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Improve Relations

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The stability and prosperity of South Asian nations seems directly proportional to the quality of their relations with India. Those that have sought to counter Indian ‘influence’ by seeking alternate alliances, particularly with China, are increasingly coming a cropper. Sri Lanka is a good example of this. It deliberately went out of its way to set up deals with China that proved as toxic as they have done everywhere else. Of course, there is a history behind this policy as India’s ‘big brother’ attitude on occasions in the past did offer an aggravation. However, the general principle is that neighbours need to get along with each other for mutual well-being.

Pakistan is another case in point – it has steadily gone downhill because it has failed to benefit from proximity to India. In contrast, Bangladesh under PM Sheikh Hasina has cultivated a positive relationship that has allowed the country to forge ahead. India has, in many ways, strengthened its economy, and the resultant stability has attracted not just investment from abroad but also boosted its exports.

Will the Covid and Ukraine challenges lead to reappraisal in South Asia on the shape relations should take in the future? Or, will ideology continue to trump reality? It will be a long time before Pakistan realises the contradictions in the two-nation theory. What emerges in Sri Lanka post the Rajpaksa regime is still to be seen, but it can be confidently stated that better relations with India will be needed for a changed environment. Nepal continues its engagement with Communism and China because of which its unique relationship with India has considerably stalled.

It does not seem as though the global situation is going to get any better in the short term. Nations will be forced to revamp economies and policies to survive. Attempts will be made to boost self-reliance at the national and regional levels. It is not just aid from India that will benefit Sri Lanka – Indians can be the first to help revive tourism in that country. All it requires is a greater environment of trust and goodwill to overcome the failure to utilise each other’s strengths for the benefit of all.