India since its independence in 1947 faced a series of unique security challenges not seen anywhere else in the world. This was due to the India subcontinent’s varying geography, demographics and political divisions. India after its freedom split into two states, the other being Pakistan and later three in 1971 with the liberation of Bangladesh. This led to people being separated along religious lines over artificially drawn borders across the map, people who for centuries had coexisted together till the British fanned their policy of divide and rule.
India’s relations with its neighbors – Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, China, Myanmar etc. – have been through dynamic upheavals since independence. The prime reason for this is that all these countries share land or maritime borders with India and except for a few exceptions not with each other. This is an advantage as well a challenge for India as this gives rise to security paranoia among its neighbors who fear Indian hegemony in the subcontinent. India has had to toe a careful line so as to appear non-threatening to these countries so that they may not collaborate with each other against India. This has however not let India’s escape the big brother label that its smaller neighbors attach it.
This was one reason why India’s rival Pakistan, militarily inferior to India in conventional terms, struck up a rapport with India’s larger and powerful neighbor China since the 1950s. Pakistan ceded a part of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK) territory that it had captured during the 1947-48 skirmishes with India to China after the 1962 Sino-Indian War in 1963 to begin the construction of the Karakoram Highway that would establish land connectivity between Pakistan and China bypassing India. Pakistan had also joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative as a result with the opening of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This Sino-Pak axis has continued to present day as India confronts the worst case scenario of a two front war with these two nuclear weapons states that have a history of belligerence with India. Continued cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and border stand offs with China continue to mar relations. Both China and Pakistan continue to vie for influence with India’s other smaller neighbors like Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. They have also been fermenting separatist activities on Indian soil even arming India’s internal security threats like the Naxals and separatist groups in Kashmir and India’s northeastern region.
When it comes to Sri Lanka India has faced significant challenges regarding refugees, militancy and increasing Chinese influence. The Sri Lankan civil war that ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) militant group was due to the influx of Chinese weapons to the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) after India refused to sell weapons to the SLA due to party politics in India’s state of Tamil Nadu that had sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils. This led to greater Chinese investment in the island state and the construction of the Hambantota port in south west Sri Lanka which is strategically located straight across the mouth of the choke point of the Strait of Malacca which is vital energy and trade route. China now has a 99 years lease to this port that has worried India as the Indian Ocean has been traditionally considered India’s zone of influence.