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India Ought To Revive SAARC Or Live With Hostile Neighbours !

China’s aggression on Indian borders is part of a grand design to not only divert US attention from the South China Sea ( SCS) but also to divert public attention from rising calls of democracy in mainland and Hongkong. While this may be the obvious intention but hidden motive is to warn India ‘s neighbours to fall in line with China. The message is : If China can browbeat India , her neighbours are nothing but micro dots on the world’s map. Her hidden ambition is of Chinese expansion into Asia and the rest of the world. It is no less than Hitler’s lebensraum.  It has a multipronged approach to do so—- militarily in SCS, loans to poor Afro – Asian nations and development projects, such as One Belt , One Road (OBOR) .

And the only way to do it in Asia., particularly , South Asia, is by Isolating India. In doing so, Indian links with her neighbours must be severed. This is what China has been doing to probe on the border and snub her to fall in the line . Simultaneously, it has been working on India’s neighbours.

Pakistan has her own reasons to be hostile to India. They are very well known and need not be repeated here. The latest addition to this gang of hostiles is Nepal. Renewed issue of Nepalese map to include Lipulekh pass , through which recently inaugurated, 80 Km long Indian road to Kailash -Mansarovar, passes. Pakistan is also getting a big foothold in Nepal. China and Pakistan are encouraging Nepal to rebel against India .

Even Sri Lanka has not yet forgotten her LTTE menace, created by India. Bhutan might not be hostile but voices of dissent have begun to rise .The lure of easy Chinese money may trap Bhutan one day. Already, financially backed up by China, a number of bloggers in Bhutan have begun to deride India. It might be weaned away from Indian sphere of influence.

India might feel comfortable with the present regime of Bangladesh. But  in a long term perspective we must acknowledge that India’s Eastern neighbour has its own interests and it needs massive funds for its development.  Imtiaz K Hussain, a Bangladeshi scholar notes in his article in Financial Times on 28 July 2016 that Bangladesh’s core 21st century interest is infrastructure-building, and there are just too many projects for any interested investor-country to be disappointed. He brings out that 100 such mega projects would need $ 100 billion over the next 5 years. And this can only come from China or India. While India has her own constraints, China is ever ready to chip in through her surplus funds in AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank). China would attempt this entry , whether India is willing or not. Thus,  in a long term perspective, Bangladesh might cave in to lucrative Chinese advances. After all Sheikh Hasina Wajid and her party might not be in government always.

In January 2020, China Strongman, Xi Jinping, visited Myanmar and signed 33 agreements with Myanmar authorities . Amongst them,  they agreed to fast track the implementation of the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) ,  which is part of the Belt Road initiative  ( BRI) of Xi Jinping. It is termed as the modern silk route.   Besides, agreements were signed on railways linking South Western China to the Indian Ocean; a deep sea-port at Sittwe in  Rakhine state, a special economic zone on the border, and a new city project in the commercial capital of Yangon.

CMEC is on the lines of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor).  It is pointed out that China had already leased Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal for 40 years from Myanmar in 1994. This island lies some 15 KMs North East of Northern most island of Andaman & Nicobar group of Islands of India. China is developing military facilities there. Reportedly it has created an air strip there, besides having signal intelligence. This island lies close to Sittwe port of Myanmar which is also leased to China by Myanmar. It is pertinent to know that China has two pipelines, one gas and one oil, running from Sittwe to Kunming in China. Thus, Bay of Bengal is figuring in a big way in the strategic interests of China.

Myanmar might not be hostile but it is not overly friendly too. Thus, has India been neglecting its interests amongst its neighbours? Is it because India was not  treating SAARC with due care as it should have done, molly cuddling its neighbours? India was required to handle its neighbours with care.

The way India is being fixed in geography and geopolitical relations with neighbours, it seems there are more sinister designs of China. Once India is contained, China can easily nibble at its smaller neighbours .

Is South Asia, then, going to become a victim of New Colonialism, under Chinese banner . The after effects of Chinese liberal loans to poor and smaller countries, do spell the danger of such takeovers by China. Chinese BRI (Border Road Initiative) or OBOR ( One Belt One Road) is part of China’s expansionist plans .

The only way Chinese expansionism could have been stopped was through the effective mechanism of SAARC . But unfortunately, it has been rendered ineffective by zoos or priorities of Indian governments over the last 20 years or so.

South Asia, as a geographical entity, includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Indian Ocean island nation—Mauritius. It is hemmed in between the two troublesome regions of the world. The Middle East (Gulf region) is on the West and South China Sea Nations on the East. Both the flanking regions of South Asia are crisis prone, with their cascading effect on It.

On 08 December 1985, at the initiative of India, a South Asian group of nations had collectively formed a regional association called SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). It’s primary objective was to promote peace, trade and economic growth within the region.

SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 3.8% (US$2.9 trillion) of world economy as reported in 2015. However, it has not taken off as was expected and peace remains a distant dream. Even volume and scale of trade has not made much headway in the last 33 years.

China has taken advantage of non- assertive SAARC and lacklustre Interest of India in her neighbours . Our political leaders and security set up of today are lacking in strategic vision . India must keep its South Asian Flock together to best back Chinese colonialism . Revival of SAARC is the prerequisite towards this.

Author: Col. Rajinder Singh
The Author has authored two books (Kashmir-A Different Perspective and The ULFA Insurgency), he is widely acclaimed for his expertise in the matters of defence and military. An alumnus of NDA, is also a graduate of Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Many of his articles have appeared in different defence magazines and newspapers.

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