India in a “ring of fire”

May 11, 2009

As a growing power which aims to rewrite global economic and geopolitical realities, India’s first order of business is to secure its strategic periphery without provoking a backlash from its neighbours.

But the political crisis in Nepal, triggered by the resignation of Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, is yet another reminder of India’s strategic challenges.

Nepal has for long sat in India’s sphere of influence, but the rise of the Maoists has seen an increasing antipathy in the nascent Himalayan republic towards New Delhi.

In fact, the Maoists’ foreign policy chief told Reuters that India was to blame for precipitating the crisis by blocking Prachanda’s move to remove army chief Roopmangud Katawal.

India sees the Maoists, who control 40 percent of the parliament seats, as edging towards China. So, it wants to find a counterweight to the Maoists in a ruling coalition, many analysts say. The showdown over Katawal’s removal presented the flashpoint.

In its quest for strategic influence, many say India may have lit too many fires around itself.

War and misery blights Sri Lanka, with political ramifications in India; Bangladeshi politics remains volatile and the country eyes India with suspicion; the military junta in Myanmar is pro-China; Pakistan is wobbling under a spell of violence that has a direct bearing on India’s security.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram says India is caught in a “ring of fire”.

But does India have the diplomatic dexterity to manage regional flashpoints that critics say could in part be blamed on India itself?

The Economist magazine says a potential challenge to India’s rise is geopolitical (and the Nepal crisis bears that out). It says how successful a global power India becomes will depend partly on its ability to mediate and resolve the rising number of crises in its neighbourhood.

But will India be able to intervene in Nepal or in a post-war Sri Lanka without being resented by the local population or the government? Or will it be resented for its perceived paternalism towards its smaller neighbours?

(Reuters photos of protests in Nepal and soldiers patrolling streets in Pakistan)


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The ring of fire reflects a typical Western way (especially the US, but also UK) of seeing the world in the light of debunked political theories like failed states and “fixing them”. More crucially it reflects the smugness that others (i.e. nation states) don’t know how to govern themselves and that causes problem for me (my great nation state). This is the uncritically-adopted stance of the India media that they’ve learned from their Western counterparts, increasingly in the last one decade. With several secessionist movements in the North-East besides Kashmir, Maoist armed movement in a huge area larger than Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh taken together, it’s not a ring of fire dude, but a long-burning furnace for large parts of India. And the state relies on unconstitutional means like arming local militia like salwa-judum to counter it. So there are ample strategic challenges within to make the entire South Asia a tinder box, to use another trite term popular with media hacks.

Posted by Vikramaditya Thakur | Report as abusive

Perceptual differences between India’s display of regional leadership and neighbor’s understanding of hegemony has plagued the south Asian region for long. India’s pro-active regional policy is viewed as domination and restraint is criticised as negligence. No matter what India does the suspicions of neighbor’s is difficult to counter.

Posted by thetrajectory | Report as abusive

Mr Vikramaditya, you can not compare india’s maoist rebellions with yours, and your example of how handles it totally exaggeration, i live in same part where salwa judum started its not a central governments policy to have salwa judum to tackle Maoism, this was started by a local leader( with support of local population) to save them from maoists attacks , yes it was a failure and with many short comings( at one time state government supported this(not central)) the area you are saying larger then srilanka bangladesh and your country is useless, rebels just do not have influence there (remember im from that area) this large you are calculating is region ( or district found to have maoist presence) it doesnt say govenrment is not present there , i can safely say mare 1% of this area have maoist stronghold and not like srilanka where land was controlled by LTTE…

Posted by sourabh | Report as abusive

the neighbors of india are in deep problems due to their own doing, but they can easily blame everything on my country India. India has never bullied or interfered in neighboring countries (many readers wouldn’t agree I know) but unfortunately the truth is if India really interferes in neighbors they will not even be existing ,the mere fact that they still exist is to make noises against india to get attention and help (beggars…) from India without begging

Posted by SK | Report as abusive

In my understanding, India keeps an eye on the troubles in neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. India occasionally tries to mediate between warring parties in the neighbouring countries, but at same time tries to be neutral, less she is accused of favouring one against the other. It is hard position for India to maintain. India watches more carefully the neighbours troubles spilling into India. The Taleban militancy in pakistan does not want India and Pakistan to be friends; and they would rather want them to be at war with each other. Indian statesmen are mature enough to understand them better than the Pakistani politicians, and military dictators. India played such a mature role after the 24/11 Mumbai attacks which avoided unnecessary conflict with Pakistan. It is not India’s weakness, rather wisdom and maturity. China does not want any troubles with India, and neither India wants any conflict. Both countries are cooperating to be the economic giants in the near future, and they are helping each other. Every Bangladeshi is obliged to India for their freedom in 1971. However, Taleban type trouble makers are present in Bangladesh too. Sri Lanka has a large Tamil population or Indian origin. India does not support their cause for a separate country for Tamils in Sri Lanka. India had bad experience of helping either party in the Past. During the recent Lankan govt. all out assault to end this Tamil insurgency once for ever, India did not interfere on behalf of either party. However, India sent in negotiators to end the conflict, sent help for Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka government appreciates the latest position taken by India. However, India’s maturity and wisdom may not be taken as India’s weakness. India as a strong, democratic nation, where 15 parties coalition government survived for two consecutive 5 year terms is a role model for India’s neighbours to work together in peace, and enjoy prosperity. Pakistan as a younger brother of India has a lot to learn, and I am glad, when Zardari says democratic neighbours do not go to war against each other. If such attitute takes a momentum in Pakistan, both brothers can prosper together as envies of the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not get any good government in the last 62 years, and the people suffered. There is absolutely NO RING OF FIRE AROUND INDIA, it is a mere imagination of those who are jealous of India’s prosperity.

Posted by Mohinder Bains | Report as abusive

Live with newfound reality

It is absolutely natural for smaller countries to look at their bigger neighbor with suspicion and to some extent with fear.US, Russia, China and since 15 yrs India are in the elite, unenviable situation. India is put on a pedestal; hence need to treat them as an older brother treats his younger brothers. Grace and patience and more patience, that too unconditional. No two ways of doing this, Im afraid.

Srilanka blamed and even feared interference from India before it started its military campaign against LTTE. Tacit approval of India was sought and obtained, most probably, with a condition not to hurt civilians in the process. SL army failed miserably, civilian suffering went on out of control. India is feeling guilty for extending its approval, too late to retract. This civilian carnage highlights the quixotic policy of SL, hawkish behavior of its army.SL will be that much more careful post LTTE governance, scars from campaign still fresh, with Indian diaspora carefully watching the future treatment of Tamils, the onerous task of embracing Tamils, the way india pampers its muslims, should happen wholeheartedly. It will take just a few months for the Tamils to decide in favor of taking up arms unless they see sweeping change in the rulers of land. The Tamil leaders in a future coalition can influence the Delhi decision that much more easily in the prevailing politics in India, where regional parties may bring in regional issues to Delhi and to bring the govt to a grinding halt.

Posted by Azad | Report as abusive

India has a ring of fire due to cold war geo-politics. Sri Lanka problem started with the US plan to build a naval base at Triconomilee. The Tamil ethnic problem erupted and India used it to push Sri Lanka back. US settled with Deigo Garcia island base. Sinhalese passionately hate Indians as much as the Pakistanis do.

In addition, we had Mrs. Indira Gandhi, her sons and their coterie who believed in flexing muscles. They tried to project India as a regional super power and they did not hesitate to use military muscle if they could. This irritated our neighbors quite a bit. Now that they are gone, India has become a friendly nation and the neighbors, unfortunately, have not lowered their suspicion on us. So we need to make efforts to assuage their feelings, especially in the case of Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We should expand our trade with them a lot more and we must become inter-dependent on business. We could do the same with Pakistan, if they come forward to change their attitude towards us.

China is feared by all its neighbors. They are both an economic as well as military power. They are beyond the influence of any of their neighbors. India could not ape China and our leaders were not smart enough to grab the opportunities that came our way. Chinese also happened to be at the right place at the right time and grabbed every opportunity that came their way. India was ready in 1970 to liberalize its economy and open its doors for foreign investment. Indira Gandhi chose to stick to socialism which helped her keep her power base in tact. Deng Xio Ping opened Chinese economy 8 years later and the rest is history. At least India managed to do the right thing in 1991, after the Indira Gandhi dynasty lost its grip on power.

So India has to make economic co-operation with its neighbors so that they do not get left behind. We cannot build a mansion with our neighbors living in squalor. We need to take them along. When money begins to grow, everyone will want to be our favorite neighbor. We can turn this ring of fire into a garland by the right approach. Hope wisdom prevails….

Posted by Mauryan | Report as abusive


agree with you.

ring of fires around it , fortunately, has only a small impact on this massive nation called India

Time neighbors emulate India and prosper

Posted by Azad | Report as abusive

Every country has a ring of fire around it. Some fear a big nation and the big nation fears some other nation. It is part of life.

India has matured a lot. For the past twenty years, after Indira Gandhi and her sons departed, India has not meddled with neighboring countries much. India’s economic progress goal has kept her realizing the need for good neighbors.

What I’d like India to do is to help the neighbors sail along and benefit by their association with us. I’d like business agreements enhanced so that our industrialists can operate businesses in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. I am not in a hurry towards Pakistan. If they change their attitude towards India, surely India can work with them. First India should begin to expand trade with the other neighbors. I would love to see Tata Nano cars made in Bangladesh. Or Reliance fabrics made there. This gives the people some hope.

We have to help Nepal without meddling in their affairs. We should somehow break the ice with Myanmar and convince them to open up trade at least with us. We should no longer encourage secession in Sri Lanka. Just by engaging in economic activities with these countries, we can gain friends and mutual dependency. That will pave way for a EU like economic bloc.

The only way to put off the ring of fire is by quenching it with economic ties and business growth.

Posted by Mauryan | Report as abusive

India is a nobody and can do nothing.

Posted by Aamir Ali | Report as abusive

India is a nobody and can do nothing.
– Posted by Aamir Ali

The wounds have healed I guess.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

home security system review…

I am gonna look into this!…

Posted by home security system review | Report as abusive

american home security…

Great post!…

Posted by american home security | Report as abusive