Issue In recent times India is able to make many friends in its neighbour.
Problems Financial resources, severe attention deficit and a self-imposed “unilateral bias”
What is the solution? There should be a clear rationale guiding our strategic engagements.
Let us examine possibility of multilateral approach in recent strategic engagements in the region Co-developing Chabahar, Unilateralism in Afghanistan and India-China strategic partnership.
Conclusion Unilateralism is not the way
- In recent times India is able to make many friends in its neighbour. Salma Dam and Chabahar Port are the living example of this. It could be the outcome of giving priority to neighbours in its Foreign Policy.
- Though these initiatives are very significant, but the strategic community doubt that India will remain committed to these long term projects especially in the context of India’s not-so-impressive record when it comes to delivering on strategically important projects in the region and beyond.
Salma Dam- The Salma Dam is in Afghanistan’s Herat Province, built with Indian assistance and scheduled to be inaugurated during Prime Minister upcoming visit to Afghanistan.
Chabahar Port- Read Editorial Today #42- Chabahar Port
- India lacks the financial resources to invest in crucial projects in a sustained manner due to budget constraints and compulsions of domestic priorities. For example India’s inability to accept Sri Lanka’s offer to build the Hambantota Port some years ago is a case in point. As a result Sri Lanka gave this port to Chinese for its development.
Because of this Chinese came very close to India and also able to augment its policy of “String of Pearls” to encircle India in the Indian Ocean.
- According to some experts there is also a problem of severe attention deficit resulting from an inability to commit diplomatic and political capital to pursue key strategic objectives.
- Many of India’s strategic initiatives in the region, Chabahar for instance, often get portrayed in competitive terms, thereby getting into the cross hairs of adversarial/insecure neighbours.
- This problem is compounded by the fact that India has traditionally displayed a self-imposed “unilateral bias” in addressing key challenges in the neighbourhood and near abroad i.e. it has a tendency to “go solo”.
What is the solution?
1 By adopting a grand strategic approach to addressing key strategic challenges i.e. we need to know why we are doing what we are doing: there should be a clear rationale guiding our strategic engagements.
Some experts believe that India is developing Ayni airbase in Tajikistan with this thinking in mind.
Note:- Ayni airbase- Ayni Air Force Base, is a military air base in Tajikistan, just 10 km west of the capital Dushanbe.
- During the Cold War era, Ayni served as a major military base of the Soviet Union. However, following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the base’s infrastructure deteriorated significantly. Between 2002 and 2010, India spent nearly US$70 million to renovate the air base.
- It was speculated by some media outlets that India was keen on establishing a military base in Ayni so as to gain a strategic foothold in Central Asia.
Some of india’s Airbase outside India
- Farkhor is India’s first military base outside its territory, the second being in Paro Valley, Bhutan.
- Farkhor Air Base is a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan.
2. By moving from a unilateral approach to tackling problems to a multilateral approach.
3. By creating a regional/global consensus on key challenges.
Let us examine possibility of multilateral approach in recent strategic engagements in the region
Things which needs to be acknowledged first
1 Iran was unambiguous in stating that it is not an “Indian” complex (the Indian presence would be limited to developing a small part of a huge complex). Even China and Pakistan are welcomed to invest in this port.
2. It is delusional to think we can develop the port complex and the land access to Afghanistan onwards to Central Asia all on our own and maintain them.
3. Even if we are able to carry out all these grand plans on our own, we may not be able to sustain them in the longer run due to financial and security reasons.
- So India must get some of its key strategic partners, such as the Japanese who might have both the inclination and the money, interested in developing the port with India. Partnering with Japan or European countries to co-develop the port with India would save us some money, enable us to complete the project on time, and ensure more security and acceptability to the project.
Unilateralism in Afghanistan
- India’s engagement with Kabul has so far been praiseworthy because of its well-conceived reconstruction and development assistance (over $2 billion so far) to Afghanistan. The Afghan Parliament, constructed with Indian assistance and inaugurated by Indian PM in December last year, and scores of school buildings and hospitals, among others, have generated a lot of goodwill for India there.
- Yet engagement with Afghanistan is another area where India seems to favour unilateralism instead of multilateral approaches.
- There is a real danger of Indian interests and assets being the target of adversaries in the days ahead with the Taliban on the rise and NATO and U.S. troops withdrawing from Afghanistan.
The problem is twofold.
- One, while there is no guarantee that India’s investments in Afghanistan would be safe from future attacks, India does not seem to have a contingency plan to deal with it other than perhaps putting an end to the good work there.
- Two, India does not seem to have recognised the fact that reconstruction and peace-building should go hand in hand. It is important to calibrate reconstruction efforts with reconciliation and peace-building to sustain the former. India has so far shied away from participating in the Afghan peace process since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
What India should do?
- Get like-minded countries on board India’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and support and engage in the Afghan reconciliation and peace-building process.
India-China strategic partnership
More meaningful Sino-Indian strategic partnership should be undertaken at three levels.
- First, by jointly fighting terror in the region. While India is more at the receiving end of terrorist violence, China has also started feeling the heat and will increasingly do so both on its own territory and its assets abroad, including in Pakistan.
- Second, China today is a major contributor to South Asia’s developmental needs. India should therefore join hands with Beijing to develop the region’s economy, trade and infrastructure.
- Finally, Indian reactions to China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project need not be either dismissive or worried, nor should we dismiss it as a “Chinese national project” and look the other way. Our objective should be to see how we can utilise the many economic, infrastructural and other opportunities opened up by OBOR.
OBOR- Read Editorial Today #31- Silk Road revival plans
- It is important for India’s strategic planners to recognise that when it comes to dealing with key regional challenges and opportunities, unilateralism is not the way. We need to create alliances and coalitions to confront challenges and better utilise opportunities, and in today’s “loose multipolar” world, our alliance behaviour should be guided by clear strategic objectives rather than traditional friendships alone.