Looking to offset China’s increasing interest in India’s backyard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been flexing his diplomatic muscles. This explains the recent announcement of US$4.5 billion worth of concessional loans to Bangladesh on the visit of that country’s prime minister’s visit to New Delhi. The two sides signed a total of 22 agreements in major sectors, including civil nuclear energy.
China has been the main supplier of defence equipment to Bangladesh for many years. With a special announcement of $500 million for defence procurement from India, Modi will be looking to compete with China as a supplier of arms to Bangladesh.
Although there still exist some unresolved issues between the two neighbours, including water sharing mechanisms from the Teesta River, ties between the two sides have been shaping up well since Modi came to power. In 2015, Modi signed a historic land border pact with Dhaka, removing a major irritant and infusing new warmth into the relations between the two countries, which share a 4,097-kilometre-long porous border. It is expected that Modi will adopt a similar approach — that is, extending his diplomatic clout — by ironing out similar issues with friendly neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile to India’s west, the three years of the Modi administration have seen chequered ties with Pakistan. Since the recent escalation of tensions — India has gone on a ‘diplomatic’ offensive, vowing to secure Pakistan’s regional isolation. The recently scheduled SAARC moot suffered from stiffening of ties as India used its pressure to scuttle it.
Likewise, the frequent references of the current Bangladeshi administration to the 1971 conflict are, obviously, unlikely to evoke a positive response from Pakistan.
Here, Pakistan must take a measured approach to these developments. An overblown reaction would not be in line with Pakistani interests. After all, with China making inroads to the Indian Ocean in an open and close partnership with Pakistan, it should come as little surprise if there is a flurry of diplomatic activity from India. It is, after all, simply securing its long-term interests keeping in mind the dynamic new regional role taken up by China. *