Neighbourhood First Policy

Context: The parliamentary standing committee on external affairs has recommended several measures to bolster India’s Neighbourhood First Policy. About Neighbourhood First Policy:
  • India shares it:
    • Land Boundaries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Myanmar.
    • Maritime Boundaries: Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Bangladesh
  • Under its Neighbourhood First Policy, India strives to build cordial and synergetic relations with the South Asian neighbors in various areas such as economy, science and technology, research and education.
  • India’s Neighbourhood First policy can also be seen as a manifestation of the vision of building a Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world as one family). Neighbourhood First policy.
Salient Features of the Neighbourhood First policy:
  • Prioritizing Neighbors: The policy places special emphasis on India’s immediate neighbors, recognizing their strategic importance and the shared historical, cultural, and geographical ties.
  • Proactive Diplomacy: The ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy focuses on proactive and sustained diplomatic efforts to engage with neighboring countries and address their concerns and priorities.
  • Conflict Resolution: The policy endeavors to assist in conflict resolution and mediate disputes between neighboring countries, promoting peaceful coexistence.
  • Humanitarian and Development Assistance: India offers humanitarian aid and development assistance to support its neighbors during times of crisis or natural disasters.
    • For example: India announced supply of 20,000 MTs of wheat assistance to Afghanistan in partnership with UN World Food Programme through Chabahar Port
  • Defence Cooperation: India is deepening regional security through military cooperation, with exercises like Surya Kiran (Nepal) and Sampriti (Bangladesh).
  • Multifaceted Approach: It aims to enhance connectivity, augment trade and investment, and build a secure and stable neighborhood.
Challenges faced by India in relation to its neighbors:
  • Territorial Dispute: India has border disputes with neighboring countries. For Example:
    • Border Dispute with China: India and China have a long-standing border dispute, with unresolved issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan region.
    • Border Dispute with Nepal: India and Nepal have disputes over their territorial boundaries, mainly concerning the Kalapani region
  • Cross Border Terrorism: India has seen terrorist attacks with links to Pakistan, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the 2016 Uri attack, and the 2019 Pulwama attack.
  • Taliban Regime in Afghanistan: The resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan poses significant and potentially grave security challenges for India.
  • China’s Factor: Through its belt and road initiative, China is posing a challenge for India’s sovereignty.
    • For Example:  India has continuously opposed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) since it passes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir territory of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • Anti-India Domestic Politics: Anti-India domestic politics in countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Nepal could potentially strain bilateral relations and pose challenges for India in managing its diplomatic and regional interests.
    • For Example: ‘India Out Campaign’ in Maldives.
  • Inconsistent Approach: Inconsistency in Neighbourhood First Policy has been counterproductive in terms of India’s relationship with its neighbors.
    • For example, During the present regime in 2014, India called all the heads of state of the neighborhood in an oath-taking ceremony but ignored the SAARC completely.
Initiatives of India under spirit of Neighborhood First Policy:
  • Vaccine Diplomacy: Shipments have begun arriving in the Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Myanmar and the Seychelles are next in line to get consignments
  • Operation Ganga: Under it, India evacuates citizens from Bangladesh, Pakistan from war torn Ukraine.
Why is India giving push to Neighborhood First Policy?
  • First, maintaining good relations with neighboring nations will help India achieve its foreign policy goals and help other South Asian nations develop.
  • Second, by extending necessary assistance, India can strengthen its position in the region and achieve both economic and strategic depth vis-à-vis China.
  • Third, India’s neighbors are strategically significant due to their geographical proximity, and fostering strong relationships with them enhances India’s regional influence and security.
Way Forward:
  • Strengthening Diplomatic Engagement: Enhance diplomatic efforts to build trust, address mutual concerns, and strengthen ties with neighboring countries through high-level visits, dialogues, and strategic partnerships.
  • Addressing Border Disputes: Actively engage in peaceful negotiations to resolve outstanding border disputes, promoting stability and goodwill in the region.
  • Humanitarian and Development Assistance: Continue providing humanitarian aid and development assistance during times of crisis, showcasing India’s commitment to supporting its neighbors.
    • For Example: India has provided financial and humanitarian support worth $4 billion, making it the first creditor nation to offer financing assurances to kick-start the IMF process.
  • Regional Forums and Mechanisms: Engage proactively in regional forums like SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) to address regional issues and challenges collectively.
Key Recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committee to bolster Neighbourhood First Policy:
  • Lending Financial Support: India should complete pending development projects in Afghanistan and more financial support to help Sri Lanka tide over an economic crisis.
  • Tackling Terror: The government should sensitize regional and multilateral bodies about Pakistan’s role in fostering terrorism. It added that efforts may be made to establish a common platform to counter terror under the Neighbourhood First policy.
  • Humanitarian Aid: India continues to provide humanitarian aid to the Afghan people despite “changes in the political landscape” and recommended that this assistance should be continued.
  • Focus on Trade Agreements: the government should resume negotiations for the early conclusion of the proposed Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with Sri Lanka
  • Improving Relations with Pakistan: The committee’s members believe the onus is on Pakistan to improve bilateral relations.
 News Source: Hindustan Times

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