India and its neighbours: New direction in South Asia?

India’s influence on Bangladesh and the rest of South Asia only looks to be increasing

At dead of night, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, went to all India Radio and said,

 “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance...''

From that day, India has moved on and today India is the fifth largest economy in the world. It has overtaken England and it's likely to overtake France in the not-too-distant future. India took 50 years to become a one trillion dollar economy. For the second trillion dollar, India waited for 10 years. In 2022, the Indian economy is inching towards $4 trillion.

In the next 10-15 years, India is likely to become a $10 trillion economy, could be even more. This analysis, however, begs certain conditions: a) India will not get involved in any major war; b) No coronavirus type pestilence strikes India.

Along with the growth of the Indian economy, the strategic balance will also increase. China, however, is likely to be against India's economic growth.Any potentially offensive action by China is likely to destabilize the Indian growth trajectory.

In the present day geostrategic situation, with China being unfavourable to see India grow, the global hegemon, the United States, may not also be particularly keen to see India grow at such a pace. The recent decision by the United States to sell F-16 spare parts to Pakistan is considered an unfriendly act by India.

Pakistan has long had issues with terrorism, with the United Nations and even some US lawmakers making similar remarks in the past; Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are bywords in usual conversations among the world's strategic thinkers. 

Clarification that the F-16 spares have been given to Pakistan for anti-terror action also sounds rather hollow. You don't use F-16 to kill the terrorists in as much as you don't use a AK-47 to kill a mosquito. 

These outfits consider India as the number one target, with Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and other countries also on the horizon. Among documented attacks are the attack on the Indian Parliament (December 2001, LET along with Jaish-e-Mohamed), attack on Pathankot, and last but not the least, attack by (JEM) and other ISI outfits in Mumbai, targeting infrastructures, restaurants, a Jewish cultural centre, Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, Leopold Cafe, Nariman House and the luxury Hotel Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in November 8-12, 2008. 

Ajmal Amir Kasab is a byword now for the history of South Asian terror network. While the attack in Mumbai still rankles in India, nevertheless it is moving ahead -- economically, technologically, and strategically.

It may be very interesting to analyze the reason why both China and the US may not like to see India grow and become a global power. China of course understandably so, but why the United States? 

The US would not like India to grow as an economic and strategic power because India is not in sync with the US for many actions taken by the United States, regionally and globally. As the global hegemon, the US would like to see China diminished as far as possible so that it doesn't become a threat to American dominance in the Indo-pacific region.

On a broader perspective, India agrees with the US strategy: It is a member of QUAD. The US, Japan, and Australia are alliance partners. India is not. The US is unhappy with India with the UN vote on the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. 

India has its long-term strategic goal: Russia, former USSR, has been an ardent supporter of India in its position as a power in Asia. Russia is the largest supplier of arms to India though of late India is trying to get some Western arms also. Indian basic strategic consideration is based on the Indo-Russian  friendship. The two countries signed a treaty of friendship on August 19, 1971 when Pakistan imposed a genocidal war in Bangladesh. The friendship and strategic alliance struck by the Soviet and Indian leadership continues to hold true. I do not see this changing anytime soon.

In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, India supported the Bangladesh government and the struggling people of Bangladesh. This friendship forged between India and Bangladesh with the blood of two countries resonates particularly in this month of December. This strategic relationship between Bangladesh and India may remain so forever. 

Though Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa brothers decided to give away the Hambantota port on a 99-year-old lease to China, the people of Sri Lanka rose in revolt. The Indian grains, oil, and petroleum brought the ultimate succor to the people and the government of Sri Lanka. Bangladesh also gave a loan as a rescue package. 

The people of Nepal understand in spite of some misunderstanding that it is India which will ultimately continue to be its friend and neighbour. The Doklam face-off strengthened the Indo-Bhutanese friendship. Maldives is taking a deep breath in re-arranging its relationship in the region. 

Pakistan is on the brink; it cannot pay back the CPEC debts to China, but China would like to be present in Pakistan so that it may breathe down the neck of  India. As the economy of Pakistan nosedives, how long can China continue to prop up Pakistan needs to be seen. US President Joe Biden said in October that “Pakistan may be one of the most dangerous nations in the world”, citing the country's nuclear weapons arsenal, which is “without any cohesion.”

Before the British occupied India in 1757, India was one of the largest economies in the world, producing about 24.44% of the global economy in contrast to England's 1.9% economy. When the British left in 1947, the balance was reversed as a result of British imperial political, social, and economic exploitation of India. 

From the ashes of British exploitation, India has just replaced Britain as the fifth largest economy. Bangladesh too is soon going to be a trillion dollar economy enjoying the highest economic growth in this part of the world.

Waliur Rahman is a former Ambassador and Chairman, Bangladesh Heritage Foundation National Security & Counter Terrorism. Former Special Envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Former Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Adviser to the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTBD).