Home / Opinion / Columns /  India’s tightrope walk in a hostile neighbourhood

It’s not that we haven’t made progress; however, the fact remains that we could not adequately manage the care and speed with which we needed to achieve our goal." On 14 August, when he was addressing his country on its 75th anniversary, Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s tone was dripping with despair.

In India, the mood was quite the opposite. Consider this excerpt from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s long speech from the Red Fort ramparts on 15 August: “As we wake up to this auspicious morning of 76th Independence, we must resolve to make India a developed nation in the next 25 years. The youth of today, all of 20-22-25 years, who I can see here shall be witness to the glorious centennial celebrations of Independence. You will be 50-55 years old then, which means this golden period of your life, these 25-30 years of your age is the time to fulfil the dreams of India. Take a pledge and walk with me, friends, take the oath of the Tricolour and let us all join with full strength."

It is well known that Partition provided Pakistan with better land and conditions; then why didn’t it progress? Actually, Pakistan has always been a sceptical country. People frequently refer to Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s speech on 11 August 1947, as showing his “secular" credentials: “You will no doubt agree with me that the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the State." However, Jinnah repeatedly asked even if Sharia law were to be implemented in Pakistan, what would be the harm.

The majority of those who vigorously promoted the demand for Pakistan in undivided India were Big Zamindars. This is why the large landlords still have a say there. In contrast, India’s rulers had a clearer vision. India not only abolished zamindari system within five years of Independence, but also ‘privi-purses’ of princely states in 1971. The system of reservation in government jobs and legislative institutions was implemented to help the oppressed and deprived sections of society. This would not be possible in Pakistan, though the first law ministers in both countries were Dalits.

Pakistan’s democracy is at the mercy of the army, whereas in India, the regulators are the Parliament and the elected government, and the Constitution is supreme. Another mistake Pakistan made was to fall into the lap of the US. Superpowers are not friends to anyone; they simply use countries. Pakistani rulers relied on US support and vowed to “fight a thousand years" with India, and inflicting “a thousand wounds". It began to nurture terrorists and soon became hostage to a coalition of its Army, ISI, and terrorists. Its economy, which was larger than India’s until the 1980s, is now nine times smaller. And the real source of concern is that a decadent Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of those with chaotic schemes at any time.

Pakistan is not alone in this regard: the situation in neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka is also precarious. Our neighbourhood is on fire on all sides. When a country’s liberal institutions begin to deteriorate, conservative elements take over. Anti-India sentiments are alive and growing in Islamabad, Dhaka, Naypyidaw, Male and Colombo.

For instance, China wanted to anchor its spy warship in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port for a few days. Following India’s objections, Sri Lanka stated in the beginning that it would not allow the warship, but its tone quickly changed. Yuan Wang-5 not only arrived on 11 August, but Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe decided to give its crew members a red carpet welcome. While Wickremesinghe expressed joy on the occasion, China’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Qi Zhenhong, did not miss the opportunity to mock India. It is, of course, a betrayal of India, because Wickremesinghe had previously publicly thanked Indians for their assistance.

The concern in New Delhi is understandable. The warship’s radar and cutting-edge equipment can track missiles and other security establishments for up to 750 km. As a result, it has capability to spy on all South Indian ports, nuclear plants, and the Chandipur missile range in Odisha. According to the current schedule, Yuan Wang-5 will be camping in Hambantota until 22 August. During this time, all of the foreboding and fears may take shape.

The ship may remain there or depart on 22 August, but in either case, our security system will face challenges. This also teaches us that untrustworthy neighbours can be dangerous. This is a new challenge in the changing global landscape that India faces as it strives to become a superpower in the Amritkal of its Independence.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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