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India’s region | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. One of the five foreign policy guidelines that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh articulated this week is on the importance of re-imagining our region. The PM asked the Indian ambassadors to recognise that the Indian subcontinents shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. The idea of Indias shared destiny with its immediate neighbours has been a consistent theme in the PMs statements over the last decade,which has seen significant expansion of New Delhis regional engagement at both bilateral and multilateral levels. This idea has a long lineage in Indias foreign policy. Under the first non-Congress government formed in 1977 by the Janata Party,the then foreign minister,Atal Bihari Vajpayee,wanted to break the perception that Indira Gandhis regional policies were hegemonic. Instead,Vajpayee wanted to promote good neighbourly relations. It was again a non-Congress leader,Inder Kumar Gujral,who injected the notion of regionalism in Indias foreign policy. The Gujral Doctrine sought to end Indias endless contestations with neighbours and offered to walk the extra mile in resolving longstanding problems. Meanwhile,the economic reforms initiated by then Congress prime minister,P.V. Narasimha Rao,and his finance minister,Manmohan Singh,provided the foundation for Indias economic regionalism. India and its neighbours,it was becoming clear,cannot effectively globalise their economies while neglecting regional integration. As prime minister,Vajpayee consistently emphasised that India can choose its friends but not its neighbours,and pursued peace with Pakistan and a solution to the boundary dispute with China. Despite making bold moves for example,negotiating on Kashmir with Pakistan and settling the boundary dispute with Bangladesh Singh has lost the momentum because of the inability of his government to build domestic consensus on an enlightened regionalism. If the PM now yields to the pressures from the Congress party and skips the Commonwealth Summit in Colombo,he will severely damage the national interest,despite his good intentions and strong convictions on regionalism. STRATEGIC UNITY. Analysts have drawn attention to the PMs usage of the term the subcontinent rather than the more recent moniker,South Asia. The subcontinent more accurately reflects the regions shared history and enduring identity. In using the term,which has begun to gain some traction in recent years,the PM is referring to another goal central to Indias foreign policy the strategic unity of the subcontinent. All great empires that have flourished in the region the Mauryas,the Mughals and the British Raj strove to unite the subcontinent and secure it against external and internal challenges. The Partition and its strategic consequences have severely constrained independent Indias attempts to build the strategic unity of the subcontinent. Indias past insular economic policies have made it even more difficult by sundering the traditional commercial and physical connectivities within the subcontinent. Restoring the lost connectivity,then,stands out as an important strategic objective of Indias foreign policy. Delhi must learn to work with multiple sovereignties in the subcontinent and leverage the logic of globalisation to promote shared prosperity across the region. OUTSIDE POWERS. As part of its quest for primacy in the subcontinent,India has always opposed great power intervention in the region. Realism,however,suggests India cannot exclude the great power involvement in the subcontinent by mere diktat. Delhis complaint against external meddling in Indias neighbourhood,directed traditionally against the West,is now also aimed at China. As the worlds second largest economy,Chinas profile in the region can only rise. China is the largest trading partner to most countries in the subcontinent,including India. On top of it,China has demonstrated its ability to alter the military balance in the subcontinent by helping Pakistan arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. In the coming years,Beijing is also likely to become a major supplier of conventional weapons to most of Indias neighbours. Protesting against the role of great powers in the region is futile. India needs a more purposeful policy to build on its natural geographic advantages in the subcontinent,deepen economic integration,promote regional connectivity,and resolve outstanding bilateral political disputes. If it cant sustain a dialogue with Islamabad,ratify agreements negotiated in good faith with Dhaka,and the PM cant even travel to a multilateral gathering in Colombo,Delhi is only making it easier for other powers to intervene in the subcontinent. Delhi has itself to blame if the subcontinent eventually stops being Indias region. The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,Delhi and a contributing editor for The Indian Express
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