Neighbourhood of India




Neighbourhood of India:

All South Asian countries share a border with India. Myanmar, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia are regarded as India’s Neighbours.

In addition, countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), from East Africa, Persian Gulf to Malaysia, Vietnam; and those in Central Asian hinterland of IOR, form the Extended Neighbourhood of India. Maintaining good relations with all these countries has been an objective of Indian foreign policy since independence.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promoted the idea of Asian and African regionalism and attempted to unite all newly independent countries. This led to the Asian Relations Conference in 1947 and later the Bandung Conference held in Indonesia in 1955. However, the idea could not sustain itself due to the spread of cold war.

The partition of India in 1947 created Pakistan (East and West Pakistan) as an independent state. There have been tensions between India and Pakistan since independence. The main cause of these tensions had been the status of Kashmir. The first Indo-Pak conflict of 1947-48 took place over Kashmir. This war saw the division of Kashmir take place. Later in 1965 the two countries fought another war over Kashmir. The 1971 war led to the creation of the state of Bangladesh. In the initial years the Kashmir was looked at as a Indo-Pakistan border issue. Later in the decade of 1990s the problem became that of terrorism. The problem of Kashmir remains one of the most important issue of dispute between the two countries even today.

Pakistan’s relations with China are also a matter of concern for India. The China- Pakistan Economic Corridor has been the route for Chinese investments in Pakistan.

There have been several efforts made for improving the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. The 1972 Shimla Agreement and the 1999 Lahore Agreement are some of the examples. However, India has not got the desired response for its efforts from Pakistan.

Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan, known as the “Himalayan Kingdoms”, were British protectorates during the colonial period. After independence, India made similar treaties with these countries. The landlocked Himalayan Kingdoms got access to sea from the Indian territory and India accepted the responsibility of the defence of these countries. India has mostly followed the policy of non- intervention in the internal affairs of these neighbours.

Sikkim opted to integrate with India in 1975 and is now a State in the Indian Union. India’s relations with Nepal have experienced many ups and downs. In 2006, India helped Nepal overcome the crisis of civil war and move towards a constitutional government. Relations with Bhutan have mostly been very cordial. India has helped in Bhutan’s recent exercise of moving towards a constitutional monarchy.

India’s intervention was very crucial in securing independence for Bangladesh in 1971. Its relations with the new neighbour were very cordial in the beginning. However, after the assassination of Bangladesh’s first

Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the relations began to worsen. Disputes over land and maritime boundary and over distribution of waters of Tista were some of the irritants in the relationship. However, the relations between the two countries have remained friendly for the last more than five years. Cross-border terrorism and insurgency are common areas of concern for both. In the recent time, India and Bangladesh have resolved the maritime boundary dispute as well as the problem of land enclaves.

Burma (now Myanmar) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were part of British India. After independence, India developed good relations with both. Both these countries were co-convenors, with India, Pakistan and Indonesia, of the Bandung Conference, 1955.

Relations with Sri Lanka have experienced both good and bad phases. The two countries had a disputed maritime boundary and a related problem of fishermen of both sides crossing into the territory of the other and being captured by the coastal forces. Similarly, the Tamil question in Sri Lanka has often proved to be an irritant for the relations. Sri Lanka had accused India of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – the rebel Tamil group ,which later became a terrorist group). India sent a Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1987 at the request of the then Sri Lankan President Jayewardene. This led to a prolonged period of bad relations between the two. However, under the current governments in both countries, the relations have improved again.

Myanmar became an inward-looking country and went into a self-imposed isolation after the military coup in 1962, leading to cooling off of India-Burma relations. During 1992, India supported the pro-democracy movement and its leader Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. However, India improved its relations with Myanmar soon thereafter. Support of the Myanmar military has been important in India’s action against many insurgent groups and their leaders hiding in Myanmar.

West Asia has always been an important region for India. Most of the crude oil, which has been crucial engine of growth of the economy, has been coming from countries in the region. However, there are more reasons for India having good relations with countries in West Asia. Iran has been a traditional friend. Cultural and political ties since the middle ages have endured and shaped bilateral relations even in the twentieth century. Similarly, relations with Saudi Arabia go well beyond oil supply and are shaped by historical and religious factors. India has been a strong supporter of the cause of the Palestinian people and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Relations with countries in West Asia are important for another reason. They work as a counter against Pakistan. India has also ensured that it keeps excellent relations with Israel. In fact, Israel is an important supplier of high-tech defence equipment to India.

After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru attempted to weave unity among countries of Asia. One of the major partners in this effort was Indonesia. However, relations with Indonesia began to cool off in the 1960s. India’s relations with most of the Southeast Asian countries were very nominal during the Cold War period, as these countries were on the opposite side of the Cold War divide. An exception was Vietnam. India had supported the struggle of Viet Minh and had openly criticised American intervention in Vietnam. Today Vietnam is one of the major partners of India. The two countries have deepened their relations into trade, technology and military areas.

As part of its “Look East” and “Act East” policy, India began to improve relations with the countries in the region. Today, India has very good relations with Singapore, which is its major trade partner as well as an investor in the Indian economy. Similarly, relations with Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have also improved. Security of trade routes, anti-piracy operations, security of ocean resources are among the important areas of co-operation between India and these countries.

After the end of the Cold War, international relations in Southeast Asia began to take a very different shape. The membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) enlarged from five to ten and it became a formidable group in the region. ASEAN started building economic partnerships with major countries in the region. India is also a beneficiary of this. It has a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN. It is also a partner in ASEAN-promoted regional security group, ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

India has been an active partner in many regional organisations, including the South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC), Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, etc. It has also promoted sub- regional co-operation groups such as the BIMSTEC, Mekong-Ganga Cooperation.

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