Trouble on all sides
In the midst of a pandemic and a series of natural disasters, India is facing grave security challenges from a number of its neighbours — be it border incursions, terrorism, or souring relations. Let’s have a look at the core issues here.
The US-Taliban peace deal is a trending topic. But who are the Taliban? And more importantly, why should India be concerned? The term Taliban means students in Pashto. Ever since the 1979 invasion of Russians, the Afghanistan Govt has been fighting with dissenting rebel factions collectively known as the Afghan Mujhaedeens, backed by the US, Saudi, Pakistan, and Iran. These rebels factions overthrew the Govt in 1992 after capturing Kabul. After a lot of infighting, a group of rebels known as the Taliban came out on top with the support of al-Qaeda(Arab fighters). Later in 2001, when al-Qaeda was found responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the US, the Taliban provided refuge to Osama bin Laden. The monster that the US had created came back to bite them! This marked the beginning of a 19-year long, bloody conflict between the US and the Taliban which was recently concluded with the signing of a peace deal in 2020. This deal was signed by the US, Afghanistan, Russia, China, Tajikistan, Pakistan, China, Iran, and Uzbekistan, and gave international recognition and political legitimacy to the Taliban.
India has been a staunch supporter of the civilian Government of Afghanistan (even though they have lost a lot of territory to the Taliban) and it considers the Taliban just like another Pakistan backed terror outfit like IKSP or the Haqqani network, who have been carrying out attacks on hospitals and the Indian embassy in Kabul. Because of this stance, India was left out of the peace deal even though it is a neighbour of Afghanistan and has spent billions of dollars on building critical infrastructure in Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan has put in utmost effort to keep India out of the deal. Recently the US has urged India to get into direct talks with the Taliban to discuss the security concerns. This will give India some elbow room to revive its influence in Afghanistan and prevent the years of goodwill from going into waste!
India’s border issues with Nepal can be traced back to the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816 signed between East India Company and Nepal after the Anglo-Nepalese war. The treaty didn’t have a clear demarcation and since India’s independence, the areas of Kalapani and Susta have been disputed areas. Despite multiple diplomatic interventions, the border dispute hasn’t been resolved to date. However, India has always shared an extremely cordial relation with Nepal due to similar cultures and a common concern about an expansionist China. They maintain an open border for free movement of people and goods. Nepal uses Indian ports for export and even the Nepal army receives training from India. India has also funded a number of development projects in Nepal. The relationships took a sour turn after the Nepal civil war when the Communist Party of Nepal(CPN) came to power. Soon after the war, India supported the cause of the Madheshis (people from UP and Bihar living in Nepal). When the CPN did not live up to their promises, the Madheshis created an economic blockade, and the CPN viewed this with suspicion and believed that India had a role to play in this. The relations became worse when KP Oli became the Prime Minister of Nepal for his first term in 2015. Ever since he has taken strong pro-China steps, like signing up for China’s Belt and Road Initiative and giving away a number of infrastructure deals meant for India to China in 2016.
Under the newly adopted Nepal Constitution, KP Oli was re-elected for a second term on 15th Feb, 2018. Due to increasing evangelical activities in Nepal coupled with KP Oli’s increasing pro-China tendencies, there has been a lot of internal unrest in Nepal to overthrow KP Oli. The new constitution provided for a two-year protection period to the Prime Minister from being removed from his office. This protection came to an end in Feb, 2020. To divert the attention of the citizens of Nepal, he renewed the border disputes with India as soon as India published its new map.
Instead of taking responsibility for introducing a pandemic and causing a global recession, China has shamelessly been pushing its expansionist agenda. It has passed a controversial National Security Law for Hong Kong to suppress pro-democratic protests. It has militarized the islands in the disputed South China sea and recently did a nuclear test at the Lop Nur site. It is trying to prevent Taiwan from getting observer status in the WHO. And guess which country is heading the WHA(the governing body of WHO) this year? India!
China’s border disputes with India have also been long-standing and have their roots in the Shimla Convention of 1914 when the Mac Mohan line was drawn by the British marking India’s boundary. The disputed areas were parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin, and small parts along the boundary of Uttarakhand. After the Nehru govt suffered a humiliating loss in the 1962 Indo-China war, the Chinese had infiltrated deep into the territories of India. However, the Chinese signed a ceasefire and agreed to hold onto Aksai Chin and parts of Arunachal and gave back the rest to India. A number of bilateral agreements have been signed over the years to prevent matters from escalating along the LAC(Line of Actual Control). So after so many years of peace, why is China causing the agitations now? There are multiple issues at play here:
a. Under the NDA government, India has significantly improved its defense infrastructure along the LAC. This improves India’s ability to easily mobilize troops to the border and neutralizes China’s advantage that it has been enjoying for so many years.
b. India has been vehemently opposing the CPEC(China Pakistan Economic Corridor) and has been against the Belt and Road Initiative.
c. India’s new FDI policy has put a check on investments flowing in from China to prevent hostile takeovers and prevent China from playing its Debt Trap Diplomacy.
d. Improving relations with the US, Japan, and Australia including the formation of multiple multilateral organizations for military cooperation over concerns of China’s activities in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
e. India is heading the WHA this year and will be deciding on whether Taiwan will be given the observer status in WHO. As the US has been supporting Taiwan, China is apprehensive that India might support Taiwan as well.