June 3, 2016
India has traditionally displayed a self-imposed ‘unilateral bias’ in addressing key challenges in the neighbourhood and near abroad. The limits of this approach are evident
The Salma Dam in Afghanistan’s Herat Province, built with Indian assistance and scheduled to be inaugurated during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to Afghanistan, is a significant landmark in India’s engagement with the war-ravaged country. Coming close on the heels of the Indian investment in Iran’s Chabahar port complex and opening a land route onwards to Afghanistan, the ongoing strategic engagement with Tehran and Kabul represents New Delhi’s ambitious foray into its extended neighbourhood. Momentous though these initiatives are, there is considerable scepticism within the strategic community regarding India’s material and political wherewithal to stay the course vis-à-vis these long-term projects, especially in the context of India’s not-so-impressive record when it comes to delivering on strategically important projects in the region and beyond.
The problem and the solution
India’s strategic engagements in the region and beyond suffer from several handicaps. First of all, New Delhi lacks the financial resources to invest in crucial projects in a sustained manner due to budget constraints and compulsions of domestic priorities. New Delhi’s inability to accept Colombo’s offer to build the Hambantota Port some years ago is a case in point. Clearly, there is only so much that a developing country like India can do to assist others. Second, there is also a problem of severe attention deficit resulting from an inability to commit diplomatic and political capital to pursue key strategic objectives. Third, many of India’s strategic initiatives in the region, Chabahar for instance, often get portrayed in competitive terms, thereby getting into the cross hairs of adversarial/insecure neighbours.