New Delhi: An expanded set of economic connectivity through trade and investment is the precondition for political stability in South Asia, said Foreign Secretary, Mr Ranjan Mathai on Friday. Mr Mathai was speaking at the launch of the book “India’s Neighbourhood Challenges in the Next Two Decades” at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on July 13, 2012.
Pointing out that South Asia is changing rapidly, he underlined the fact that India needs to fine tune its policy responses and set an example for others by being proactive rather than reactive in adapting to such change.
While the 21st century is an Asian century and has “led to a discernible eastward shift of global political and economic centres of gravity”, it “has also created unprecedented challenges for policy makers and strategic establishments that have to grapple with difficult and often unfamiliar problems”, introspected the Foreign Secretary. Some of the envisioned challenges according to him are sustaining the growth trajectory, possible backlash by certain powers who are unable to adapt to a shift in the global balance of power, especially those at the losing end of the spectrum.
He also observed that the “promotion of a politically stable and economically secure periphery is a paramount foreign policy objective for India” and India has been working towards “fostering inter-connectivity and mutual confidence in multiple areas, in promoting trade and investment, and in trying to leverage India’s rapid economic growth into win-win arrangements with our neighbours.”
On regional cooperation, Mr Mathai said that the challenge is to create structures for South Asian cooperation. While the idea of a South Asian Union is a “distant dream”, some of the challenges listed by him were demarcation of borders in a globalised world, the challenge of using demography as a dividend, the existence of “fragile or weak states”, fast erosion of the division between terrorism and trans-national crimes, shrinking boundaries due to technology and existence of cyber criminals. He also drew attention to India’s efforts to engage different region like the South East Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. He mentioned that India is building an Indian Ocean Littoral Community.
Terming the report as a collaborative effort between the IDSA and the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Mr Mathai said that the report provides a useful contribution to the path ways that South Asian neighbourhood would take in the next twenty years.
Earlier, in his welcome address, Director General IDSA, Dr Arvind Gupta said that the “The study offers a critical survey of developments in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and it explores the complexities of India’s relations with its neighbours, develops plausible scenarios for each country and proposes options for Indian policy makers. It particularly focuses on likely challenges that Indian policy makers will face in the next twenty years.”
Throwing more light on the study, Dr Gupta added, “Each country (in the subcontinent) is in the throes of deep political, economic and social change. Chronic instability in some parts of the sub-continent, demographic pressures, migrations and climate change are likely to accentuate the existing security dilemmas. Terrorism and fundamentalism will continue to dominate the security agenda. On the positive side, trends towards regional cooperation and democracy will strengthen. The role of external powers is critical for regional stability. India will need to adopt proactive approach and be on the look-out for opportunities amidst uncertainties.”
The book release was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Special Secretary MEA, Mr Asoke Mukerji. The panellists complimented the joint efforts of the MEA and the IDSA to bring out such a timely study.
It was pointed out during the discussion that India's neighbourhood could not be viewed in isolation as it is connected with other geo political areas which influence India’s policy. Thus they could be divided into different categories, viz., small and friendly neighbours, countries which are not hostile to India and countries which are hostile to India. The need for crafting separate policies to deal with these three categories of countries was also pointed out. There was also a suggestion to bring in maritime issues the discussion on neighbourhood.
The panel also emphasised that net assessment studies should be accompanied by study of historical and geographical backgrounds which will add to the efforts at scenario building by scholars conducting futuristic research. They also mentioned that India must spell out its interests clearly and convey its redlines to minimise the areas of friction in neighbourhood relations.
The book is he result of study undertaken by IDSA on “India’s Neighbourhood Challenges in the next Two Decades” to examine specific issues related to each of the neighbours, which are likely to have a bearing on India’s security and foreign policy by 2030. The chapters in the book are written by IDSA scholars and based on detailed research and interactions with a large number of scholars and experts both inside and outside IDSA. The study is futuristic and it examines the challenges that might confront India, the opportunities that are likely to emerge and the manner in which India should adapt her foreign and security policies with a view to maximising her gains and minimising her losses.
The key findings that emerge from the book are:
The study argues that in order to deal with uncertainties in an effective manner, India has to Fine-tune its diplomatic apparatus to proactively deal with emerging realities in the Neighbourhood, systematically pursue policies for inclusive and equitable growth, build networks of interdependence with all neighbouring countries, significantly improve the quality of governance and take measures to deal with internal security situations effectively.
Internal cohesion, inclusive and sustained growth and stable polity are absolutely essential for India to influence events in its neighbourhood and help establish peace and stability. Building up of a domestic consensus will have to be a key ingredient of India’s neighbourhood policy.
Collaborative economic engagement and co-operative security approaches will be needed to deal with challenges in a dynamic neighbourhood in the coming decades. At the same time India would benefit by not involving itself in internal politics of its neighbours.