The Indian and Pakistani Elections

By and August 30, 2018

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 935, August 30, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Indian general election of 2019 will be a decisive moment for South Asia’s overall security. As India is a major power player in the region, the 2019 elections will pose challenges as well as opportunities for both India and its neighbors. Also, it remains to be seen whether India will be able to maintain its power position in the region in the wake of the recent election of Pakistani PM Imran Khan.

Over the past four years, India has increased its defense budget from $37 billion to $52.5 billion and modernized its air defense systems and maritime capacities. The commissioned INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier, submarines, and battleships of the Indian Navy will change India’s security dynamics. The Andaman, Nicobar, and Lakshadweep islands are also key strategic points on India’s southern maritime boundaries that are responsible for stabilizing the security environment of the Indian Ocean.

Similarly, during the tenure of the former PM of Pakistan, the defense budget increased to 19.6%, bolstering Islamabad’s position as a regional military power. Furthermore, Pakistan’s nuclear and naval capacities, consisting of submarines with cruise missile abilities, could counterbalance India’s defense strategies in the western half of the Indian Ocean’s maritime boundaries. Also, Pakistan’s alignment with Maldives is challenging India’s defense and foreign policy engagements with its South Asian neighbors.

Maldives, a strategically located small island nation, has received defense support from China and Pakistan in recent years, which is causing a serious threat to the regional maritime order. The image of political instability and the widespread consensus about the legitimacy of Yameen Gayoom’s government is a concern to New Delhi. India and Maldives have weak ties that need to be improved through meaningful dialogue.

The tension between India and Pakistan has caused New Delhi to develop a new approach towards its island neighbor, Sri Lanka, by increasing its defense engagements with that country. When the Sri Lankan civil war ended, 368 battleships from various countries visited that strategically important country. Sri Lanka spends 7% of its government expenditure on the defense budget and is planning to increase its battleship capacity. India gave Sri Lanka two offshore patrol vessels worth $150 million and enhanced maritime surveillance between the countries, both indicators of India’s maritime balancing act.

To keep the region stable, major powers such as the US and Russia are helping India purchase advanced air defense systems. Over the past several years, New Delhi has signed more than 60 contracts with foreign vendors such as Russia, Israel, the US, and France for the procurement of defense equipment for the armed forces.

Small island nations like Sri Lanka and Maldives would be well advised not to side with any of these power centers. Their policymakers and politicians should make sure their countries stay neutral to keep stability in the region. In view of the Indian and Pakistani elections, Sri Lanka and Maldives should bring some kind of consensus through the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to reduce tensions between the rivals and keep external powers such as China, the US, and Russia from exerting undue influence.

The first priority of these South Asian nations should be to uplift their own countries and create jobs rather than focus on defense. A secondary priority should be defense, with maritime security understood to be a requirement for internal stability. The big powers, India and Pakistan, should work out a progressive pathway to prosperity that would stabilize not only the defense and economy of their own countries but also provide stability to the entire region.

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Srimal Fernando is a Research Scholar at the Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA), India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa. Megha Gupta is a Scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, and Business at JSIA.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family