A composite image showing PM Narendra Modi and leaders from the SAARC nations during a video conference on Covid-19 on 15 March | Photo: ANI
File photo| PM Narendra Modi and leaders from SAARC nations during a video conference on Covid-19 on 15 March | ANI
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As India battles the deadly coronavirus inside, and positive cases exceed 20 lakh, another enemy has shown up at the borders – new maps.

While map propaganda or cartographic wars are not unknown to the world, it is nonetheless unprecedented in this particular part of the globe.

Today, not only have the countries in our immediate neighbourhood made it clear that they no longer care about India’s watchful eye, countries such as Pakistan and Nepal are even changing their political maps as they deem fit as New Delhi watches haplessly. The answer now lies in India reinvesting its energies in regional blocs.

This is even more critical as India gears up to become one of the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council for the eighth time from January 2021, for a period of two years.


Also read: Pakistan’s new map an opportunity for India. Now, Delhi just needs to play its cards right


Volatile borders

Just as borders were a sensitive political issue in 1947 when India achieved Independence from over 200-years of British rule, they remain so even now. Successive governments have avoided addressing the wounds inflicted upon this region by imprudent British map-making.

Nevertheless, despite challenges, India had ably played the role of a regional ‘Big Brother’ and embraced all its ‘younger brothers’ quite efficiently with its democratic and secular values, guided by a stable Constitution, at a time when almost all of them were facing inherent governance challenges.

That image of India has begun to erode today.

First Nepal, now Pakistan has unilaterally changed their political maps showing disputed regions with India as part of their own countries.

In May, Nepal claimed about 335 sq. km of the entire Kalapani region as its own — an area that has been recognised as a disputed by both Kathmandu as well as New Delhi.

Earlier this week, Pakistan went a step further and claimed not just the areas that are disputed with India as their own, they also pencilled in a certain portion of Junagadh in Gujarat in its new map.


Also read: Who needs a Google Map? Naya Pakistan is Naya Mapistan


Mapping out politics

Some may shrug off the map-making as some kind of  ‘Chinese play’ in the neighbourhood or some churlish steps to poke India, but the question is who triggered this cartographic war in South Asia?

Following the scrapping of Article 370 and 35A on 5 August last year, India released a new political map on 2 November showing Jammu and Kashmir as two union territories — J&K and Ladakh.

This was seen as a unilateral act by our neighbours, especially Nepal, which protested the move and urged for a resolution on the Kalapani border issue.

This is nothing new in a world shaped by geopolitics. The cartographic battle or map propaganda climaxed during World War I that helped shaped the theatres of war.

In The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts, author Robert Kaplan describes how India needs to be careful in its strategic decisions because it is surrounded by hard geography that threatens to “implode, explode or maintain a fragile equilibrium”. This region was mostly saved from map adventures. But not anymore.


Also read: Nepal to send its controversial new map to UN, Google this month


Go local, in strategy too

The Modi government now needs to get its act together and promote some of the regional setups that would bind these countries together – such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). India cannot cede ground to Beijing by neglecting regional blocs.

The diffidence of the Modi government to inject new life in SAARC due to a belligerent Pakistan has made India look weak and unwilling to cooperate in poverty alleviation that continues to pose the single biggest challenge in the sub-region.

SAARC and BIMSTEC can act as major binding factors but instead, the Modi government chose to prioritise strategic groupings such as Indo-Pacific and Quadrilateral security dialogue much more than the regional frameworks.

Pakistan is not a member of BIMSTEC, but even then this sub-regional organisation has tremendous potential.

In reality, changing political maps may have little or no relevance unless it is recognised by the United Nations. But it does have an impact when Google Maps has come to play a key role in defining borders that billions of users follow. Nepal recently stated that it will send its new political map to Google too.

India cannot afford to lose a second more and establish a sustained dialogue with its neighbours. It should immediately see that the next SAARC Summit is held on an urgent basis. Stalling it will serve no purpose. While some may point out that SAARC was too weak to fulfil its promise, it is still in New Delhi’s interest to embolden that platform, especially because Pakistan is its next chair.

This will not only thaw the ice that is mounting between neighbours, but will also help New Delhi take that strategic quantum leap.

Views are personal.

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16 Comments Share Your Views

16 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t how you let these kind of people push personal opinion.They speak rubbish without know anything. Why the hell should India change when fact is Nepal and Pakistan are troublemakers.

  2. Take a look at the map of India in 1947 and take a look today, you will see who is the cunning, lying, stealing, greedy nation. India should be very careful, all invasions of India came from the West, there is a reason, and it will come again, we will reclaim each and every inch of our rightful ownership of land owed to us, even if it takes a thousand years. Let there be bloodshed, we will not give up our God given right. India should prepare for war too as it is coming. We will take Kashmir and if India pushes back too much, then we may get inside India to teach it a good lesson. You have not fought 50 million Muslim Pashtun and Punjabi soldiers. Trust me, you dont want to. We wiped out the Sikh domination when we got united. Ranjit Singh was finished when we decided.

    However now we will make sure Khalistan is a independant, free nation for Sikhs.

    • We have fought Punjabi and Pashtun Muslims and made them surrendered in thousands in 1971. That humiliation is stil palpable in Pakistan’s military academies.

      Pashtun(Afghan) still has a history of fighting but I can’t recall any Punjabi Muslim warrior or king. Sikhs actually kept the Punjabi Muslims and Peshawar, KPK’s Pashtuns under their thumbs for decades before the British came.

      Pakistan is a fake country, created in 1947 by an insecure Muslim elite who feared domination by a wealthier and more educated Hindi elite.

      Pashtuns are Afghans, Muslim Punjabis(Jatts, Gujjars and Rajputs) are converts, Sindhis(also converts) have never been a nation and Baloch don’t even consider themselves South Asians. You have no rightful claim over anything.

    • You already lost half your country in such foolish acts and now again trying, well what can we say. you may try but this time it could be balochistan.

    • Stop smoking weed and go check if you still have Pakistani flag on your parliament because your country is owned by Saudis, Americans and Chinese. First protect your sovereignty then come talk about Kashmir. First learn to administer whatever you have under your control then talk of expansion. Your PM is carrying begging bowl door to door from IMF to Saudis to Chinese to run day to day government. Morons like you prove why your country is in shambles.

    • There are 1.3 billion people inside india. Trust me the you will be wiped out and suffer enormous casualities and india will still have lots of soldiers to spare. If you want war then prepare for total annihilation and complete destruction of pakistan. We will never spare you.

  3. SAARC is dead. Terrorism exporting nations cannot be part of civilized society. Pakistan terrorism GDP is higher than economic output. That is the reality. What really SAARC can do? A bunch of poor nations begging each other for money and accusing each other of border violations and blaming the British for all the evils. It is because of British they have power, roads, rails, English and even Education. Most of them including this author would be in stone age wearing banana leaf for clothing.. Is that what the PM’s talk when they talk to each other? Get over it. Take care of yourself before helping others. That will be a great service to you and your people.

  4. Modi government’s foreign policies are disastrous. They are spoiling the fragile relations with neighbors exponentially in last 6 years. Mr. Modi’s dumb play is not evaluated by his party as they take him as refined extraordinarily genius. Blame game to old parties and others has been party basis.

  5. It goes beyond maps. Whether India likes it not, it had millions of Muslims in Kashmir who don’t want to live in a Hindutva homeland where they are lynched, raped, beaten, tortured and forced to.
    If war comes to South Asia and it is coming expect them to join China, Nepal, Pakistan against India. India will lose.

    • dont hide behind a fake name pakistani, if war comes to india or south asia it will be catastrophic but expect mass casualities and total annihilation of pakistan if that happens. India will also join the US against china and if pushed to the limit 1.3 billion wont stand aside and let evil conspirators take our land. We will kill invaders and destroy their country, this is period. China has more to lose if they wage a war with india, trust me it wont be even 25% of the power it is now if it wages a war with india.

  6. Equating Nepal and Pakistan is foolhardy, serious doubts over motivation of the author. A lot of Pakistani trolls are tweeting under the fake profiles of Nepalese to fester discontent between Indians and Nepalese, we Indians need to be mindful of that. Even Oli’s party is heading towards distancing from Olu. Don’t worry about Nepal.
    As for Pakistan, junk SAARC, deprive Pak of any regional platform.Take initiatives with rest of SAARC members, improve their infrastructure. And yes keep bombing LoC. Pakistan will crumble within a decade if everything fall in place. We’ll have good relations with Sindhudesh, Balochistan,and Pakhutinstan/Afghanistan. Meanwhile Punjabistan will be made to pay war reparations to these countries.

  7. South Asia is the innermost of several concentric circles for India’s foreign policy. SAARC is an institution that allows India to play a natural leadership role, inclined more towards economic cooperation than power play. Given how tense the bilateral relationship with Pakistan has become, both governments could agree that they will not raise these issues in SAARC. 2. Along with BIMSTEC, India should consider joining RCEP and strengthening cooperation between south and south east Asia. 2. China is a growing influence in our neighbourhood, something we cannot prevent. However, each neighbour, barring Pakistan, would be happy to hedge its bets, benefit from economic engagement with Asia’s two major powers. Neighbourhood First is a useful formulation to build upon.

  8. No need for India to mollycoddle it’s dysfunctional neighbors. If they wish to go with China so be it. No amount of Chinese presence can affect India’s standing in the region. More importantly India needs to partner with Japan and the United States to build it’s economy. India needs to focus on itself and let it’s recalcitrant neighbors sort themselves out. No need to play big brother anymore.

  9. Had the author chosen to do some basic research, she would have known the following
    – Pakistan is a habitually manipulative and we should learn to ignore every piece of pakistaniyat they do
    – Nepal is an internal political problem with the CPN. Things will get better when there will be political change (Remember: Malaysia and Maldives)

    India is broadly on cohesive terms and very broad minded with most of our neighbours (nepalis get the right to move and work freely in India). So, we sould not let ourselves believe otherwise

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