INDIA’S NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICY

Seminar organised by the MLSIAPA and Centre for Pakistan Studies, JNU

17th February 2007

New Delhi

 

The MLSIAPA in association with the Centre for Pakistan Studies, JNU organised a one-day seminar on India’s neighbourhood policy. The seminar was inaugurated by former Union Minister, KC Pant. Various speakers spoke on various aspects of India’s neighbourhood policy. Among them were Prof. C. Raja Mohan, Prof. Uma Singh, Apratim Mukarji, Dr. BC Upreti, Dr. Smruti Patnaik, Dr. Srikant Kondapalli etc. The seminar was concluded with the valedictory address by Union Minister Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar. Following are the excerpts from some of the speakers’ presentations.

 

MADHURI SANTANAM SONDHI

Prof. ML Sondhi was well aware that good neighbourly cooperation depends on two factors:

 

1. On the part of India we need restraint in the form of non-intervention in our neighbours’ affairs so as not to repeat the past as in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Kautilyan dandaniti is only necessary in case of serious provocation. We can work towards setting the boundaries of good normal conduct and making them transparent.  We cannot undo past mistakes but we can learn from them.


2. On the part of our neighbours we can also ask for restraint.  Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, China have been hosts to terrorist groups that threaten the Indian Union and her interests: this often happens in response to perceived Indian hegemony and interventionism. Thus the two restraints have to be simultaneous and mutual.  SAARC in fact has been trying to evolve a code of conduct against regional and intra-regional terrorism, but more than that India needs to provide the elites in her neighbourhood with incentives for good behaviour to secure regional cooperation.


Since India is developing more self-confidence arising out of her political and economic freedoms and democracy, she can engage her neighbourhood through peaceful dialogue. We live in age of multiplying regional associations and institutions. Professor Sondhi’s own contribution was to envisage a possible framework for a South Asian parliament. He with Shrikant Paranjpe of Pune University worked out an outline of its possible constitution and procedures. Cynics would say that the subcontinent finds it so difficult to cooperate on matters of trade and economic affairs, how can we think of any regional political institution? His answer was that we do not have to imitate the European procedures in their detail, though we can learn much from their spirit.  In South Asia we should start with a Parliament – the French word parlement from which Parliament is derived means speaking – and that is something South Asians love to do – we are highly articulate people! So let them assemble in a Parliament which to start with has no binding legislative authority, but which enables them to meet and discuss the contentious issues which divide them. This would humanise the conflicts and create an environment for further cooperation.

 

Prof. C. Raja Mohan

 

Prof. C. Raja Mohan began by asserting that much of the Indian foreign policy-making in recent years has gone into dealing with the consequences of the 1998 nuclear tests and subsequent reconstituting India’s place in the nuclear order. Hence, there has been no focus on the neighbourhood. In effect, we are dealing with episodic crisis situations in the neighbourhood. There has been no high level visit by the Indian Prime Minister in the neighbourhood in recent years. So we can safely say that India’s neighbourhood diplomacy is largely out of function. And yet, four broad themes emerge in India’s neighbourhood policy in recent years which mark a change from the previous policy outlook. Firstly, the notion of peaceful periphery- the notion that India needs to have a peaceful region if it needs to rise. Additionally, what we desire is a neighbourhood which accepts India’s primacy. And here there is a realisation that primacy cannot be achieved by a diktat. It is achieved by power and influence.  It cannot be enforced through legality. Secondly, the overarching theme of security multilateralism is apparent in India’s neighbourhood approach. We traditionally held a notion that other great powers should not come in the region and yet we could not stop their entry. This forced the Indian government to take help of outside powers in managing the region, to produce the outcomes that were desired by India. The involvement of the Norwegians in the Sri Lankan peace process and also the joint action by India, US, UK and the European Union in the Nepalese Jan Andolan are a case in point. Thirdly, we can se that there is in operation an economic unilateralism. Though, reciprocity was the central idea earlier, India realised that to integrate the region, unilateralism was the key. So, India had to take initiative to integrate the South Asian market. And fourthly, reconstitution of the geographic space of South Asia is the dominant theme in the Indian neighbourhood policy. Conceiving the region in a connected manner, India has now laid the emphasis upon greater opening of the borders for trade and other interactions.

 

Prof. Uma Singh

 

President Pervez Musharraf is using Kashmir and trade issues as two pressure points in his relationship with India. Apart from that there is also the constant pressure of the United States on India to modulate its Pakistan policy. Another source that has influenced India’s Pakistan policy is the Pakistani domestic situation itself. Now the Pakistanis themselves are believing that military rule is the only source of political stability. This leaves very little space for India to deal with a democratically-elected government and therefore has to deal with Musharraf. So any democracy argument for Pakistan put up by India is futile as a stable Pakistan under military rule is in India’s interest. India’s claim on Kashmir is strong but very complex. However, the resilience of the Indian state should not be underestimated.  

 

Apratim Mukherjee

 

Talking on India’s Sri Lanka policy, Mr. Mukherjee said that India will not intervene in the Sri Lankan crisis but work towards a reasonable solution keeping in mind the Tamil aspirations. This is however in stark contrast to the strong Sri Lankan desire of India playing a very active role.