The recent Galwan valley face-off in which 20 Indian soldiers were martyred was the only violent incident between the two nuclear-armed neighbours since 1975. Not only with China, but relations have also been strained with two other neighbours i.e. Pakistan and Nepal too. While India along with the world is fighting the COVID pandemic threat perception of India with its neighbours is at an all-time high level.
India is a vast country with sub-continental dimensions, with its land border touching Pakistan, Afghanistan China, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh along with the maritime border with Srilanka. With socio-cultural identities cutting across the borders and colonial legacy it is a bit obvious that there are some contentious issues with the neighbours.
Among all the neighbours India’s northern neighbour China along with its ‘all-weather ally’ Pakistan presents the biggest threat perception for India’s national security. The recent clashes have once again attracted the attention of the world towards a possible nuclear holocaust. Since South Asia has three nuclear-powered nations any miscalculation on part of the states may lead to a full-fledged nuclear war as per the Game theory.
Leave aside nuclear war even conventional wars are likely to cause much damage to the densely populated nation like India. With the kind of sophisticated weapons all the three countries possess. The danger of a two-front war is still looming large over India as the crisis is still not over despite using all the diplomatic channels.
Another major threat perception is with respect to the ‘Kashmir issue. Since the abrogation of Article 370 both Pakistan and China have tried unsuccessfully to ‘internationalise the Kashmir issue. Pakistan is also actively supporting various terrorist groups to carry out another Pulwama-like incident in the valley. China to have tried to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council despite it being an internal matter of India.
The active support to radicalise the youth of not just Kashmir but also Punjab and Northeast India is very detrimental to India’s demographic dividend. The issue of drug smuggling is also destroying the social fabric of Indian society due to India being in the middle of the ‘Golden Crescent’ and ‘Golden triangle’. These are attempts to destroy the youth of our country.
Threat perception is also with respect to India’s territorial integrity and Sovereignty. The construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which passes through the Gilgit Baltistan region is a clear violation of India’s sovereignty. The recent attempts by the Chinese army to occupy Galwan valley and Pangong Tso lake are serious issues harming the territorial integrity of India.
This is not the First instance of China trying to capture India’s land, earlier in 2017 it has also tried to capture the Doklam valley at the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China. Of all the neighbour’s relations with Bhutan have been consistently good throughout history. But India has to make sure that it addresses the bilateral issues with Bhutan to counter Chinese presence.
The Doklam incident pointed towards the vulnerability of Chicken’s neck’, a narrow strip of land connecting the Indian mainland to North-Eastern India. North-eastern states are already prone to the insurgency. Due to porous borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh, it becomes safe haven for insurgent groups like ULFA, NSCN, etc. these porous borders with Bangladesh and Nepal are used for human trafficking purpose, responsible for flesh trade, exploiting the vulnerability of poor women.
One major threat perception is related to the Rohingya Muslim community, entering Indian borders illegally due to persecution in their home state of Myanmar. They are vulnerable to being radicalisation and religious fundamentalism. Being a porous border, there is huge infiltration of Bangladeshi immigrants illegally into Indian borders driven mainly by climate change. It puts excess pressure on the already scarce resources of India. They are responsible for demographic change in states like Assam where it is a sensitive issue responsible for the National registration of Citizen (NRC).
Himalayan rivers provide a perennial water source for South Asian countries. However, the construction of dams over the Brahmaputra by China is a serious issue considering climate change. Similarly, the recent floods in UP and Bihar which took many lives in India was due to mismanagement of waters in rivers like Kosi and Ghaghra by Nepal.
While threat perception by other neighbours is limited to certain fields China is the biggest threat to Indian interest by virtue of it being an economic powerhouse. Being the second-largest of India’s trade partner with highly distorted trade in favour of China it is harming Indian business interests. The dumping of cheap products in the Indian market has cost India dearly.
However, the most strategic of its threats are in the field of investment where it uses its deep pockets to enter the Indian markets when the economy is vulnerable due to COVID lockdowns. Most of these investments were technological startups, which can provide Chinese state-controlled companies with huge quantities of data belonging to Indian users.
Considering India’s dependence on Chinese imports on raw materials like API(active pharmaceutical ingredients) and silk, It gives China an upper hand over Indian markets. Although, the Indian government have taken certain steps to safeguard the interest of Indian consumers by banning apps like TIk Tok, much more needs to be done in an age when data is the new oil.
Coming to India’s maritime border, China’s string of pearls is the biggest threat the Indian security establishment is facing currently. With ports in almost all the neighbours of India, i.e. Pakistan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Srilanka and Myanmar India is encircled by Chinese ports in the Indian Ocean. The winning of Rajpakshe in recent elections in Srilanka and his past record of favouring China over India needs to be managed well this time.
However, considering neighbourhood just from the view of threat perception would amount to considering just one side of the coin. The neighbourhood is also a source of prosperity and development as can be seen in the case of the EU and ASEAN. The dream of the ‘Asian Century’ can’t be fulfilled without the cooperation of India and China.
Similarly, Manmohan doctrine to transform the Indo-Pak border into a trading zone would grossly decrease the tensions between the two. Trade potential between the south Asian countries remains grossly unfulfilled, with SAFTA remaining inoperative. The notion of trade rather than war would be a win-win situation for all the neighbours also aligned with India’s ‘neighbourhood first’.
Hence, to conclude India should be mindful of ancient Indian geostrategic thinker, Kautilya’s Mandala theory while dealing with its neighbour to gain some realistic perspective. At the same time, Gujral Doctrine remains its guiding light to deal with neighbours. Other measures include robust security setup and self-sufficiency (Atma nirbharta) in weapon production.
The recent step by the Indian PM to call for a virtual meeting of all SAARC members shows the farsightedness of Indian leaders for regional integration and multilateralism. Since changing geography is not possible India should be prepared for any unforeseen adventure by the neighbouring country while also exploiting all the diplomatic and peaceful channels to resolve disputes.