Afghanistan, Myanmar Crises Test India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ Policy

Two of India’s key neighbors—Myanmar to the southeast and Afghanistan to the northwest—are in turmoil. The biggest South Asian power and the world’s largest democracy, India has over the years engaged with these two nations to varying degrees to aid in their democratic transitions.

But coincidentally, history is repeating itself and democracy is in disarray in both countries—the military has seized power in Myanmar by overthrowing a democratically elected government and the Taliban insurgents have taken over in Afghanistan.

The question that is being discussed in foreign policy circles is whether New Delhi could have played some proactive role to stop the upheavals in the two countries, and if it can still prevent them from turning into pariah states.

There is no easy answer to those questions, but one thing is clear: The crises in Afghanistan and Myanmar have put the Narendra Modi government’s much-publicized “Neighborhood First” policy to the test. And India’s lack of engagement with the interim regimes in both Kabul and Naypyitaw could allow China to increase its influence over them.

Coming back to the question of whether India can still do some diplomatic maneuvers with respect to Myanmar and Afghanistan, one can only be hopeful that all is not lost yet. New Delhi just needs to play its cards carefully.

On civil war-hit Myanmar, India’s position continues to be ambiguous—it has not officially condemned the Feb. 1 military coup, although New Delhi has called for an end to the ongoing violence and bloodbath. On Aug. 17, India chaired a closed UN Security Council meeting on Myanmar and welcomed the ASEAN five-point consensus, even as dissenting voices started to emerge from within the bloc.