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As long as the country’s borders remain unsettled, its strategic environment can never be considered stable.

india Updated: Aug 23, 2013 00:22 IST
Hindustan Times

The turmoil surrounding the rupee is only matched, it seems, by turmoil along India’s borders. There can be little doubt that the Line of Control with Pakistan is now seeing a new outbreak of violence that is starting to fray the 2003 ceasefire. There also seems to be a step-up in China’s willingness to push its claims along its disputed border with India through patrolling and intrusions along the Line of Actual Control.

It would be too much to link these developments. The Pakistan military’s desire to rekindle a fire in Kashmir seems to be driven by a sense that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is giving it strategic freedom to redirect its firepower against India. China’s demonstrations along the border seem to be driven by a desire to curb a long overdue border defence infrastructure buildup by India and even perhaps prepare the ground for further progress in negotiating a border agreement. The real point is that so long as India’s borders remain unsettled, its strategic environment can never be stable. The settling of the border disputes with Pakistan and China, which are both part of a much larger strategic rivalries, is too much to expect. However, India’s borders with even Bangladesh and Myanmar are also more conjecture than fixed GPS coordinates. The narrow-mindedness of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and oppositional politics at the Centre scuttled a revolutionary border agreement with Bangladesh. This baton should be picked up by the next Indian government on a priority basis. New Delhi and Yangon have barely given any thought to their 1,400-plus kilometers long border.

India should make the settlement of its borders with its neighbours a strategic priority. Many of these disputes, especially with the smaller countries, are the product of negligence rather than malevolence and should be wrapped up quickly. At the very least they represent a distraction from other Indian strategic concerns; at worst they are benign tumours that retain the ability to become diplomatic cancers in future. The latter possibility has been heightened by a new trend of regional Indian parties taking up jingoistic positions in foreign policy to win votes at home. The new Chinese leadership has signalled that it wishes to move forward on the border and there is no reason for India not to take up this opportunity. Securing a border is so much easier if the actual location of the border is determined.

First Published: Aug 23, 2013 00:20 IST