India must play an 'aggressive economic' role in South Asia to win over smaller states in the region in the face of the growing challenge to its influence from China, an expert said on Wednesday.
India has not played a leading role in the region like it should have, particularly with respect to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, Professor T V Paul from McGill University of Canada told PTI in Singapore, indicating that China could benefit, given its 'intimate' links with countries like Pakistan.
"But now, India must do more for the region," said Paul after addressing a seminar on 'State Capacity and South Asia's Insecurity Predicament' at the Institute of South Asian Studies in Singapore. India must convince the smaller South Asian states that the regional economy could benefit from the 'huge Indian market', he said.
The frosty nature of relations between India and Pakistan is among the main causes of South Asia's insecurity predicament, he informed the audience of academics at the seminar.
He pointed out that Pakistan had given top priority to the Kashmir issue, while ignoring bilateral trade opportunities with India.
In this regard, bilateral trade between Pakistan and India could be 52 times more than it is now, he asserted, citing a wide range of estimates on South Asian intra-regional trade.
He cited the theory that 'countries engaged in economic activities would not engage in war' to back his presentation on the region.
Comparatively, trade relations between India and its other neighbours -- Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka -- have been improving in recent years, said Paul, a director at the Universite de Montreal Centre for International Peace and Security Studies at McGill University.
India has proven the potential of its market benefits for these countries, sourcing garments from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka 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 a regional economy.
Nevertheless, the growth of China's influence in South Asia is inevitable, Paul noted, pointing out that Beijing sees its own ties with India's neighbours as a 'balance of power', even though India sees the world's fastest growing economy's actions as 'political moves'.