How India needs to better engage with neighbours

1. India-China border clash

The tumultuous year saw the first deadly clash between Indian and Chinese armies in the last 45 years in the mountainous Ladakh region in June. The ties between Pakistan India also remained at odds amid frequent clashes along with the disputed Jammu and Kashmir border.

The military standoff followed New Delhi’s unilateral decision to separate Ladakh from disputed Jammu and Kashmir and revoke the Himalayan region’s semi-autonomous status in August last year, a move vehemently opposed by Beijing and Islamabad.

Ladakh region which borders China and Pakistan serves as the world’s only “nuclear trijunction.”

Since May, Chinese troops have altered the status quo along the border with India, claimed the lives of 20 Indian soldiers, and violated every agreement to maintain peace.

2. Chinese incursion in Nepal

KP Sharma Oli’s government in Nepal is facing increasing heat and is under pressure from several quarters to speak up against the boundary encroachment by China.

Reports suggested that China has encroached upon Nepali territory in Humla district and one boundary pillar no 12 has been constructed by the Chinese without notice of the Nepalese side. Without a bilateral agreement, no boundary pillar can be repaired by either side.

The local elected representatives have also accused China of encroaching upon Nepali territory and asked with the government to send a fact-finding team to find out the truth.

3: Acceptance for Taliban

Having invaded Afghanistan 19 years ago trying to root out the Taliban, the US finally made peace with them in February as it looked to exit. For India, this meant a beginning of the process of re-engaging with the Taliban, and New Delhi reached out with External Affairs minister S Jaishankar’s attendance through virtual mode and a senior Indian diplomat in Doha.

Signalling long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future — under Taliban or other political forces — India has committed $80 million, over and above its $3 billion commitment in the last two decades. This means New Delhi too is finally looking at the Taliban as a political actor, although it is controlled by the Pakistan military.

4: Assertive neighbors

The year began with Bangladesh asserting itself on CAA-NRC, and then Nepal claiming territory and issuing a new map. It brought home the reality that neighbors are no pushovers. By the end of the year, New Delhi had moved to build bridges with both, wary of an active Beijing. Bangladesh pushed back, and India did not notify the CAA rules. Nepal reached out at the highest level.

India also watched closely the US and Chinese forays with Maldives and Sri Lanka. India appears to have made peace with the involvement of the US in Maldives, and that of Japan in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

As the world emerges from the pandemic, New Delhi has a lot to gain from what could be “vaccine diplomacy” with neighbors in 2021 — supplying vaccines either free or at affordable cost.

Narendra Modi and Sheikh Hasina during the India-Bangladesh virtual bilateral summit, in New Delhi in December.

Images courtesy of (File photo) and (Photo: courtesy, PTI)

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