Neighbourhood Ties Expanding

Not surprisingly, public attention has recently been primarily focused on India’s air attack on Balakot and its aftermath.

Published: 21st April 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2019 10:04 PM   |  A+A-

Not surprisingly, public attention has recently been primarily focused on India’s air attack on Balakot and its aftermath. The attack was followed by a diplomatic fiasco for Pakistan, in which 14 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee supported a Resolution, declaring Maulana Masood Azhar as an international terrorist.

This diplomatic fiasco has been accompanied by a serious economic crisis that Pakistan is facing. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves are hovering at $8-10 billion. Islamabad has been left with virtually no option, but to accept an IMF bailout, which will force its people to swallow bitter medicine, by reduction in subsidies, scuttling of ambitious welfare schemes and mounting inflation.

The Trump Administration may routinely make encouraging noises to PM Imran Khan, to get Pakistan to facilitate American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s policies are, however, likely to keep three of its neighbours—Iran, Afghanistan and India—uneasy and hostile, if the country continues on its present path.

A new government will assume office in New Delhi in May-June. One hopes that even while assessing whether Pakistan will change its behaviour, India will focus greater attention on our relations with other South Asian neighbours. We have positioned ourselves well in the Maldives, after the electoral defeat of the authoritarian pro-Chinese President Abdulla Yameen, by President Ibrahim Solih, who is reportedly considering measures to discard some of the economically unsustainable Chinese projects.

Sri Lanka is, likewise, more careful about Chinese projects after it was compelled to cede management of the Hambantota Port to China. New Delhi has played its cards well, reaching out to a cross-section of Sri Lankan leaders, including former President Mahenda Rajapakse. 

Many in India tend to underestimate the strength and resilience of present-day Bangladesh. The world regarded Bangladesh as an economic “basket case” in 1971, with its economic indicators trailing far below that of Pakistan. Four decades later, Bangladesh has far better key economic indicators than Pakistan on issues like external debt, life expectancy, budget deficits, debt-to-GDP ratio and per capita income. Dhaka has conducted its foreign policy successfully maintaining excellent relations with India, even as it expands trade, investment and defence ties with China. It now receives much greater attention and financial flows from affluent Islamic countries, like Saudi Arabia.

One hopes that following the elections, New Delhi will continue to deal firmly with Pakistan. Islamabad should be told that while we will maintain contacts with it, a serious dialogue can commence only when terrorism sponsored from the soil under its control ends, accompanied by the dismantlement of the ISI’s terrorist infrastructure. Failing this, India will be forced to adopt measures to raise the costs for Pakistan politically, economically and diplomatically.

This should accompany moves to isolate Pakistan in South Asia by promoting regional cooperation through BIMSTEC, while downplaying ties with SAARC, where Pakistan is a member. India should, meanwhile, cooperate with Bangladesh for it to emerge as a significant player, with its own distinct national identity in South Asia and across the Bay of Bengal.

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