C Kiran -
SINCE 1947 India has been pursuing its hegemonic ambitions in South Asia by bullying its smaller neighbouring countries. Nepal and Bhutan, being landlocked, have been dependent on India for getting access to its land routes and sea ports for trade and have been subjected to the intense form of India’s diplomatic coercion, although the two countries have occasionally tried to get trade access through China, but India still manoeuvred its primacy. India has also carried out direct military interventions in the then East Pakistan in 1971 and Sri Lanka in 1980s. In Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, India has sponsored proxy wars as well. Afghanistan joined the SAARC in 2008 and since then India is using its soil for sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. Since Bangladesh (BD) was created in 1971 through India’s military intervention in the then East Pakistan it has to bear India’s diplomatic pressure. Both Pakistan and BD are experiencing India’s water coercion also.
While Pakistan has faced military standoff with India at the Line of Control (LoC) since 1948 due to Jammu and Kashmir dispute, India has also caused problems for Pakistan by suppressing the freedom struggle in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir by use of force and causing rampant human rights infringements, by above 700,000 military troops deployed in the occupied territory since 1989, having wide powers through draconian laws that give immunity to the troops from any sort of legal case/proceedings. As only Pakistan was capable to resist India’s hegemony, since 2016, India has stressed to use SAARC to isolate Pakistan in the region, but it has badly failed, as all other member nations did not collaborate. Since India faced stiff opposition in the SAARC, when it behaved in the forum as a Hegemon, it started undermining the SAARC and presenting the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) as an alternative, since four other SAARC members like, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are also the members of BIMSTEC.
Whereas India not only declined to attend the SAARC summit, which was scheduled to be held in Pakistan in 2016, it also pressured Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh to not attend the summit. Since then, India is refusing to attend the same summit second time scheduled in 2017 and now in 2018. Rather, India has started putting more emphasis on BIMSTEC, and even it is pushing it to transform itself as strategic and defence oriented as well. As per Economic Times, India dated 10 September 2018, in a first such initiative, India had organized a week-long anti-terror drill of the militaries of BIMSTEC member nations (less Nepal and Thailand, which declined to participate) at Aundh, near Pune on 10 September 2018 to enhance cooperation in dealing with the challenge of terrorism in the region. According to this newspaper, Indian Army officials said, the long-term goal of the initiative is to explore the possibility of creating a viable regional security architecture to deal with the challenge of terrorism and transnational crimes. The newspaper also wrote, “The Nepal Government has decided against participating in the military drill”.
As Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury’s article titled, “Nepal makes BIMSTEC success conditional on SAARC revival”, published in the Economic Times, India dated 10 September 2018, said “ostensibly Nepal made progress in BIMSTEC conditional on reviving SAARC”. According to the article, “the former Nepalese PM Prachanda had asserted that Nepal wants to “revive” SAARC and get the stalled summit convened at the earliest. Imran Khan’s Government in Pakistan had also tried to reach out to Delhi by urging India’s participation in the SAARC Summit in 2018. The above mentioned facts indicate that India’s efforts to fail the SAARC’s by presenting the BIMSTEC as an alternative are failing, as in the long run Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, will not bandwagon with India to fail the SAARC, just to isolate Pakistan, as Nepal flatly refused to attend the BIMSTEC military drill and three other countries have attended the drill being under pressure. Nepal is also more inclined towards China as it has witnessed Indian bullying more than any other nation.
In view of the above it should become very clear to India that while its efforts to isolate Pakistan in the region have already failed, its ongoing efforts to undermine the SAARC by considering the BIMSTEC as an alternative will also fail. Hence, it is better that India understands the regional sentiment, which is highly in favour of the SAARC, and it should give up its game of isolating Pakistan and instead it should attend the stalled SAARC summit in Pakistan scheduled in 2018, and facilitate, South Asia’s economic cooperation, by energizing the SAARC.