India must play aggressive economic role in South Asia: Expert

Singapore, Feb 2 (PTI) India must play an "aggressiveeconomic" role in South Asia to win over smaller states in theregion in the face of the growing challenge to its influencefrom China, an expert said today.

India has not played a leading role in the region like itshould have, particularly with respect to the South AsianAssociation of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Professor T VPaul from McGill University of Canada told PTI here,indicating that China could benefit, given its "intimate"links with countries like Pakistan.

"But now, India must do more for the region," said Paulafter addressing a seminar on "State Capacity and South Asia''sInsecurity Predicament" at the Institute of South AsianStudies in Singapore.

India must convince the smaller South Asian states thatthe regional economy could benefit from the "huge Indianmarket", he said.

The frosty nature of relations between India and Pakistanis among the main causes of South Asia''s insecuritypredicament, he informed the audience of academics at theseminar.

He pointed out that Pakistan had given top priority tothe Kashmir issue, while ignoring bilateral tradeopportunities with India.

In this regard, bilateral trade between Pakistan andIndia could be 52 times more than it is now, he asserted,citing a wide range of estimates on South Asian intra-regionaltrade.

He cited the theory that "countries engaged in economicactivities would not engage in war" to back his presentationon the region.

Comparatively, trade relations between India and itsother neighbours -- Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and SriLanka -- have been improving in recent years, said Paul, adirector at the Universite de Montreal Centre forInternational Peace and Security Studies at McGill University.

India has proven the potential of its market benefits forthese countries, sourcing garments from Bangladesh and SriLanka and hydropower from Bhutan, he pointed out.

He also cited increasing Indian investment in Bangladesh,which could be emulated as the way forward to building aregional economy.

Nevertheless, the growth of China''s influence in SouthAsia is inevitable, Paul noted, pointing out that Beijing seesits own ties with India''s neighbours as a "balance of power",even though India sees the world''s fastest growing economy''sactions as "political moves".

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