Melanie Hanif: India’s regional interests, identities, instability and integration

Interview by: Leonhardt van Efferink (December 2010) Tags: India Regional Interests Identities Instability Integration Insecurity Threats Terrorism Fundamentalism National Cohesion Territory South Asia

Melanie Hanif

Melanie Hanif

Melanie Hanif is a research fellow at the GIGA (German Institute of Global and Area Studies) and a doctoral student at the University of Hamburg. In her dissertation, she discusses theories of regional powers and evaluates to which extent they help to understand India’s position in South Asia.

Ms Hanif studied political science with a focus on international relations at the universities of Regensburg and Barcelona. In 2010, she spent several months as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi and at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford.

In this interview, Ms Hanif sheds some light on the complex nature of South Asia. Which factors influence the relationship between India and Pakistan? What are the prospects for more political and economic integration in the region? How does India see China? And why has India provided so much financial support to Afghanistan?

India, Pakistan and South Asian integration

Under what circumstances would the relationship between India and Pakistan improve?

“The India-Pakistan conflict can be interpreted as a struggle for territory and resources but also as a manifestation of competing identity constructions.”

The India-Pakistan relationship is characterized by a long-standing and complex conflict in which many dimensions are interrelated. Thus, the conflict can be interpreted as a struggle for territory and resources but also as a manifestation of competing identity constructions.

In both countries, but especially in Pakistan, the situation is complicated by internal instabilities and problems at the political, economic and societal levels. At the moment, India’s trajectory appears more promising with regard to economic growth, poverty reduction and the easing of various societal tensions. If this development continues, the Indian government might come into a position where it can stand painful policy choices concerning its relations with Pakistan. Besides, a consolidation of national territory in South Asia would certainly lower the sense of insecurity of the countries in the region, especially of the smaller ones.

Nevertheless, in the light of the identity dimension of the conflict it becomes clear that a technical tit-for-tat approach which focuses exclusively on territorial disputes will hardly solve the underlying conflictive dynamics.

Do you see room for further regional integration in South Asia?

“Most of the South Asian states still struggle for national cohesion, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

South Asia mainly consists of young post-colonial states. Although they are considered to be nation-states in the current international system, their borders cut across traditional communities as well as ethnic and religious fault lines. Most of the South Asian states still struggle for national cohesion, territorial integrity and sovereignty. These struggles become apparent not only in internal instabilities within those countries but also in inter-state disputes.

A supra-national model of regional integration would constitute another imposition of a European “best practice” which ignores regional dynamics. The goal of friendly and peaceful regional relations – as comparable to those within the EU – is certainly desirable from a South Asian perspective. However, the post-Westphalian European way might not be an adequate response to regional problems.

The prospects of a supra-national model of regional integration seem particularly ambivalent since they might even reinforce the state-nation-imbalances in South Asia – a legacy of importing the Westphalian model of sovereign national-/territorial states.

India’s ties with China and Afghanistan

Why does India consider China as Partner, Competitor and Threat?

“Currently it is in particular China’s so called “string of pearls strategy” of establishing a ring of military bases along the Indian Ocean which stirs fears of encirclement in New Delhi”

There is no doubt that China – with its impressive economic development and its growing self-esteem vis-à-vis the West – to some extent serves as a role-model for India. Moreover, India’s own economic rise has opened up new opportunities for bilateral trade with China which has skyrocket in recent years.

Nevertheless, India’s trade balance with China is unfavourable what makes New Delhi feel uneasy even in this area of considerable potential for mutual benefit. Although China and India have intensified cooperation at the global level – in the first place to balance the influence of Western countries in international negotiations – their relationship remains awkward. Since they face similar economic and developmental challenges, both countries often compete for access to energy resources, markets and technology.

Historical animosity (stemming mostly form China’s Tibet policy and the 1962 Sino-Indian border war) and unresolved territorial disputes add to India’s threat perception. Currently it is in particular China’s so called “string of pearls strategy” of establishing a ring of military bases along the Indian Ocean which stirs fears of encirclement in New Delhi.

What role does Afghanistan play in India’s foreign policy strategy?

“India’s engagement in Afghanistan is certainly motivated by its interest in open access to Central Asian trade routes and energy resources, in a stable neighbourhood and especially in countering fundamentalism and terrorism in the region.”

Since the ousting of the Taliban-regime, India has committed about 1.5 billion US-dollars to the civil reconstruction of Afghanistan. This makes India the biggest regional donor and the sixth-largest donor in general.

India’s engagement in the country is certainly motivated by its interest in open access to Central Asian trade routes and energy resources, in a stable neighbourhood and especially in countering fundamentalism and terrorism in the region. More specifically, however, India also aims to limit Pakistan’s capacity to use Afghanistan as a basis for its own anti-Indian activities. In that sense, Afghanistan has become another area in which India and Pakistan struggle for influence.

Their conflict, in turn, undermines international stabilization efforts in the country. Nevertheless, the announced reduction of international troops (which shall start in 2011 and lead to a transfer of responsibility to the Afghan authorities in 2014) narrows the scope for substantial change in regional conflict structures. In New Delhi, the future of Afghanistan and its impact on the whole region will remain a major foreign policy preoccupation.

Comments are closed.