Economic Engagement Policy In Globalizing South Asia: Envisioning Out Of Dragon Orbit – OpEd

The economic engagements in a Globalizing South Asia and its impact on new trade avenues can no longer be stratified and sanctified by regionalism, nationalism or localism. Rather; an analysis of the security environment of a particular area must address the global ramifications and repercussions that may have an overt or covert impact on the specific area of territorial integrity of a country including India.

The new economic engagements should not be a catalyst to decimate regional alliances like SAARC and its economic activities under SAFTA that requires being re-calibrated to be in tune with the new economic realities of this region. At the same time, socio-political sagacity has doubled the expectations of the people across the globe, and at the same mounted tremendous pressure upon states and the societies. The territorial integrity scenario after 9/11 has emplaced a new definition of national security that is impregnated with the US orientation and may not be standard for all nation–states, while posing a dichotomy that in an inter–dependent world territorial integrity cannot be ensured contrary to the principle of sovereign equality.

However, there is another narrative of supremacy called globalization that refers to various processes embracing political, social, economic, technological and cultural metamorphosis. Globalization encapsulates the ambit of the uniformity of political ideas and practices; the degree of economic integration, creating a unique policy framework, and the diffusion of technologies, etc. Thus, this system put in place by the United States eventually worked so efficiently that it appeared as something that had evolved naturally — but it was an illusion of high order, it was a work of political panache and serious interactions deviant to international economic order based on the principles of competitiveness, openness, and multilateralism.

Consequently, this has changed the global security environment resulting in the rise of terrorism. In this context, China has presented the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as an all-powerful engine of economic growth for the states along the new Silk Route. China’s BRI has to create a modern day silk route that is enormous and humongous in scale and stature if measured against actual orientation of this course.

Therefore, BRI is a new economic entity that is destined to carve out its geoeconomic and politico-strategic relevance in an environment of trust deficit in the South Asia region. India has not participated in this colossal venture, despite the fact India supported the idea of economic engagement and economic diplomacy as an instrument of confidence building measures (CBMs) among all the nation-states.

Art, culture, sports, science, trade and people to people contacts has always been advocated, promoted, and perceived by India as an integral part of Track-II Diplomacy in South Asia — notwithstanding the fact that Pakistan has occupied a large chunk of India’s land in Kashmir, which known as the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and a portion of Western PoK that has been transferred to Pakistan to China. In the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, China had captured a huge part of Ladakh in the North-East of J&K and this border dispute is still being negotiated by both the countries.

On the other hand, China is deliberately raising questions on Arunachal Pradesh and its integration within India. Additionally, China started developing trans-border infrastructure in the disputed territory of Kashmir (India) in the 1960s along the Karakoram Highway, which has solidified the presence of China in PoK. Thus, both China and Pakistan constructed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Kashgar in China to Gwadar in Baluchistan-Pakistan for their economic prosperity. But CPEC as part of new silk route has deprived all the stakeholders along the road in Pakistan and India. Nevertheless, trade and business have been chosen as a mollifying point by the successive governments in India since 1950. Trade relations with India with its South Asia plus countries are good, barring few aberrations.

India has a serious trajectory of reservations to justify its absence at the BRI Forum inaugurated in Beijing, but one of the most important is the sovereignty of India over PoK — as this part of PoK has been used to build BRI. Moreover, India’s MEA office expressed its profound concerns and affirmed that “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Such statements may have implications detrimental to India’s economic growth in the long run. India could have justified its participation at BRI Forum by reiterating and renewing the claim of its national sovereignty and territorial integrity over PoK, and it would have been difficult for China and Pakistan to create any discord at the opening ceremony. Moreover, India is an economic giant and political force to reckon with and has one of the biggest bazaars in the world, and no country can afford to ignore its anxieties for long. Therefore, India could have joined BRI Forum or should join in future for the following reasons:

  • That India is an economic might and no country in the world howsoever big or small has the temerity to isolate or ignore it and its concerns relating to territorial integrity;
  • That India occupies an indispensable geostrategic location in the South Asian region which empowers India to claim its national sovereignty within the architecture of BRI Forum by resorting to credible trade negotiations;
  • That India can create bottlenecks for the smooth functioning of BRI if its concerns are not addressed pragmatically as China has been doing against India’s bid to enter into NSG and vetoing India’s efforts to get Hafiz Saeed declared an international terrorist in UN Security Council;
  • That India, as part of BRI Forum, will be better equipped to neutralize Pakistan in the affairs of Kashmir. Economic engagement through BRI Forum will strengthen the existing doctrine of bilateralism between India and Pakistan;
  • That India must not put Chinese incursions into Indian territories on the backburner, rather India must diplomatically raise such issues with repercussions of economic nature contrary to the gamut of political camaraderie at multilateral platforms. There must be the unified approach of India toward both China and Pakistan at the anvil of bilateralism;
  • That China will not be able to risk economic loss at the cost of political friendship with Pakistan and India can make the SAARC grouping more growth-oriented and make efforts to convert the SAARC into EU (European Economic Union) as SEU (SAARC Economic Union);
  • That India along with SAARC member states must seriously consider the expansion of the SAARC by drafting Iran and Myanmar into it to balance Sunni Pakistan with a Shia Iran on many issues of international and regional economic importance in the field of agriculture, energy, and counter-terrorism drives, etc.;
  • That India must re-invigorate, re-galvanize, and re-cast its relationship with Russia in the light of contemporary dimensions of a multi-polar world order to checkmate the Chinese hegemony in South Asia. Meanwhile, India must re-engage with Western governments on the issue of discouraging right-wing nationalism, promoting pluralism, and believing in diversity;
  • That India must participate in creating cross-border infrastructure in a manner of seeking a lasting peace, cooperation, and development in Kashmir. It is possible only if Pakistan and China show their credible sincerity and take adequate CMBs by emplacing a political framework for economic engagement in a Globalizing South Asia;
  • That India should seriously embark upon modernization of existing infrastructure in the J&K and create an inalienable integration with the whole of India regarding education, health, central administrative and police services, respect for Kashmiriyat (Kashmir-ness), Insaniyat (Humanity), and Jamhuriyat (Democracy) for the overall development of the state. India must review its foreign policy on Tibet and must not recognize Tibet as an integral part of China if the China does not recognize India’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh.

It can aptly be concluded that India is confronted with a Dragon Orbit that is determined to engulf entire maritime and littoral lines in South Asia in the garb of new silk route (BRI) to establish itself as a new centre of economic propulsion. Primarily, India must strive to abdicate its political cynicism towards the parts of North-East, all Islands, and small nation-states in the vicinity.

The integration of Kashmir with India is not only a finality of territorial sovereignty and integrity, but also it is a psychological, mental and unity discourse beyond the boundaries of bilateralism that rejects all sorts of interventions and mediations. Therefore, Chinese interference in Kashmir at the instigation of Pakistan is bound to be boomeranged in economic, political and strategic parlance in future.

Therefore, BRI project and CPEC venture are of vast economic importance and any action that might derail China could not tolerate these initiatives. In this conspectus, China is bound to address the Indian anxieties while having a re-think on its infrastructural projects in Kashmir and India must accelerate its socio-economic and development agenda in Arunachal Pradesh. Therefore, India should formulate a two-fold approach to BRI; firstly, it should join BRI Forum and secondly, it must engage SAARC member states in meaningful dialogue for economic dividends for the intra and extra SAARC region de novo.

About the author:
Nafees Ahmad,
Ph. D., LL.M., Assistant Professor, Faculty of Legal Studies-South Asian University-New Delhi [an International University established by the SAARC Nations]. Dr. Nafees Ahmad is an Indian national who holds a Doctorate (Ph.D.) in International Refugee Law and Human Rights wherein he concentrated on International Forced Migrations, Climate Change Refugees & Human Displacement Refugee, Policy, Asylum, Durable Solutions and Extradition Issus. He conducted research on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Jammu & Kashmir and North-East Region in India and has worked with several research scholars from US, UK and India and consulted with several research institutions and NGO’s in the area of human displacement and forced migration. He has introduced a new Program called Comparative Constitutional Law of SAARC Nations for LLM along with International Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law. He has been serving since 2010 as Senior Visiting Faculty to World Learning (WL)-India under the India-Health and Human Rights Program organized by the World Learning, 1 Kipling Road, Brattleboro VT-05302, USA for Fall & Spring Semesters Batches of US Students by its School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in New Delhi-INDIA [email protected], [email protected]


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