAARC Regional Railways Agreement)
  3. Second, Pakistan’s failure to comply with diplomatic protocols in recently hosted meetings such as recently in Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visit.
  4. No action on terror – The Pathankot and Uri attack. Pakistan refused to even issue a statement condemning the Uri attack.
  5. Impact on SAARC: Will cause serious damage to the multilateral process and raise questions about the future and relevance of SAARC.
  6. Founding principles of SAARC: Fighting the common ills of the region together i.e. low intra-regional trade, working around bilateral tensions in the subcontinent, infrastructure, sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

After India, Bangladesh, Bhutan pull out of SAARC summit- II

  1. Bhutan: Committed to the SAARC process and strengthening of regional cooperation
  2. However, it is concerned over the recent escalation of terrorism in the region, which has seriously compromised the environment for the successful holding of the Summit in Islamabad
  3. The decision by three countries of the eight-member grouping not to attend the summit would lead to its collapse.
  4. India: Recently decided not to attend the SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November
  5. The announcement by India came on a day Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar issued a second demarche to Pakistan High Commissioner over Uri attack
  6. And also confronted him with proof of cross-border origins of the terror strike in which 18 jawans were killed
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

After India, Bangladesh, Bhutan pull out of SAARC summit- I

  1. What? Apart from India, Bangladesh and Bhutan have also pulled out of the SAARC Summit in Islamabad in November
  2. Why? The environment is not right for the successful holding of the meet
  3. Bangladesh: The growing interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh by one country has created an environment which is not conducive to the successful hosting of the Summit
  4. As the initiator of the SAARC process, it remains steadfast in its commitment to regional cooperation, connectivity and contacts
  5. But it believes that these can only go forward in a more congenial atmosphere
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India readies business card for SAARC businessmen

  1. Centre extends facility to Pakistan too despite security concerns
  2. The business card will be only given to prominent businessmen of the eight SAARC countries and the card will have to be carried with a passport
  3. he SAARC countries are also working on a ‘uniform visa application form and software’ for 24 categories of entitled persons
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

China slowdown ‘a significant risk’ for global economy: Rajan

  1. RBI Governor cautioned about a sharp slowdown in Chinese economy
    This remains a significant risk for the global economy
  2. Spill-over: A sharp contraction in China’s imports has led to spill-overs through the trade, confidence, tourism and remittance channels
  3. And that SAARC nations have not been able to avert its impact
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Pakistan opts out of SAARC satellite project

  1. News: India had held deliberations with experts from other SAARC countries to finalise modalities for the satellite exclusively for the regional grouping
  2. Context: Ambitious SAARC satellite project proposed by PM Modi for all member countries of the regional grouping nearly one-and-half-yrs back
  3. Where? SAARC Summit in Nepal in Nov 2014
  4. Why? To benefit all member countries in various fields including telecommunication and tele-medicine
  5. Developed by? ISRO to develop the satellite which can be dedicated as a “gift” to the neighbouring countries
  6. Relevance: India had held deliberations with experts from other SAARC countries to finalise modalities for the satellite exclusively for the regional grouping
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Connectivity key to South Asia’s growth: External Affairs Ministry

  1. News: Connectivity among South Asian nations was the key to economic development of the region, said by Sushma Swaraj
  2. Context: She was addressing the 37th session of the council of ministers of SAARC in Pokhara, Nepal
  3. Relevance: Connectivity was central to development and economic, cultural and people-to-people contacts would flow naturally from connectivity
  4. South Asian nations must think innovatively and find solutions to harness their economic complementarities
  5. South Asia was poised to take off as a region of vitality, creativity and economic growth
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Nepal to brief India on Oli’s China visit

  1. News: India and Nepal are scheduled to hold more talks on the sidelines of a SAARC meeting
  2. Context: Meeting will held days before Nepal Prime Minister Nepal K.P. Sharma Oli’s visit to China
  3. Foreign Secretary reminded the Nepal leadership of the need to keep the country free of anti-India elements during the meeting in Kathmandu
  4. Nepal-China Meet: Mr. Oli’s trip to China is expected to yield an extradition treaty between China and Nepal, apart from showcasing Beijing’s support to present govt in Kathmandu
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Sharp drop in aid to SAARC nations


  1. News: Development assistance for all SAARC countries has been significantly reduced in the 2016-17 Budget
  2. Context: This move is contrary to the NDA government’s Neighbourhood First diplomatic posture
  3. Relevance: Except Pakistan, all other 6 members of SAARC receive significant financial assistance from India
  4. Slashing of Assistance: Cut in Budget to Ministry of External Affairs, has fallen by about Rs. 500 crore
  5. Officials said: Many projects started between 2005-2010 had been completed or were nearing completion and needed less assistance
  6. Exception to the Budget: Myanmar (not a SAARC nation) saw a major 48% increase in development aid
  7. Why? because, govt’s focus on the Kaladan multi-mode transport corridor project, as well as the Trilateral Highway project
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Colombo ‘committed’ to reconciliation

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera appealed to the victims on both sides of the divide to participate in a consultation process

  1. Context: This aimed at designing a reconciliation mechanism in post-civil war Sri Lanka, appealed to the victims on both sides of the divide to participate in a consultation process
  2. The News: Pointing out, bankrupt politicians as well as the ghosts of extremism were again trying to stir up the people’s passions, so urged moderates to come together
  3. Relevance: The process of reconciliation was undertaken not to appease international pressure or to keep the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights happy
  4. Outcome: It owe to the people of nation to forge a new future where all citizens will be treated with equal dignity and respect
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Sri Lanka proposes new Constitution

  1. The main idea is to devolve power to the grassroot level and strengthen democracy in order to prevent another war.
  2. This will also guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms that assure human dignity and promote responsible and accountable government.
  3. It has been criticised that the new constitution has been drafted to please some Western nations and to dilute the main religion, Buddhism.
  4. The move comes when administration is taking steps to promote post-conflict reconciliation and address alleged war crimes.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Seed bank will be key to food security: experts

Representatives of 6 SAARC countries discussed the establishment of a regional seed bank.

  1. It will ensure food security and address the shortages caused by natural calamities.
  2. The meeting underlined the relevance of the seed bank in achieving collective self reliance in food crop production.
  3. Production and distribution of quality seeds constitute key elements in an effort to step up the production and productivity of crops.
  4. The seed bank is expected to provide a ready stock of common varieties to meet emergency situations caused by natural calamities.
  5. They also called for steps to conserve genetic varieties of seeds and facilitate the exchange of seeds and planting materials between SAARC nations.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India Business Card for SAARC trade

  1. India is all set to launch an India Business Card for the business community in SAARC countries, to facilitate trade and commerce.
  2. The Card will have a special logo and will be only given to businessmen of high repute.
  3. It is aimed at easing business and gels with the ‘Make in India’ policy of the govt.
  4. It is unclear if Pakistan businessmen would get access to India’s manufacturing sector.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

7 South-asian nations team up to tackle black money

  1. They have a cool name – South Asian Regional Intelligence and Coordination Centre (SARICC) and they are going to tackle money laundering.
  2. This is first time an attempt is being made to establish such a centre in South Asia.
  3. And no points for guessing, India is spearheading this initiative!
  4. Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives are also part of it.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India and Pakistan can start opening up to tradeop-ed snap

Despite their nearly seven decades of rivalry, India and Pakistan have a bottom-line interest in increasing commerce between them.

  • Official bilateral trade between both is barely $3 billion in 2014, it could easily amount to 10 times that much.
  • Both governments lose millions in potential customs revenue to smuggling.
  • India has granted Pakistan “most favored nation” trading status since 1996, when both countries joined the World Trade Organization.

One idea to resurrect the relations, a jointly run special economic zone on the India-Pakistan border

  • This scheme would skirt several of the most contentious trade issues.
  • To ease security concerns, goods, workers and executives going into and out of the zone could be monitored.
  • The US and the European Union, for instance, might offer tariff-free access to any goods exported from the zone.
  • Foreign companies that currently manufacture in both countries – Honda and Toyota, could be encouraged to consolidate their operations.

Ideally, initial success would fuel enthusiasm among the local business community for widening the experiment, and make more difficult conversations between the nuclear-armed neighbours just a little bit easier.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Cabinet nods to MLAT in Criminal Matters between India and Maldives

Aims to enhance effectiveness of both signatory countries in investigation and prosecution of crime.

  1. Seeks to enhance cooperation and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
  2. Provide a broad legal framework for bilateral cooperation in the context of transnational crime and its linkages to terrorism.
  3. Focus on tracing, confiscation of proceeds, restraint and instruments of crime as well as monetary funds meant to finance terrorist acts.
  4. Under the MLAT, a mechanism has been developed among countries for obtaining an evidence to solve the criminal investigations and further use it for prosecutions.

What is MLAT?

Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) is an agreement signed between two or more countries for the purpose of exchanging and gathering information to enforce criminal laws or public laws.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Sri Lanka hopes economic pact with India by year end

  1. Seeking to strengthen the Indian Ocean island’s ties with its big neighbour and reduce its dependency on Chinese investment.
  2. We are looking at a permanent agreement on cooperation on economic affairs – trade, investment and technology for development.
  3. India fears that $2 trillion economy could dominate that of Sri Lanka, with a gross domestic product of just $75 billion.
  4. Bilateral trade touched $3.64 billion in 2013,Of that, India’s exports to the island were $3.09 billion while it imported $543 million worth of goods from Sri Lanka.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India’s hi-tech gift to the SAARC – Satellite!

  1. The SAARC satellite, announced by the PM in the last SAARC summit in Nepal will cost Rs. 235 crores and the launch cost will be borne by India.
  2. The satellite will provide services related to telecommunication & broadcasting applications – television, direct-to-home, very small aperture terminals, tele-education, tele-medicine and disaster management support.
  3. ISRO will launch it using GSLV – MK-II.



Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Engineering goods exports to South Asia on the rise

  1. Many South Asian countries, which used to account for a small share in Indian engineering exports, are now emerging as promising markets.
  2. The EEPC, the apex body of Indian engineering exports, gives credit to the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy of PM Modi.
  3. “South Asian countries have become a major market for us, giving us more than 15% of the total shipments,” Anupam Shah, EEPC Chairman, said.
  4. An EEPC official said that while Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal were major importers, there was insignificant trade with Bhutan and Afghanistan and almost nil trade with Pakistan.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] South Asia’s Berlin wallsop-ed snap

  1. The image of South Asia is branded as one of the least integrated region in the world.
  2. New Delhi’s foreign policy has overestimated the potential for normalisation of relations with Pakistan and underestimated the huge opportunities that Bangladesh has long presented.
  3. The recent course-correction measure will decisively correct the long-standing bias.
  4. Modi’s outreach to Dhaka and the smaller neighbours is not an effort to “isolate” Pakistan.
  5. Pakistan is too big and important in global and regional geopolitics to be isolated.


Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

National Knowledge Network to be open to all SAARC nations

  1. India is extending its National Knowledge Network to all the members of the SAARC.
  2. This will allow students unimpeded access to digital libraries and network resources.
  3. Pillars of India’s vision for SAARC – Trade, investment, assistance, cooperation, people-to-people contacts and connectivity.
  4. India is also hosting the South Asian University, dedicated to the region.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Space Diplomacy for India

  1. On the launch of the 4th satellite for the IRNSS, the ISRO chief talked about development of a SAARC satellite.
  2. The remaining 3 navigation satellites IRNSS-1E,1F and 1G would be launched soon.
  3. This launch was via the PSLV (launch pad). We are also developing capabilities for the GSLV-Mark II.
  4. The commercial arm of ISRO is called Antrix Corporation.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

India to host 5th meeting of SAARC Health Ministers in New Delhi

  1. Meeting will be a follow-up on the decisions taken by the SAARC-Head of State meeting held at Kathmandu in November 2014.
  2. Key issues – HIV-AIDS, prevention of noncommunicable & communicable diseases.
  3. Framing a road map for strengthening collaboration among SAARC countries on a number of issues and challenges faced by them.
  4. Maldives had hosted the 4th meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers in April 2012. So, we will be meeting after 3 years.

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