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Home OP-ED Columns & Articles India's territorial flare-ups: Modi's deleterious game in Asia

India’s territorial flare-ups: Modi’s deleterious game in Asia

By Lt Col (Retd) Khalid Taimur Akram

‘War’ in contemporary times is like a strange game where the only winning move is not to play. This advice holds great relevance under current circumstances for India.India’s warmongering approach toward its neighbors is a futile venture and would be detrimental notonly for its regional rivals, China or Pakistan but for India itself too. The sooner Modirealizes this politico-military reality, the more it would add to regional peace and stability.

Soon after assuming power in India, theModi administrationhas vehementlydemanded a “once and for all” solution to all Indian externaldisputes without foreseeing the larger picture and the stark truth of modern military warfare and its repercussions. While the world is grappling with the most disastrous issue of its time – the COVID-19 pandemic – India has started to aggravate border problems with two of its neighbors; China and Nepal.For Modi, India’s non-retaliation is equated with powerlessness and loss. However, the reality holds that the much-vaunted Indian military might is nothing but subterfuge, and Modi’s continual misadventures in the region are meant toobliterate all signs of BJPGovernment’s incompetent leadership and failure in India.

India’s border issues and are not new. The India-China border problem dates back to the 1962 war. The lack of a demarcated boundary between the two countries continues despite countless rounds of talks. Likewise, the India-Nepal boundary issue is also decades old. Both countries claim territory that lies at the tri-junction of India, Nepal, and China. Tensions have recently erupted owing to Kathmandu’s objection of India inaugurating a road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand. India claims that the road lies within Pithoragarh district, to give Indian pilgrims easier access to KailashMansarovar. Nepal’s stance, however, holds that Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura belongs to Nepal.

These acts of aggression by Indiato expand its territorial reachis probably a tipping point defining the future of Asia.Modi’s ideology is wedded to the principle of ends justifying the means. More worryingly, the contours of this new emerging dynamics will be based on the confrontation rather than cooperation. India’s aggressive and hegemonic designs will lock both countries in a costly and exhausting conflict, similar to the one India is enduring with Pakistan. Taking the risk of nuclear war, besides Pakistan, PM Modi is acting upon the dangerous strategy against China and Nepal.

India’s Failed Regional Strategy

New Delhi has been observing China’s increasing influence in South Asia with growing alarm and apprehensions. From ever-deepening ties with Pakistan to stretching its military muscle at the Bhutan border, drawing in a Free Trade Agreement with the Maldives, expanding border trade with Nepal, and acquiring the strategic Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Beijing’s presence is felt in every corner of the region. For India, these developments have been a cause for great concern and anxiety. India skeptically views it as a warning that the political dominance it has enjoyed in the region is likely to be irrevocably lost.

China is the worst-hit country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas Pakistan along with the entire world is undergoing the hardest period of the century.At a critical time like this, India is distracting and dividing world attention, and exploiting it to frame the geostrategic dynamics of theregion according to itsinterests.India is posing a grave threat to the territorial integrity of its neighbors.

Pakistan is a consistent strategic partner of China whereas Nepal has proximity with the East Asian nation, and both of them are key allies under the Belt and Road Initiative of China. If India escalates border tensions, it could face a similar response from two or even three fronts, which is far beyond India’s military capability and this might lead to a tragic defeat for India.

For Pakistan, its eastern border with India has always remained a challenge. India has been violating the ceasefire and breaching international law since 1947. PM Modi, BJP and RSS are acting upon the ideology of Hindutva. The abrogation of the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir, continued lockdown in the IOK, the introduction of new domicile law against the majority of, persecution of religious minorities especially Muslims, discriminatory policies against minoritieswere the recent attempts of Modi government to increase tensions with Pakistan. It is now looking to create trouble for its neighbors, China, and Nepal. India’s traditional strategy has been offensive toward its bordering states since its independence.

Modi’s clear intentions are to change the status quo along the disputed borders without foreseeing its longer repercussions. Thus, with its expansionist policies, India is becoming a threat to its neighbors, and resolving the disputes through coercive rather than cooperative measures will be detrimental for regional security and stability. India’s aggressive and hegemonic foreign policy in South Asia is underpinned by realist ideologies.

The Malignant BJP-RSS Nexus:

More recently, extremistnarratives and nationalist ideologies have profoundly reshaped India’s bilateral relations with its neighbors, which helps explain why border disputes between Nepal and India have re-escalated. From a security viewpoint, the increasing military and economic dominance of China is the major reason for political and military anxiety in India. Thus, from the period between 1952 and 1969, India operated 18 military check-posts on Nepal’s western frontier to contain Chinese military threats.

As the rise of China transforms political order in South Asia, India seems keen to confront rather than cooperate with China. India’s right-wing BharatiyaJanata Party’s central agenda revolves arounda purely communal and ultra-nationalist agenda called ‘Hindutva’. The Hindutvamovement has entered the consolidation phaseunder the Modi Government. Its ideological agenda is dictated by RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), which was banned in India in 1948, 1975, and 1992 for its involvement in terrorism, extremism, and violence.

RSS’s vision of an Akhand Bharat theoretically stretches from Pakistan to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Indonesia. This ideology has greatly beeninculcated into the thinking of Indian citizens. To put this into perspective, India’s construction of the road through Nepal creates a shorter, more feasible, and less costly route for the Kailash-Mansarovaryatra pilgrimage that any Hindu devotee would dream of making. This makes the road a nationalist project that appeals to the BJP’s Hindu voter base.

India’s Troubled Relations with Neighbors:

Analyzing the dynamics of South Asia, India has created problems with its neighbors as well as other smaller countriesof the wider region, from military conflicts and water disputes to border skirmishes. India has until now enjoyed a singularly dominant position in South Asia. Since its independence, India has exerted unilateral political influence over its smaller neighbors, except Pakistan and Afghanistan.Observing its pattern over the past decades, India as annexed Sikkim, carried out military interventions in Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and Bhutan, coerced its neighbors with open war threats and intervened in their domestic affairs. The Modi government has intensified this trend by maintaininglopsided economic and political arrangements, serving only the Indian hegemonic interests.

With the advent of the Belt and Road Imitative of China, the smaller countries of South Asia have begun balancing against India by developing economic relations with Beijing.  The South Asian states have been wary ofthe presence of the Indian giant amidst them even before the partition of the sub-continent, however, these fears have mounted with the onset of RSS inspired BJP’S assertive foreign policy of India. Therefore, the smaller regional states actively tried to get out from under New Delhi’s thumb. –The author is Executive Director at Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad.

 

Well-familiar with the expansionist Indian ambitions, Nepal has chosen to strengthen its ties with China. This has added to the worries of the BJP government, which had not only alienated one of its historical allies but also created a condition for China’s growing influence in the Himalayan nation.

China is flexing its muscles along the Indian border and has given a clear indication that undermining its strategic interests and stability of the region will come with a heavy cost for India. Against this backdrop, India must accept this reality and realize that its dream of regional dominance is merely an illusion, as the regional states would never let an aggressive state to gain preponderancein the region.

It is important to note that China’s increasingly closer ties with Pakistan and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has openly been opposed by India and is trying to sabotage this project.Pakistan and China are adjoined in mutual interoperability against all common concerns and threats. The decades-old bilateral relationship, strengthening cooperation, deepening economic ties, technology transfer, and of course common threats have welded the two Iron Brothers into a resilient joint strength.

India is deluded to have assumed that the US will back and support Indian agenda against China and Pakistan, or other regional states as the world is witness that neither can US afford to increase tensions with China nor can it ignore the significance of its ties with Pakistan which are imperative for the peace process in Afghanistan.

India is playing a larger strategic game in Asia. India, under Modi, has time and again attempted to change the status quo of territorial disputes not only with Pakistan but also with China. The revocation of the special status of the Indian Occupied Kashmir region alarmed China as it altered the status of the Ladakh region as well. India has also tried to hinder CPEC thereby bringing China’s ire. Currently, three pressure points are developing; the China-Sikkim border, Nepal-India border, and the Ladakh region.

An escalated border dispute between the neighboring countries can culminate in a serious confrontation, thereby enveloping the entire region if it is not resolved through negotiations. Therefore the world powers must pay attention to Indian expansionist and hegemonic policies to ensure regional peace and stability.

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