South Asian strategic and academic experts on Wednesday stressed the need for India to take advantage of a window available now to change its perception in the neighbourhood.
They cautioned that time is running out for India to put in place a collaborative and sustainable framework for the region’s future. Despite neighbours helping India in addressing its security concerns, India is not responding equally, opined experts at the seventh South Asian Conference.
Organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), the conference brought together strategic experts, academicians and policy makers from South Asian countries to explore regional perceptions.
“New Delhi is captured by Tamil Nadu as for as its Sri Lanka policy is concerned and it has to come out of this,” said Dr Dayan Jayatilleka of Sri Lanka. “India should not help in creating a particular perception among the people of Sri Lanka.”
Dr Jayatilleka further stated that India’s prime minister should attend the upcoming commonwealth meeting in the country as his absence will only vilify the bilateral and regional relations between the two countries.
While referring to recent elections in Sri Lanka’s northern provincial council elections, Dr Jayatilleka said that India sent a wrong signal by downplaying the level of participation.
Ambassador Humayun Kabir of Bangladesh too lamented India’s role and said that New Delhi should stop looking at Bangladesh through a India-Pakistan rivalry prism. Besides, Kabir said, India should strive for sub-regional cooperation with Bangladesh to build blocks for future regional cooperation.
“India needs Bangladesh to develop its own country. India should respond to unilateral concessions that have been offered by Bangladesh over the years,” said Kabir, while mentioning that India was given access to northeast states through Bangladesh. What India needs, Kabir said, are creative, collaborative and sustainable relations with Bangladesh.
From Nepal, Dr Pratyoush Onta, pointed out the lack of academic input to shape policies and perceptions of a country. “Nepal is non-existent for India and there is no academic or scholarly work on Nepal,” Onta rued.
While Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash from Pakistan was optimistic about changing perceptions inside Pakistan regarding India, he stated that a lot remains to be done on both sides.
“Anti-India sentiment is decreasing in Pakistan and the middle-class and the upper middle-class have already divorced this perception,” said Bangash, adding that India has to help Pakistan in concentrating on peace, development and democracy so that Pakistan can come out of a primordial identity crisis. Besides, people in Pakistan, with its huge internal security issues, are no longer interested in Kashmir issue, he said.