India's Insatiable Appetite
By Dr Shireen M Mazari


When India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis (IDSA) on November 11, his reference to "failed states" emerging in the region triggered a terrible sense of deja vu. It was once again a reminder of India's appetite for constant expansion of its national borders. After all, apart from Israel, India is the only other state to have expanded its territory through the use of force and military power since its creation. Besides the annexation of the princely states of Hyderabad and Junagadh and the occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, India took military action in Goa in 1961 followed by the incorporation of that state within the Indian Union in 1962. Then, in 1975, Sikkim was swallowed up by the Indian Union.
The case of Sikkim is particularly interesting because it shows the devious manner in which the Indian state manipulated events to end the sovereignty of that tiny territory which had remained an independent Buddhist kingdom under the Namgyal Chogyal dynasty from 1642 right up to 1975. Earlier, in 1835, the king of Sikkim had been forced to give Darjeeling to the British as a 'gift' and it was at this time that Sikkim became a British protectorate. When the present state of India was created in 1947, it took over the protectorate and as such the foreign policy and national defense of Sikkim were transferred to India. But that was never enough for Indian rulers. Using Nepalese settlers in Sikkim to intrigue and plan the overthrow of the Choygal, India continued to increase its influence in this kingdom. In 1975, Mrs Gandhi annexed Sikkim in a well-planned drama. On April 8, Indian tanks and soldiers surrounded the palace and placed the Choygal under Indian surveillance. On April 10, the Sikkim Assembly unanimously resolved that "the institution of the Choygal is hereby abolished and Sikkim shall henceforth be a constituent unit of India". Then on April 14 a referendum was held, while Indian forces continued their presence, which supported the Assembly's resolution. Ten days later, the Indian parliament accepted the Sikkimese request of merger and thus India was able to make this one-time independent kingdom the 22nd state of the Indian Union. This Indian practice of moving in its forces was similar to what the Indians had tried in their occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. In the case of Sikkim, the pretext given throughout was one of instability and insecurity of a weak regime -- what would be referred to as a failed state in today's political language.
So when Indian leaders talk of the "danger of a number of failed states emerging in our neighborhood" and how this will have "far-reaching consequences for our region and our people", the neighborhood should certainly be alarmed. After all, India has sought control over all the smaller states within its neighborhood, one way or another.
At present, it is experiencing problems not only with Nepal but also with Bangladesh. Despite the fact that Maoist rebels use sanctuaries across the border in India, New Delhi refuses to seal this border because it has never regarded it as a proper international boundary. Instead, its forces have gone across at will to arrest people on the Nepalese side. Indian political intervention in Nepal is well known and efforts to control Nepalese foreign policy are also documented. For instance, how can anyone forget the stoppage of Nepal's transit rights as a landlocked state when it chose to purchase a few anti-aircraft guns (a purely defensive weapon system) from China? Given the political use India has made of this situation, Afghanistan should be grateful that it has uninterrupted transit rights across Pakistan. Because Nepal has persisted with displaying a sense of independence as behoves a sovereign state that was never colonized, India has become increasingly bellicose towards the Himalayan kingdom. The remarks made by Singh at the IDSA, therefore, contain a veiled threat that should not be ignored. Nor did the threat only target Nepal, given the reference to refugees and destabilization of India's border areas. This was a clear reference to Bangladesh and its ongoing conflict with India on the issue of refugees and outstanding border demarcations.
Even more critically, Singh's statement is extremely dangerous for the neighborhood because the language is similar to that of the US pre-emptive doctrine and regime-change notions. As we know, India had already laid claim to this doctrine so it would not be fanciful to assume that India, with US blessings, now seeks greater control over the smaller states in its neighborhood. This does not mean that it will necessarily use overt military force to implement its agenda.
History should never be forgotten and we need to recall how India gained control over Bhutan's external affairs. Bounded on three sides by India, Bhutan has always been a key part of India's strategic planning. As early as 1949, India signed a Treaty of Friendship with Bhutan, which remains in force in perpetuity. This Treaty, comprising ten articles, assures Bhutan of India's "non-interference" in its internal affairs in return for Bhutan agreeing "to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations" (Article 2).
As India's military might has increased and its strategic partnership with the US has proceeded by leaps and bounds, it is now seeing itself in a position to be more forceful and assertive with states like Nepal and Bangladesh. Eventually, it can also increase belligerency towards Pakistan. After all, despite the ongoing peace process, it continues to remain intransigent over conflictual issues. Here, it is not just Kashmir but also the water issue. We have now seen how India kept us uselessly involved in talks that led nowhere on the Kishanganga project and that is why we are now compelled to seek the international arbitration allowed for under the Indus Waters Treaty. Nor should we assume that the violence meted out to our diplomatic staff and their children is simply an odd incident -- even though our own sudden silence on the beating up of our High Commission staffer's child is strange and surely should not be the price we have to pay for sustaining positive atmospherics for the dialogue process.
Meanwhile, it would seem that India's insatiable appetite to gain ever more control over its neighborhood seems to be overwhelming us all. That is why Afghanistan is in SAARC and China is not. After all, becoming a member of SAARC would have allowed China freer access to trade in this region given the push for SAFTA, and that would pose a threat to Indian goods. With Afghanistan as a SAARC member, how will we now prevent Indian access across the land route to Afghanistan under SAFTA? India talks of no redrawing of borders but it has an endless hunger for expanding its own national frontiers, directly or indirectly. Manmohan Singh has shown us the new face of this voracious appetite. We will have only ourselves to blame if we ignore this warning.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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