Political and economic instability in neighbourhood a cause for concern for India

The situation is particularly bad in Pakistan, whose foreign exchange reserves have dipped to an all-time low even as militant group TTP is on the warpath.

Political and economic instability in neighbourhood a cause for concern for India

KR Sudhaman

The emerging geo-political and economic situation in India’s neighbouring countries is a major source of concern India might be in a bright spot in otherwise sagging and recessionary global economy but our neighbours, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar are virtually bankrupt and heading towards a severe debt trap. The economic situation in Bangladesh and Maldives too is not that comfortable.

Coupled with this, the rapidly slowing Chinese economy with the fallout of an uncontrolled COVID situation raises several difficult questions to Indian policy planners.

The geopolitical situation emerging from the Sino-Indian stand-off on the line of actual control, particularly in Galwan and Tawang, raise several issues.

The Chinese belligerence on the Indian borders notwithstanding, the stand-off between US and China over Taiwan made things worse.

The internal strife due to agitating masses over various issues including lockdown, the need to democratise Chinese polity and highhandedness of officials makes the geopolitical situation very difficult. A cold war-like situation between India and China can only lead to hike in defence expenditure at the cost of development.

The emerging situation in Pakistan is most worrying. There is political instability, foreign exchange reserves have dipped to $4.5 billion, just enough for 10 days’ imports. There is a virtual civil war in FATA, Kyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan with TTP’s all out war against Pakistan establishment. The militant group has taken virtual control in many of these areas and Pakistan army is having a tough time in dealing with the guerrillas. The TTP terrorists were trained by ISI and they are now going all out against ISI and Pak armed forces.

What former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once told Pakistan that “if snakes are bred in the backyard, it will come to bite you one day” appears to have come true now. Pakistan is in a virtual mess – politically and economically. It has no money now to sustain an all out fight against TTP. Pakistan is selling whatever ammunitions it has to Ukraine at the behest of US as well.

An unstable Pakistan with a tottering economy and uncontrolled terrorism unleashed by TTP could pose a headache for India. Afghanistan and TTP never recognized the Durand line that artificially divides nationalist pashtoons and Afghanistan-Pakistan. The Baloch never integrated with Pakistan right from independence and they too are demanding separation. The Baloch separatist movement has now joined hands with TTP, which has made the situation worse.

There are also widespread protests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) to merge with India because of the high handedness of Pakistan establishment and new laws that are discriminatory to them. While Gilgit-Baltistan wants to merge with Ladakh, some sections of its population want POK to merge with Jammu and Kashmir.

These developments may have some spill-over effect on India, which has to ensure its borders remain secure.

The Sri Lankan economy is already in doldrums though thanks to the largesse of India, the island republic has managed to keep its head above the water. One good thing that has happened is the move to reduce the size of its armed forces in a phased manner. This will reduce the burden on the exchequer. This is a welcome development as the country does not require that huge army, that too with militancy being virtually eliminated.

Pakistan too can draw lessons from Sri Lanka to streamline its expenses by reducing the unwieldy strength of 600,000 men in its armed forces in a phased manner. The situation may not be ripe at the moment with Pakistan’s western borders not secure. But it could be suggestion for action in the medium term as such a large army had led to corruption and huge drain on its resources.

One of the major causes of economic concern in Myanmar too is the large and unwieldy armed forces. Myanmar has been mostly ruled by the military junta, which commits frequent political atrocities to remain in power. The movement against the military junta has gained momentum. Myanmar military establishment has no time to look after economic needs.

The recent elections in Nepal had resulted in communists capturing power in the landlocked country. Nepal has been traditionally friendly to India, but that situation is changing rapidly since its Communist government led by Prime Minister Prachanda is widely expected to dance to the tune of China and already there are proposals to give new thrust to the stalled Chinese BRI project.

Prachanda is also looking for strengthening further economic relations with China which shares a long border in Nepal’s north.

Culturally, the Nepalese are very close to India and even today recruitment is made for Indian Army’s Gorkha regiment from there. Nepal also shares a long border with India on the southern side in particular. This border is very porous and is widely used for smuggling drugs and counterfeit notes from Pakistan. Pakistan’s ISI have set up several sleeper cells along the UP border using mainly Bangladeshi refugees.

There may not be significant geo-political concerns from Bangladesh. But its slowing economy particularly after COVID is a matter of concern. The increasing Chinese presence the country too needs to be watched carefully. The political situation is also volatile in view of the coming general elections in 2024 and the hard campaigning by the anti-India opposition party BNP to unseat the Awami League.

In sum, the emerging geo-political and economic situation in countries surrounding India in the sub-continent is certainly a matter of concern for India. So far, India has played its cards well, diplomatically, politically and economically. It has extended support to countries like Sri Lanka and a bailout is happening there. Nepal could turn out to be a headache in the face of the emerging political situation, which needs to be handled carefully.

Pakistan, however, is major source of worry and some hawks there may indulge in some misadventure to divert attention of the local population. The inflation is now around 24 per cent and one roti costs Rs 25 Pakistani rupee there. There is widespread food shortage as well particularly after the unprecedented and widespread floods in KPK area and Balochistan. Pakistan has also run out of fuel reserves and its foreign exchange is at an all-time low.

(IPA Service)

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