Neighborhood First Policy is a part of India’s foreign policy. Its main aim is to strengthen and deepen the ties of India with its neighbors in South Asia such as with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. This policy of India established various active regional forums in South Asia such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), and Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN). At these Intergovernmental Forums, India is cooperating with its neighbors to resolve conflicts and strengthen economic and political ties. Neighborhood First Policy makes India a ‘big sister’ of its neighbors in a South Asian region.
Moreover, this policy is associated with other policies of India, such as the Act East Policy, which focused on Southeast Asia, and the Look West Policy, which focused on the Middle East and African nations in the Indian Ocean. It reflects that Neighborhood policy is a strategic policy that assists India in fulfilling its ambitions of increasing maritime influence for becoming a regional hegemon in the Indian Ocean Region. Thus, India is increasing its geopolitical clout in the Indian Ocean Region.
On the other hand, China is expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean Region by encircling India. Moreover, in 2021, a border clash between China and India in the Ladakh Region increased the rivalry between China and India. Now, India, through its policy of Neighborhood First, is strengthening its strategic partnership with its neighbors to counter rising China and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Indian Neighborhood First Policy is also a part of Prime Minister Modi’s vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” which means Global World as “One Family”.
The two most important pillars of India’s Neighborhood First Policy are Mutual Respect and Equal Partnership. Even During the COVID-19 Pandemic, India created a Vaccine Diplomacy to assist its neighboring countries. It shows that India extended the hand of friendship with its neighbors. India also provides economic aid to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to overcome economic hurdles.
Furthermore, India also provided aid to Bangladesh to overcome their refugee crisis. This Neighborhood Policy of India enhances the people-to-people cooperation for sustainability and stability in the South Asian Region. Through this policy, India is working to resolve its border disputes with Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh by initiating the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Energy Corridor. BBIN provides energy developments such as intergrid connectivity, water management, and motor vehicles.
West appreciates India’s step in adopting this Neighborhood First Policy. However, some scholars and think tanks criticize India for not resolving its conflicts with Pakistan and China, leading to the failure of its Neighborhood First Policy.
Pakistan and India are the arch-rivals. Both countries blame each other for interfering in their respective country’s affairs. Since 1947, the Kashmir issue has been the bone of contention between the two countries. Since 2019, both countries banned each other when India abrogated Article 370A in Kashmir. Also, India is not happy with the CPEC (Pak-Sino Partnership). CPEC stands for China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of BRI. India considers CPEC as a strategic threat to the Indian Security Dilemma in the Indian Ocean Region.
On the other hand, the Indo-Sino conflict has arisen since 2021 due to the border dispute in the Ladakh region. Furthermore, China is expanding its naval footprints through its BRI and the expansion of BRICS and SCO in the Indian Ocean Region by garlanding India. India adopts various counter strategies with the support of its defense and strategic ally, the USA, to contain the expansionist strategy of China.
India is enhancing its diplomatic and strategic ties with its neighbors following the policy of India’s Neighborhood First. However, India has shown the least interest in its relations with Pakistan and China due to India’s own strategic and maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region.
Eman Malik is an MPhil Scholar. She has done her BA honors and MPhil in Political Science from Kinnaird College for Women University, Lahore. Her areas of expertise are Political Science, IR, Geopolitics and Strategic Studies. Email Id: email@example.com