Bilateral and regional relations
India and its neighbours
Bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan have been traditionally strong and friendly. While India was the only South Asian country to recognise the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1980s, its relations were diminished during the Afghan civil wars and the rule of the Islamist Talibanin the 1990s. India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid.
The new democratically elected Afghan government strengthened its ties with India in wake of persisting tensions and problems with Pakistan, which is continuing to shelter and support the Taliban. India pursues a policy of close cooperation to bolster its standing as a regional power and contain its rival Pakistan, which it maintains is supporting Islamic militants in Kashmir and other parts of India. India is the largest regional investor in Afghanistan, having committed more than US$2.2 billion for reconstruction purposes.
India was the second country(hours after Bhutan) to recognise Bangladesh as a separate and independent state, doing so on 6 December 1971. India fought alongside the Bangladeshis to liberate Bangladesh from West Pakistan in 1971. Bangladesh’s relationship with India has been difficult in terms of irrigation and land border disputes post 1976. However, India has enjoyed favourable relationship with Bangladesh during governments formed by the Awami League in 1972 and 1996. The recent solutions of land and maritime disputes have taken out irritants in ties.
At the outset India’s relations with Bangladesh could not have been stronger because of India’s unalloyed support for independence and opposition against Pakistan in 1971. During the independence war, many refugees fled to India. When the struggle of resistance matured in November 1971, India also intervened militarily and may have helped bring international attention to the issue through Indira Gandhi‘s visit to Washington, D.C. Afterwards India furnished relief and reconstruction aid. India extended recognition to Bangladesh prior to the end of the war in 1971 (the second country to do so after Bhutan) and subsequently lobbied others to follow suit. India also withdrew its military from the land of Bangladesh when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman requested Indira Gandhi to do so during the latter’s visit to Dhaka in 1972.
Indo-Bangladesh relations have been somewhat less friendly since the fall of Mujib government in August 1975.over the years over issues such asSouth Talpatti Island, the Tin Bighacorridor and access to Nepal, theFarakka Barrage and water sharing, border conflicts near Tripura and the construction of a fence along most of the border which India explains as security provision against migrants, insurgents and terrorists. Many Bangladeshis feel India likes to play “big brother” to smaller neighbours, including Bangladesh. Bilateral relations warmed in 1996, due to a softer Indian foreign policy and the new Awami LeagueGovernment. A 30-year water-sharing agreement for the Ganges River was signed in December 1996, after an earlier bilateral water-sharing agreement for the Ganges River lapsed in 1988. Both nations also have cooperated on the issue of flood warning and preparedness. The Bangladesh Government and tribal insurgents signed a peace accord in December 1997, which allowed for the return of tribal refugees who had fled into India, beginning in 1986, to escape violence caused by an insurgency in their homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Bangladesh Army maintains a very strong presence in the area to this day. The army is increasingly concerned about a growing problem of cultivationof illegal drugs.
There are also small pieces of land along the border region that Bangladesh is diplomatically trying to reclaim. Padua, part of Sylhet Division before 1971, has been under Indian control since the war in 1971. This small strip of land was re-occupied by the BDR in 2001, but later given back to India after Bangladesh government decided to solve the problem through diplomatic negotiations. The Indian New Moore island no longer exists, but Bangladesh repeatedly claims it to be part of the Satkhira district of Bangladesh.
In recent years India has increasingly complained that Bangladesh does not secure its border properly. It fears an increasing flow of poor Bangladeshis and it accuses Bangladesh of harbouring Indian separatist groups likeULFA and alleged terrorist groups. The Bangladesh government has refused to accept these allegations. India estimates that over 20 millionBangladeshis are living illegally in India. One Bangladeshi official responded that “there is not a single Bangladeshi migrant in India”. Since 2002, India has been constructing anIndia – Bangladesh Fence along much of the 2500 mile border. The failure to resolve migration disputes bears a human cost for illegal migrants, such as imprisonment and health risks (namelyHIV/Aids).
Historically, there have been close ties with India. Both countries signed a friendship treaty in 1949, where India would assist Bhutan in foreign relations. On 8 February 2007, the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty was substantially revised under the Bhutanese King,Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Whereas in the Treaty of 1949 Article 2 read as “The Government of India undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan. On its part the Government of Bhutan agrees to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations.”
In the revised treaty it now reads as, “In keeping with the abiding ties of close friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and India, the Government of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Government of the Republic of India shall cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests. Neither government shall allow the use of its territory for activities harmful to the national security and interest of the other”. The revised treaty also includes in it the preamble “Reaffirming their respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, an element that was absent in the earlier version. The Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty of 2007 strengthens Bhutan’s status as an independent and sovereign nation.
Tata Power is building a hydro-electric dam. This dam will greatly develop the Bhutanese economy by providing employment, and by selling electricity to India and fulfilling India’s burgeoning energy needs. Due to this dam Bhutan’s economy grew 20%, the second highest growth rate in the world.
India established diplomatic relations after Burma’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. For many years, Indo-Burmese relations were strong due to cultural links, flourishing commerce, common interests in regional affairs and the presence of a significant Indian community in Burma. India provided considerable support when Burma struggled with regional insurgencies. However, the overthrow of the democratic government by the Military of Burma led to strains in ties. Along with much of the world, India condemned the suppression of democracy and Burma ordered theexpulsion of the Burmese Indian community, increasing its own isolation from the world. Only China maintained close links with Burma while India supported the pro-democracy movement.
However, due to geo-political concerns, India revived its relations and recognised the military junta ruling Burma in 1993, overcoming strains over drug trafficking, the suppression of democracy and the rule of the military junta in Burma. Burma is situated to the south of the states of Mizoram, Manipur,Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh inNortheast India. and the proximity of the People’s Republic of China gives strategic importance to Indo-Burmese relations. The Indo-Burmese border stretches over 1,600 kilometres and some insurgents in North-east Indiaseek refuge in Burma. Consequently, India has been keen on increasing military cooperation with Burma in its counter-insurgency activities. In 2001, the Indian Army completed the construction of a major road along its border with Burma. India has also been building major roads, highways, ports and pipelines within Burma in an attempt to increase its strategic influence in the region and also to counter China’s growing strides in theIndochina peninsula. Indian companies have also sought active participation in oil and natural gas exploration in Burma.In February 2007, India announced a plan to develop the Sittweport, which would enable ocean access from Indian Northeastern states likeMizoram, via the Kaladan River.
India is a major customer of Burmese oil and gas. In 2007, Indian exports to Burma totaled US$185 million, while its imports from Burma were valued at around US$810 million, consisting mostly of oil and gas. India has granted US$100 million credit to fund highway infrastructure projects in Burma, while US$57 million has been offered to upgrade Burmese railways. A further US$27 million in grants has been pledged for road and rail projects.India is one of the few countries that has provided military assistance to the Burmese junta. However, there has been increasing pressure on India to cut some of its military supplies to Burma. Relations between the two remain close which was evident in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, when India was one of the few countries whose relief and rescue aid proposals were accepted by Burma’s ruling junta.
Both India and the PRC maintain embassies in Rangoon and Consulate-Generals in Mandalay.
A Chinese container ship unloads cargo at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port
in India. Bilateral trade between the two countries is expected to surpass US$60 billion by 2010 making China the single largest trading partner of India.
Despite lingering suspicions remaining from the 1962 Sino-Indian War and continuing boundary disputes overAksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, Sino-Indian relations have improved gradually since 1988. Both countries have sought to reduce tensions along the frontier, expand trade and cultural ties, and normalise relations.
A series of high-level visits between the two nations have helped improve relations. In December 1996, PRC President Jiang Zemin visited India during a tour of South Asia. While in New Delhi, he signed with the Indian Prime Minister a series of confidence-building measures for the disputed borders. Sino-Indian relations suffered a brief setback in May 1998 when the Indian Defence minister justified the country’s nuclear tests by citing potential threats from the PRC. However, in June 1999, during the Kargil crisis, then-External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh visited Beijing and stated that India did not consider China a threat. By 2001, relations between India and the PRC were on the mend, and the two sides handled the move from Tibet to India of the 17th Karmapa in January 2000 with delicacy and tact. In 2003, India formally recognised Tibet as a part of China, and China recognised Sikkimas a formal part of India in 2004.
Since 2004, the economic rise of both China and India has also helped forge closer relations between the two. Sino-Indian trade reached US$65.47 billion in 2013-14, making China the single largest trading partner of India. The increasing economic reliance between India and China has also bought the two nations closer politically, with both India and China eager to resolve their boundary dispute. They have also collaborated on several issues ranging from WTO‘s Doha round in 2008 to regional free trade agreement.Similar to Indo-US nuclear deal, India and China have also agreed to cooperate in the field of civilian nuclear energy. However, China’s economic interests have clashed with those of India. Both the countries are the largest Asian investors in Africa and have competed for control over its large natural resources.