For India, It Should be Neighborhood First: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

For India, It Should be Neighborhood First: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

As India’s salience in global matters grows — amply demonstrated recently by the presence of 10 leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at India’s Republic Day celebrations, the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s latest forays to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Palestine — its leaders also need to contemplate and reflect deeply on what is happening in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

In the vicinity

Far more than East, South-east Asia, or West Asia, it is India’s immediate neighbourhood that directly impacts it geopolitically, geo-strategically and geo-economically. Whatever be the ambit of India’s reach elsewhere, India’s principal focus, hence, will need to be on this neighbourhood. India can afford to live with demands such as the one made at the recently concluded ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, where it was urged to play a pro-active role in the Asia-Pacific region, without needing to take hard decisions. It possibly also does not have to answer questions as to whether ASEAN nations fully back India’s membership of the Quadrilateral (Australia, Japan, the United States and India), even as most of them back China’s Belt and Road Initiative. India can even afford to skirtthe issue as to whether ASEAN-India relations are all embracing in nature or limited only to specific aspects. In West Asia, India still possesses enough leeway to engage in skilful manoeuvre around contentious issues without having to take a stand. India could, thus, successfully handle an Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to India just prior to Mr. Modi’s visit to Palestine, and yet avoid negative fallout. It could also separate the technological “blush” of Mr. Netanyahu’s visit without having to take a clear stand on the issue of Jerusalem. Likewise, Mr. Modi, during his Palestine visit could conclude as many as six agreements and express the hope that Palestine would soon emerge as a sovereign independent country in a peaceful manner without having to specifically refer to a “united” and “viable” Palestine. With the UAE and Oman, things have been easier. With the former, trade and economic ties as also counter-terror aspects have been on a growth curve. With the latter, an established friend, the option of closer naval co-operation and of reaching an agreement to give the Indian Navy access to Duqm port did not prove difficult. It is in South Asia where troubles are mounting, where India cannot succeed without looking at some hard options. For instance, how to deal with a new government in Nepal (comprising the Left Alliance of the CPN-UML led by Oli and the CPN-Maoist Centre led by Prachanda) with few pretensions as to where its sympathies lie. India also needs to now contemplate the prospect of prolonged unrest and possibly violence, both communal and terror-related, in neighbouring Bangladesh, prior to scheduled elections in 2019. This follows the conviction by a special court in Dhaka of Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader and three-time Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on corruption charges. Dealing with both Nepal and Bangladesh will need more than fine gestures; they will need far more closer monitoring.

Troubled hotspot

Another and a more imminent challenge for India is to sort out the imbroglio in the Maldives which is threatening to spill out of control. No amount of dissimulation will help. India cannot afford not to be directly engaged in finding a proper solution. Relations between India and the Maldives have undergone significant changes since the days of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. After the Maldivian Democratic Party, headed by former President Mohamed Nasheed, came to power, for the first time anti-Indian forces within the Maldives (including radical Islamist groups sponsored by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) could muster some support. It was also Mr. Nasheed’s initial overtures to China that set the stage for Maldivian-China relations. Under the current President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, anti-Indian tendencies have steadily increased and there has been a pronouncedtilt in favour of China. The free trade agreement that the Maldives signed recently with China has been the proverbial thin end of the wedge, providing China with an excellent opportunity to enhance its influence and retain de facto possession of the Southern Atolls in the Maldivian archipelagoStraddling a strategic part of the Western Indian Ocean, the Maldives today occupies a crucial position along the main shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. The Southern Maldives has long remained an object of interest to the major powers. With the U.S. taking a step back, China has begun to display a great deal of interest in the area; this coincides with its current outreach into the Indian Ocean Region as also its ongoing plans to take control of Gwadar port (Pakistan) and establish a naval base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. India cannot, hence, afford to remain idle and must come up with an answer soon enough that is consistent with its strategic interests. A muscular reaction would be ill-advised, despite the entreaties of Mr. Nasheed, as the international community is likely to react adversely to any military adventure. China is, meanwhile, playing its cards carefully, calling for “home-grown solutions” and “warning against any military intervention”. The critical need is to find a solution early — one that takes into account India’s geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region. Else, it would have far-reaching consequences as far as India’s quest for regional power status is concerned.

Across the border

Two other issues, viz., Pakistan and Afghanistan, similarly demand our focussed attention, and that India acts with a sense of responsibility expected of a regional superpower. The virtual collapse of a Pakistan policy seems to affect Pakistan less and India more. The latter is facing a daily haemorrhaging of human lives due to cross border firing and terrorist violence from Pakistan. In spite of its internal political crisis, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s fusillade threatening Pakistan with dire consequences if it failed to amend its ways, Pakistan shows no sign of altering its anti-India trajectory. Democratic India can hardly afford to remain as blasé and let things slide, without effectively trying to find ways and means to change a situation which is certainly not to our advantage. Equally vital for India is to try and find a way out of the Afghan morass. The daily massacre of innocents, men, women and children, civilian officials and military personnel, experts from several countries and diplomats, marks the start of the complete collapse of a system of governance. Despite periodic optimistic forecasts of the Taliban being in retreat, terrorists under check, and that the Afghan government is still in charge, Afghanistan’s position today is the worst ever since the 1970s. This January, the capital city of Kabul witnessed one of the worst ever incidents of violence anywhere, in which over 100 civilians were killed following a series of terror strikes. This happened despite the presence of foreign troops, elements of the Afghan military and also of the Afghan police. Notwithstanding the omnipresent Pakistan hand in the violence in Afghanistan, this kind of “engineered chaos” over a prolonged period of time effectively demonstrates that the Afghan state has virtually disintegrated. The collapse of the Afghan state does have severe consequences for India and nations in the vicinity. As a regional power, India has significant stakes in Afghanistan. Apart from the human cost and the fact that New Delhi has spent over $2 billion in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, India’s true stake lies in sustaining the future of the Afghan state. Its “shrivelling” or “demise” and any premature end to the attempt to restore peace in Afghanistan will only revive memories of the worst days of the Afghan jihad in the 1980s and 1990s, and India has every reason to feel concerned about the fallout. Of no less consequence is the fact that if Afghanistan were to cease to exist, its civilisational links with India would also evaporate. For a variety of reasons, therefore, India cannot allow Afghanistan to collapse or cease to exist as a state in the modern sense. This is something that demands India’s critical attention, and specially for a display of its leadership skills. For all these reasons, and apart from those currently at the helm of affairs in India, the leaderships of parties and States across the spectrum must try and achieve unanimity of purpose in regard to our foreign policy priorities. Today, the focus needs to be on our immediate neighbourhood. The outcome of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the turmoil in the East and South China Seas, or other big-ticket issues across the world is important, but it is South Asia and the neighbourhood that demands our concentrated attention. If India is not seen to be actively involved in ensuring that the region is at peace and functions in conformity with its world view, any claims to leadership would amount to little more than treading water.


1) Salience
Meaning: The quality of being particularly noticeable or important; prominence.
Example: “the political salience of religion has a considerable impact”
2) Amply
Meaning: Enough or more than enough; plentifully.
Example: “the persistent reader is amply rewarded”
3) Forays
Meaning: A sudden attack or incursion into enemy territory, especially to obtain something; a raid.
Example: “the garrison made a foray against Richard’s camp”
Synonyms: Attack, Assault
4) Contemplate
Meaning: To spend time considering a possible future action, or to consider one particular thing for a long time in a serious and quiet way.
Example: I’m contemplating going abroad for a year.
Synonyms: Consider
5) Ambit
Meaning: The scope, extent, or bounds of something.
Example: “a full discussion of this complex issue was beyond the ambit of one book”
6) Skirt
Meaning: To avoid discussing a subject or problem, usually because there are difficulties that you do not want to deal with.
Example: The government has been accused of skirting round the issue of torture.
7) Embracing
Meaning: Accept (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.
Example: “besides traditional methods, artists are embracing new technology”
Synonyms: Welcome, Accept
Antonyms: Reject
8) Leeway
Meaning: The amount of freedom to move or act that is available.
Example: “the government had greater leeway to introduce reforms”
Synonyms: Freedom, Scope
Antonyms: Constraint, Restriction
9) Manoeuvre
Meaning: A carefully planned or cunning scheme or action; a movement or series of moves requiring skill and care.
Example: “shady financial manoeuvres”
Synonyms: Tactic, Gambit
10) Contentious
Meaning: Causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.
Example: “a contentious issue”
Synonyms: Vexed, Disputable
11) Fallout
Meaning: The unpleasant results or effects of an action or event.
Example: The political fallout of the revelations has been immense.
12) Blush
Meaning: Show shyness, embarrassment, or shame by becoming red in the face.
Example: “she blushed at the unexpected compliment”
Synonyms: Redden, Tint
13) Mounting
Meaning: Grow larger or more numerous.
Example: “the costs mount up when you buy a home”
Synonyms: Increase, Rise
Antonyms: Decrease, Diminish
14) Pretensions
Meaning: A claim or assertion of a claim to something.
Example: “his pretensions to the imperial inheritance”
Synonyms: Aspiration, Claim
15) Gestures
Meaning: An action performed to convey a feeling or intention.
Example: “Maggie was touched by the kind gesture”
Synonyms: Action, Act
16) Imminent
Meaning: About to happen.
Example: “they were in imminent danger of being swept away”
Synonyms: Close, Near
Antonyms: Remote
17) Imbroglio
Meaning: An extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation.
Example: “the abdication imbroglio of 1936”
Synonyms: Trouble, Complication
18) Spill out
Meaning: If people spill out of a place, large numbers of them come out of it.
Example: People were spilling out of the wine bar onto the street.
Synonyms: Departing
19) Dissimulation
Meaning: Concealment of one’s thoughts, feelings, or character; pretence.
Example: “an attempt at dissimulation”
Synonyms: Pretence, Deceit
20) Undergone
Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).
Example: “he underwent a life-saving brain operation”
Synonyms: Experience, Undertake
21) Muster
Meaning: Assemble (troops), especially for inspection or in preparation for battle.
Example: “17,000 men had been mustered on Haldon Hill”
Synonyms: Assemble, Summon
Antonyms: Disperse
22) Overtures
Meaning: An approach or proposal made to someone with the aim of opening negotiations or establishing a relationship.
Example: “he began making overtures to British merchant banks”
Synonyms: Proposal, Preposition
23) Tendencies
Meaning: An inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behaviour.
Example: “for students, there is a tendency to socialize in the evenings”
Synonyms: Propensity, Proclivity
24) Pronounced
Meaning: Very noticeable or marked; conspicuous.
Example: “he had a pronounced squint”
Synonyms: Noticeable, Marked
Antonyms: Faint, Indefinite
25) Proverbial
Meaning: Well known, especially so as to be stereotypical.
Example: “the Welsh people, whose hospitality is proverbial”
Synonyms: Well known, Famed
26) De facto
Meaning: Existing or holding a specified position in fact but not necessarily by legal right.
Example: “a de facto one-party system”
Synonyms: Actual, Existing
Antonyms: Theoretical, De jure
27) Archipelago
Meaning: An extensive group of islands.
Example: “the Indonesian archipelago”
28) Straddling
Meaning: Take up or maintain an equivocal position with regard to (a political issue).
Example: “a man who had straddled the issue of taxes”
Synonyms: Be equivocal about
29) Outreach
Meaning: An organization’s involvement with or influence in the community, especially in the context of religion or social welfare.
Example: “the growth of evangelistic outreach”
30) Muscular
Meaning: Vigorously robust.
Example: “a muscular economy”
Synonyms: Vigorous, Robust
Antonyms: Weak, Feeble
31) Haemorrhaging
Meaning: Lose or expend large amounts of (something valuable) in a seemingly uncontrollable way.
Example: “the business was haemorrhaging cash”
32) Fusillade
Meaning: A series of shots fired or missiles thrown all at the same time or in quick succession.
Example: “marchers had to dodge a fusillade of missiles”
Synonyms: Salvo, Volley
33) Blasé
Meaning: Unimpressed with or indifferent to something because one has experienced or seen it so often before.
Example: “she was becoming quite blasé about the dangers”
Synonyms: Impassive, Emotionless
Antonyms: Responsive, Excited
34) Morass
Meaning: A complicated or confused situation.
Example: “she would become lost in a morass of lies and explanations”
Synonyms: Confusion, Tangle
35) Omnipresent
Meaning: Widely or constantly encountered; widespread.
Example: “the omnipresent threat of natural disasters”
Synonyms: Present, Infinite
36) Vicinity
Meaning: Proximity in space or relationship.
Example: “the abundance and vicinity of country seats”
Synonyms: Nearness, Proximity
37) Shrivelling
Meaning: To become much smaller than is needed or wanted.
Example: Profits are shrivelling as the recession gets worse.
Synonyms: Decay, Less
38) Demise
Meaning: The end or failure of an enterprise or institution.
Example: “the demise of industry”
Synonyms: End, Fall
Antonyms: Start
39) Consequence
Meaning: A result or effect, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant; importance or relevance.
Example: “abrupt withdrawal of drug treatment can have serious consequences”
Synonyms: Result, Importance
Antonyms: Cause
40) Helm
Meaning: A position of leadership.
Example: “the chairman is to step down after four years at the helm”
Synonyms: Responsible, Managing

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