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India's Alienated Neighbours

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Since independence in 1947 India has remained locked in a sapping bind with its neighbours over territorial matters or internal politics. The fact that local politics in all South Asian countries is influenced by relations with the neighbours is testimony to the long held belief that political separation does not necessarily mean psychological or emotional distancing. In fact the opposite is true and despite political boundaries separating countries, each still feels a perplexing connection to the other. This connection is by no means an entirely positive phenomenon wherein the other country harbours goodly feelings for its neighbour. The history of South Asia since 1947 in fact points to other direction, wherein neighbours have harmed each other only so as to spite the other.

In some form or the other India has ongoing territorial disputes with each of its neighbours barring Bhutan and Maldives. The disagreements with the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan are of course the more well known and publicly reported ones. But there are niggling disputes with every neighbour. With Nepal there is a river boundary matter that keeps cropping up and souring the mood every once in a while. There are the enclaves between India and Bangladesh that bedevil relations, just as fishing disputes occur regularly with Sri Lanka. However long-standing and deep-rooted these issues may be and whatever be their justification, none of them impact relations in as fundamental a manner as have the disputes with Pakistan and China.

India and Pakistan remain subjects of domestic politics in either of the countries. Both tend to frequently crop up in political debates in either country, most times negatively but occasionally in a neutral manner, if not positive. The separation of 1947 has done little to dampen the passions that exist between the two countries. Most times the passions have been deployed to harm the other country, but there have been moments when the passions have created a positive atmosphere. The diplomatic initiative of 1999 by former Prime Minister Vajpayee is of course the most vivid of such examples. His decision to journey by bus to Lahore was both a sensational political statement as well as an historically important international declaration. That it was not to be, alas, only points to the recurring theme of these relations – wherein alienated neighbours play games to harm the other country.

India-Pakistan relations are of course the classic example of this alienated relationship and the harm that has been brought to bear on the other. The constant threat of terrorism culminated in the brutal Mumbai attacks of 2008. That ghastly incident is the epitome of how low this relationship can sink. There have been numerous incidents before Mumbai 2008 and there have been incidents after that as well and quite possible that there will be in future too. But none caught the global imagination as much as Mumbai did in 2008. It had audacity, brutality, criminality and death all rolled into episode. At that time it really reflected the nature of the Indo-Pak relationship and the immense cruelties possible whilst playing negative games. Before Mumbai and since then, thousands of lives have been lost to terrorist violence in India and Pakistan. Much as it played the game in India, Pakistan had to deal with the blowback within its own boundaries too. And the blowback has been intense, causing a reappraisal of its policies on use of terror as a policy tool. The prevailing mood will hopefully be a lasting one.

Much the same can be said for the other neighbours too. Once a safe haven for terrorists from the north-eastern states Bangladesh too has transformed its policies drastically. ULFA, publicly known to have been headquartered there, is now on the run. This change of heart and policies in Bangladesh points to a brighter future between the two countries. And pretty much the same can be said for Myanmar where some of the other north-eastern groups find a safe haven. Changes in Myanmar politics has impacted the viability of these groups surviving there. All of these changes portend good for the future. After all homeland security is dependent on having sound policies and neighbours not playing games. When they do it only brings bloodshed, for both. Better sense seems to be prevailing, for the time being.



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