'India should take cognisance of changing perceptions in neighbourhood'

IANS    31-Oct-2013

India Neighbours

New Delhi, October 30 : India needs to take cognizance of changing perceptions in its neighbourhood - in Sri Lanka rising antagonism against likely downgrading of India's participation in CHOGM, in Bangladesh a feeling of New Delhi being insensitive to its concerns and in Pakistan a rising anti-US sentiment that could help India take steps for long-lasting peace, experts said here Wednesday.

These were among the points made by strategic and academic experts at the Seventh South Asia Conference on "India and South Asia: Exploring Regional Perceptions" at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) here.

Dayan Jayatilleka, a Sri Lankan diplomat and political scientist, said the absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at next month's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo would be seen as a reflection of Tamil Nadu determining its Sri Lanka policy.

"New Delhi is captured in its Sri Lanka policy by Tamil Nadu," he said. Jayatilleka said at a time when Sri Lanka has held elections to the Tamil-dominated Northern Province, the downgrading of India's participation at CHOGM would send a wrong message and lead to a hardening of stance in Sri Lanka.

Humayun Kabir, a Bangladesh diplomat, said the Sheikh Hasina government had agreed to give India transit access to its land-locked northeast and had also dealt firmly with "extremist elements" harboured in its territory. But India was not sensitive to Bangladesh's concerns, including the environmental concerns over the Rampal power plant coming up in Bagerhat off the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest.

"India is in haste and not sensitive to environmental concerns of Bangladesh," said Kabir.

He said the popularity of the Hasina government was "waning" and feelings towards India in his country were "caught in that negativity".

He said there was need to build collaborative framework for closer cooperation.

Pakistani historian Yaqoob Khan Bangash said there is a marked lessening of anti-India sentiment in Pakistan, including about Kashmir, and India should try and make an effort for long-term peace with its neighbour.

He said most people in Pakistan were "not interested" in the Kashmir issue and it was "on the backburner" in Pakistan. He said India should help Pakistan to focus on peace, development and democracy.

Bangash said there is a lot of anti-US sentiment in Pakistan due to the drone strikes among other things and "India should use this temporary phase".

"If India wants to create peace, this is the time. This might be a window, but India should seize it," he said.

Nepal expert Pratyoush Onta said there is marked lack of learning about the Himalayan country among Indians. "Nepal is non-existent for India and there is no academic or scholarly work on Nepal," Onta said.

S.D.Muni, Senior Visiting Scholar at IDSA, said the term "big brother" was a Western concept and implied bossiness. He said the vocabulary needed to change to define India. He suggested it should be "elder brother", someone who was there to help and guide when needed.