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Mapping India's Foreign Policy In 2016

15/01/2016 8:02 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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The NDA government has every reason to feel satisfied with its performance on the foreign policy front since it came to office. The content, conduct and style of the country's foreign policy bear the unmistakable imprimatur of Prime Minister Modi. He has led the charge from the front, establishing personal equations with several world leaders including Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe, Angela Merkel and recently also with Vladimir Putin. He has been able to enthuse the Indian diaspora abroad like never before. This has created space for India at the high table at all global fora to evolve rules on challenges confronting the international community like climate, trade, finance, security etc.

A welcome change that Modi has introduced is that he rarely, if ever, undertakes a single country visit. He combines many countries in the neighbourhood and travels to them together. This is a more efficient utilisation of time and resources.

[Modi] has been able to enthuse the Indian diaspora abroad like never before. This has created space for India at the high table at all global for a...

In the coming year, the priorities of the government will be a continuation of the agenda it has pursued over the last 19 months. Here are some opportunities and challenges.

Regional relations

Relations with Bangladesh are progressing well. However India should work assiduously to resolve the Teesta River water-sharing issue. No forward movement can be expected until the Assembly elections in West Bengal are over later this year.

With Sri Lanka, efforts should continue to resolve outstanding issues relating to Indian fishermen, settlement of displaced persons and upgradation of economic ties.

India and Nepal will need to make concerted efforts to bridge the trust deficit. Greater responsibility in this regard devolves upon India as the bigger partner. Nepal needs to emulate Bhutan and Bangladesh, which enjoy warm and mutually beneficial relations with India. Nepal Prime Minister Oli's visit to India next month is an ideal opportunity to deepen partnership.

Ties with Pakistan will continue to be challenging. India needs to adopt a multi-pronged approach. While talks on curbing terrorism and ensuring peace on IB and LOC continue along with other issues, India should respond forcefully to all terrorist actions emanating from Pakistan. India should simultaneously work with international players like the US, Russia and China to pressurise Pakistan to stop abetting terrorism against India. Pakistan should prove its credentials by taking exemplary action against the perpetrators of the Pathankot attack.

Afghanistan will test South Block's diplomatic skills. Modi has unequivocally asserted our strong interest in a stable, independent and democratic Afghanistan. India should engage regional actors like Russia, China, the Central Asian States, Iran and Pakistan to ensure security and peace in Afghanistan.

The US

The USA will provide a huge opportunity to invigorate bilateral ties in areas of defence acquisition, capital and technology infusion, clean energy, education, agriculture and promoting strategic cooperation. India should impress upon Washington to actively support its quest of UNSC permanent membership as well as membership of NSG and other export control regimes, and APEC.

China

China will present a formidable challenge. A policy of cooperation and competition will need to continue with forceful articulation of our core interests like Kashmir and the border dispute.

India should simultaneously work with international players like the US, Russia and China to pressurise Pakistan to stop abetting terrorism against India.

While developing its comprehensive national power, India should strengthen its partnership with the US, Japan, Australia, ROK and ASEAN to expand its strategic space. This is vital in view of the growing assertiveness of China particularly in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean etc.

Russia

This year is likely to witness significant rejuvenation of our ties with Russia. Modi's recent visit to Moscow provided a big-time boost to our relations. Putin's two visits to India in 2016 should be fully utilised to revive our relations in all fields. Russia is a valuable partner in ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan as well as promoting connectivity with Central Asia inter-alia through mechanisms of SCO and EEU.

Japan

Ties with Japan saw a huge upgrade during Modi's visit in 2014 and the return visit of Shinzo Abe last month when momentous civil nuclear deal and defence cooperation agreements were inked in addition to a decision to construct the high-speed train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Japan's participation in trilateral Malabar exercises re-emphasises the strategic content of our rapidly expanding ties.

ASEAN countries

Relations with ASEAN can see huge progress in trade and economic cooperation; promoting connectivity through a tri-lateral highway network and the Kaladan multi-modal transport network; the completion of negotiations in the Mega Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement etc. Myanmar merits special focus as Aung San Suu Kyi starts playing a decisive role in national affairs. Myanmar occupies a unique position in our ''Act East Policy'' as an economic gateway to ASEAN and in the movement to provide greater security for our Northeastern states.

The Middle East

This year we expect to see the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Israel. Modi could also travel to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. This will build on his highly productive visit to the UAE last year. The recent worsening of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran does not augur well for the region or for India. India could use its political capital to promote peace in the region.

Myanmar merits special focus as Aung San Suu Kyi starts playing a decisive role in national affairs.

A full agenda

Modi will take part in several international summits in 2016 including G-20 in China, Nuclear Security in Washington DC; ASEAN-India and EAS in Laos; NAM in Venezuela; India-EU in Brussels; SAARC in Pakistan, and some more. He could also visit South Africa to give a concerted push to his Africa engagement.

Challenges in dealing with China, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan and Maldives as well as issues of terrorism will continue to test the political, strategic and diplomatic skills of the Indian establishment. At the beginning of 2016, however, New Delhi finds itself well equipped to confront these challenges with self-assurance and confidence.

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