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Saturday, September 10, 2011
Strategic Issues

India's leadership and its implication for South Asia

Photo: BDINN

India's leadership is much talked about now a days in South Asian politics. There has been a persistent and sharp contrast between South Asian states, as a whole, and India. Where a number of South Asian states are in a strained relationship with the West, India on the contrary is enjoying a bonhomie relationship. For last few months it has been receiving many world leaders at home with success. 'Incredible India', is truly proving its diplomatic professionalism in dealing with other states, even USA, to keep its national interest intact.

'Bandwagoning- Balancing'
The present India's foreign policy appears to be, to borrow a phrase from Robert Kaplan, 'Monsoon: Indian Ocean and Future of American Power', published in 2010, an 'ultimate paradox'. How does it constitute a paradox? Yogesh Joshi explained it well. He said that the Indian foreign policy is the perfect example of fusion of 'Bandwagoning- Balancing'. It is bandwagoning with the US for its national interest but, at the same time, balancing American power by professing its slant towards a multipolar world. India successfully convinced Mr. Obama to support its causes. During Obama's visit to Delhi he openly supported, for the first time, India's bid for permanent membership in United Nations Security Council. On India's persistence, it also agreed to help India obtain the membership of four important instruments of the non-proliferation regime -- the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.

How is India balancing against global powers? May be India is piggybacking on the US to reach global power status but she is not blind to the pitfalls of too much dependence. She may support the US leadership but, very much logically, not the US centered unipolar world. India strongly supports the idea of a multi-polar world order, most evident in the proceedings of multilateral settings such as the BRICS. India's warm relationship with the US does not, necessarily, mean that she will listen to the every exhortation placed by Mr. Obama. For example, India did not consider the bids of two US aviation giants for providing the Medium Multiple-Role Combat Aircraft to the Indian Air Force, though Mr. Obama exhorted India on this bid. We have seen how India was silent on United Nations Resolution 1973, brought against the Libyan government. India has been maintaining relationship with Iran at significant level. She supported Syria, the worst human rights abuser, in its candidature for the United Nations Human Rights Council. But it is relevant here to note that both Iran and Syria are at a draggers-drawn with the US. That's how India is 'bandwagoning' with the US but at the same time, 'balancing' against the US leverage.

Leadership in South Asia?
Hillary Clinton during her last visit to India in July, 2011, reiterated the ever increasing importance of India to the world and, of course, to the US. She said, "I can tell you that we are, in fact, betting on India's future. We understand that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia, and that much of the future of Asia will be shaped by, most importantly, by the 1.3 billion people who live in this country." In that Chennai speech Ms. Clinton had some real gestures towards India besides some 'tall talks'. But why Washington is so enthusiastic about India? To this common question there is popular answer- because Washington wants to offset against China in Asia. In fact Washington seeks to create a bigger circle, Washington-Delhi-Tokyo, which may be extended with the inclusion of Seoul and Manila in near future.

But India's leadership in South Asia, as Ms. Clinton indicated, will be a tough call. Leadership in a region calls for some components. The aspirant state is expected to have good relationship with its neighbors. Does India have any trustworthy friend in South Asia? India has 'neighborly problems'. She has two nuclear armed, hostile states on two sides. One of her neighbors is war depleted and a breeding ground of insurgency. Bangladesh, another neighbor, changes its status with India with the change of governments. India also has `adequate' suspicion about Bangladesh. On the other, Nepal and Bhutan are the only two neighbors, upon whom India has more or less influence.

Ms. Clinton talked about the 'neighborly problems'. She expressed her anticipations that India would emerge among her neighbors as a 'benevolent leader'. She said, "…opening of India's markets to the world will produce a more prosperous India and a more prosperous South Asia. It will also spill over into Central Asia and beyond into the Asia Pacific region." At present, India is enjoying an economy of steady GDP growth ranging from 8 to 8.5. But does it really spill on her neighbors? From the perspective of Bangladesh, there are still many barriers including tariff and non-tariff barriers in trade between Bangladesh and India. In an updated statistics it is found that the trade gap between India and Bangladesh rose to $3.80 billion in 2010-11 fiscal year from $2.90 in the year before. Trade officials and businessmen talk about the standardisation of Bangladesh's exportable items by Indian authorities still remains a key. New Delhi is yet to make any tangible arrangement for removing the non-tariff barriers to trade that restrict exports of good number of items from Bangladesh to India despite, repeated assurances.

Besides trade issues, there are many other historically prolonged- unresolved issues between India and Bangladesh. Ms. Clinton didn't deny this grave concerns which are equally important for both sides. In her Chennai speech she said, "India also has a great commitment to improving relations with Bangladesh, and that is important because regional solutions will be necessary on energy shortages, water-sharing, and the fight against terrorists."

This has been the continued state of affairs between India and Bangladesh. This scenario does not differ very much in the aspects of India's relations with other neighboring states, with a couple of exceptions. India's leadership in South Asia requires resolving those issues first. India may enjoy a comprehensive economic and military power but that doesn't mean an easy and unabated leadership for her in South Asia. Many scholars opined that the problem is rooted in India's mindset. India's foreign policy is still revolving around Kautilyan discourse. India can bring a shift in her foreign policy and brighten the possibilities of leadership in South Asia.

The writer is a member, fairbd.net group.

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