Why neighbours dislike or suspect India

Published: May 29, 2017
The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. He is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own. 

The writer is the editor and translator of Why I write: Essays by Saadat Hasan Manto, published by Westland in 2014. He is executive director of Amnesty International India. The views expressed here are his own. aakar.patel@tribune.com.pk

A little under 30 years ago, after Vishwanath Pratap Singh became prime minister, he met with Sri Lanka’s president Ranasinghe Premadasa. Singh, a polite man, says he was surprised when the first thing Premadasa said to him was: “When are you taking your army back?”

The reference was to the Indian Peace Keeping Force, a group of soldiers from the Indian Army sent to Lanka to fight the Tamil Tigers. India had deployed tens of thousands of its jawans (over 1,000 of whom would die fighting the Tamilians) and we had thought of it as a sacrifice for the Lankans. However, the Lankans, according to Singh, saw it as interference after a point and wanted the Indians out of their country.

The civil war in Lanka ended with a victory of the Sinhalese nationalists, and today Lanka is no longer under the influence of India as it was 30 years ago. If there is a nation that many Lankans see as interfering, it is China. The giant ports developed by the Chinese in Colombo and Hambanthota are projects of a scale India cannot compete with.

The Chinese are executing today the most important and largest infrastructure project of the world. It is called One Belt One Road. The belt is a series of highways and the ‘road’ is a network of ports and sea routes. It held a meeting in May to show its vision and India boycotted it.

However, all of India’s neighbours attended, except for one, Bhutan. Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Nepal all attended, leading to fears of encirclement in the community that thinks about strategic affairs in India.

India warned those attending that the partnership with the Chinese would come at a heavy price, but almost nobody heard us. The question is: why not? The answer, to return to the original point of this article, is that almost all of India’s neighbours either dislike or suspect us. Even in Hindu Nepal, Indians are not particularly popular. We have no neighbour with whom we have a relationship like the United States has with Canada. All our borders seem to be like the US and Mexico’s, or worse.

Perhaps the fault is entirely that of our neighbours’. Certainly the average Indian holds the impression that we are victims of other nations’ mischief. This is coupled with the prejudiced view many of us have of our neighbours. We believe Bangladeshis are illegal immigrants, Nepalis are watchmen and Pakistanis are terrorists.

Today Nepalis in the northern part of the country think India is playing games by dividing their country into hill-people and plains-people and instigating a long and painful blockade against the former (who are the elite). They also think India is interfering with their constitutional processes.

It is possible that India has legitimate concerns and interests in Nepal. However, we must ask ourselves why our relations with a Hindu country are in such tatters that we could not get them to side with us against the Chinese.

Even with Bhutan, our only ‘friend’ against the Chinese, our relationship is not one of equals. Under Nehru, India imposed on Bhutan something called a Friendship Treaty, which actually was nothing of the sort. The treaty gave India a veto on Bhutan’s foreign policy.

Nehru inherited an aggressively expansionist imperial state which had tentative borders. Neighbouring states feared the India of the British Raj, and legitimately. Our failure has been that we have not been able to overcome that fear and distrust and build relationships that are meaningful and based on respect and mutual interest. That failure showed in our isolation at the belt and road summit.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2017.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (10)

  • Roshan Butt
    May 29, 2017 - 9:52AM

    oh the truth for once…Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    May 29, 2017 - 10:30AM

    Clearly written for the Pakistani reader. Enjoy.Recommend

  • OSD
    May 29, 2017 - 10:47AM

    @Arijit Sharma: it was first published on Indian news sites so the real audience is the naive Indian public. Hard facts are annoying, aren’t they?Recommend

  • rajesh
    May 29, 2017 - 10:59AM

    I wonder what Pakistanis would have done if there was a Pakistani journalist who keeps on writing nasty things about Pakistan in Indian newspapers and still lives in Pakistan? The Indians are in fact too tolerant. Too much for their own good.Recommend

  • Resham
    May 29, 2017 - 11:22AM

    And the Indian people still believe the ludicrous nonsense that Pakistan is isolated when in fact India is getting sidelined and distracted. That’s because prejudice rather than facts guide and shape the Indian people’s assessments.Recommend

  • Feroz
    May 29, 2017 - 11:30AM

    The prism through which we see people, countries and politics varies from person to person, making generalizations difficult. As long as India does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, it should be fine. No big country is looked at kindly by any of its neighbors, be it India, China, US, Russia or even an economic power house like Germany. India has no reason to feel insecure about how neighbors see the world or with whom they do business. Writer may be feeling insecure but me and most Indians do not share these feelings, looking at all neighbors as friends with many shared interests. Today a far greater number of the 200 countries of the UN have a far better opinion about India than they do about the US, China or Russia, none of them seeing any threat emanating from India. That is a better barometer for me a global traveler than opinions from the author.Recommend

  • Pg56
    May 30, 2017 - 3:40AM

    Please provide reference about which Indian sites was it published first.Recommend

  • Historian
    May 30, 2017 - 10:22AM

    Not to trivialize, but to further the author’s point, the world of cricket is illustrative. Even countries who prosecute the so-called ‘War on Terror’ on Pakistani soil, countries who refuse to play in Pakistan, honor their obligations to invite the Pakistani team to their countries and play Pakistani home games at neutral venues. India alone refuses. It is this mindset, fostered by the Indian political establishment, that all its neighbors have either felt in other regards or are aware of by observation. This is the mindset that harms India’s reputation to the point that China, Russia, the EU and US are preferred partners. Unless and until the Indian political establishment changes its mindset, it can never be one of the great powers in this world. Recommend

  • Menon
    May 30, 2017 - 2:55PM

    Traitors like Aakar Patel is the only cause of such distrusts.Recommend

  • Roy
    May 31, 2017 - 3:55AM

    @Arijit Sharma is that the best counter argument you have come up with? I think then the writer is right about mindset of Indians.Recommend

More in Opinion