Coherence in the neighbourhood

Over the past week, >India played host to Afghanistans President Ashraf Ghani and > Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, visits that marked a repair of relationships with both countries. Mr. Prachanda’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was cordial, and though no large announcements were made, the message that’s gone out is that both countries wish to put the bitterness of the past year and the economic blockade behind them. New Delhi is acutely conscious of Mr. Prachanda’s challenges: a potentially shaky tenure in office given his coalition’s narrow majority, the difficulty in building a two-thirds consensus for the constitutional amendments he has committed to, as well as the massive task of reconstruction after the > April 2015 earthquake. As a result, it didn’t force him to commit on a timeline for amendments demanded by Madhesi and other groups that feel marginalised by the new Constitution. The joint statement referred to Mr. Modi welcoming “the ongoing efforts of the Government of Nepal to take all sections of the society on board for effective implementation of the Constitution,” but it didn’t mention the word amendment. India instead focussed on delivering on its own promises to Nepal, including hydropower and highways infrastructure projects. This shows a maturing of New Delhi’s position, since the phase of stern statements against the Koirala and > Oli governments on the Madhesi issue.

With Mr. Ghani, the outreach began a year ago, after it became clear that Afghanistan had lost confidence in Pakistan’s ability to bring the Taliban to book or to the table for talks. Moreover, the U.S., Afghanistan’s biggest security provider, made a shift in its old policy of cutting India out of the security equation, and actively encouraged New Delhi to help provide military assistance to Kabul. Even so, during Mr. Ghani’s visit, India opted for a less overt approach to Afghanistan’s ‘wish list’ of helicopters, tanks and ammunition assistance, with the joint statement and agreements signed merely mentioning their “resolve to counter terrorism and strengthen security and defence cooperation as envisaged in the India-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement.” Mention of Pakistan’s support to terrorist groups was muted as well. However, Mr. Ghani did give a scathing account of Pakistan’s actions at a speech at a Delhi think tank later. The Afghan and Nepali visits had another common thread, of landlocked countries in need of road and railway trade routes. It is hoped that, going forward, India will take a leadership role in maximising their options, as it has done with Afghanistan through the Chabahar port project in Iran.