(i) Governments in the SAARC region are not on ideal terms with New Delhi:
- In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has gone out of his way to challenge the Indian government, whether it is on his crackdown on the opposition, invitations to China, or even breaking with New Delhi’s effort to isolate Pakistan at SAARC.
- In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is not India’s first choice.
- No matter which party is in power in Pakistan, the official dialogue seems difficult, especially with the military on the ascendant once again.
- In other parts of the neighborhood (Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Bangladesh), where relations have been comparatively better for the past few years, upcoming elections could be of disadvantage for India.
(ii) China’s unprecedented forays into each of these countries:
- In Nepal, China has opened up an array of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade: from the highway to Lhasa, cross-border railway lines to the development of dry ports.
- In Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan, China holds strategic real estate, which could also be fortified militarily in the future.
- China stepped in to negotiate a Rohingya refugee return agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, host a meeting of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers to help calm tensions and bring both on board with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) connection between them and offered to mediate between the Maldivian government and the opposition.
- This shows increasing involvement of China in internal politics of these countries.
(iii) The government’s decision to use hard power tactics in the neighbourhood has had a boomerang effect:
- The “surgical strikes” on Pakistan of 2016 have been followed by a greater number of ceasefire violations and cross-border infiltration on the Line of Control.
- The 2015 Nepal blockade and a subsequent cut in Indian aid channelled through the government did not force the Nepali government to amend its constitution as intended.
- Mr. Modi’s decision to abruptly cancel his visit to Male in 2015 did not yield the required changes in the government’s treatment of the opposition.
- Warnings about Mr. Yameen’s emergency in the past have led to the Maldives cancelling its participation in the Indian Navy’s “Milan” exercises.
- Even in Bangladesh, the Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s tough talking about immigration has drawn ire there.