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If it is to be believed that new power structure will be shaped substantially by Asia, then it is inevitable for India to make some alterations in its foreign policy apparatus in order to claim its position as an emerging global player

By: Mehraj Ahmad

South Asia is seen, by many scholars, as the new arena for power paradigms and the building up of the reputation for the new global power structure.  It is the new bastion for restructuring present power equations of the world and from the vintage point where I sit (India), it is self evident that this region is in some virtual transition towards that race, with China and India the main competitors. Statistics, however, suggest there are stark differences in between the two.

China as such has been modernizing its military hardware to the new heights and India on the other hand, has to get over its conventional ‘military capabilities’ hangover and there is a security imperative to have the paradigm shift, to switch over to the modernization for security balance.

South Asia has its own historical complexities, low economic integration, cross cutting and overlapping social structures, strategic compulsions etc. All these peculiarities determine the diplomatic policies and strategic face-offs that we have been witnessing time and again.

A glimpse at the way South Asia has evolved as a regional unit (theoretically) can help in understanding the region better and the policies of the states and futuristic course of action of nations that are part of the region.

Historically the region has been important, when the European colonial extension led to the territorial conflicts in the region, Indian Ocean acted as the main Watergate bridging the continents, allowing them to hold the region together. It was placed amongst priority issues in terms of security order and economic globalization. Partition of the region as a result of decolonization led to massive geographical alterations and political changes in the region, and then all nations of the region like other parts of the globe found themselves caught in the web of cold war politics, delaying the regional cooperation and hence shaping its politics.  It was perhaps the most important cause to alter foreign policy choices of the nations during that time, within nations it suspended the regional aspirations responsible for enhancing cooperation between the states. It led to the shrinkage of the region and weakening the intra regional bonding, therefore barring the landmass to emerge as a unified region.                                                                                                                                                              As a result the region lost a good amount of time and energy to set forth itself on the path of development and it exposed every single fault line that led to absence of some coherence amongst the states.

India chose an inward economic orientation, with its socialist credentials, closeness to USSR as a result of US backing Pakistan, so did other states to safeguard their national interests respectively. This actually put the regional importance at the periphery of thought processes and regional integration was a taboo in foreign policies of the states until late 20th century. Multiple sovereignties, absence of bilateral links and inward economic orientations led to weak economic foundations due to diverse governing systems determined by the global politics of the times.

Mutual exclusiveness of states especially India, Pakistan and China has driven the region to a state of political uncertainty and economically less integrated. The primacy of national interests has put the regional collaboration and co-op into backyard, hence eclipsed the growth of the region as a global unit.

Hitherto, attempts made in the direction of greater integration ,states have gone far away from the point of converging interests and now stakes seem high, it is yet premature how far the exclusiveness will last but realistically nothing in that direction seems obvious given the fact that China’s OBOR initiative and debt trap diplomacy remains the viable foreign policy options for it, and India cannot be a silent spectator because that would amount  to be a strategic suicide on the part of India.


India, in order to claim the primacy in the region, has to do more given the fact that intra-regional connectivity must be given priority in foreign policy mechanisms; there is a need to invest in infrastructure building for that greater connectivity. One of the doable options is to help the region create democratic institutions and India being largest democracy can help bridging that gape, given its successful democratic experience. Political persuasion is another important thing to do, supplement by the economic outreach to the states of the region.

Data suggests that trade potential is high, so to harness that India has to do more to that end. If China can be open enough, India! but has to do the follow-up in order to be more attractive to counter China, BRI has got many problems and it provides India ample scope to test its diplomatic strengths because China also is vulnerable like others. India has an edge over China, in understanding the region’s politics and society better, given its cultural and historical linkages.

Culture of denying, has to take the back seat, and poor implementation of projects has to be set right squarely, along with that there is a need to discover some common ground with China on some issues to allow some sort of diplomatic trade-off. If these models are discovered and executed properly along with policy reforms, then structures like that of SAARC can be bypassed. If it is to be believed that new power structure will be shaped substantially by Asia, then it is inevitable for India to make some alterations in its foreign policy apparatus in order to claim its position as an emerging global player.

(Author is a civil services aspirant and can be reached at [email protected])

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