Event ReportsPublished on Feb 03, 2014
There is a need for a strong foreign policy, particularly with regard to the India's immediate neighbourhood, according to a former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs.
India needs a strong neighbourhood policy: Former MEA secretary
There is a need for a strong foreign policy, particularly with regard to the India's immediate neighbourhood, according to a former Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. M. Ganapathi.

Mr. Ganapathi, who retired as Secretary (West) last year, was initiating a discussion titled "Agenda for India-2014: Foreign Policy" at the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation on March 2, 2014.

He said that there is a cross-party national consensus on foreign policy. Barring only minor difference or emphasis on nuances, the thrust of Indian foreign policy orientation has more or less remained the same. With elections round the corner, clarity on the thrust and direction of foreign policy priorities and emphasis will only become available once the respective manifestos of the parties were out. Besides the national consensus, it was important for the Government of the day to engage the concerned State Governments in discussions on neighbourhood policy, even though it was the prerogative of the Centre to execute and implement the policy.

Mr Ganapathi said after the Second World War, power was concentrated in a Euro-Atlantic dimension. However, this shifted in an Asia-Pacific direction in the mid-80's. The 21st Century will belong to the Indian Ocean region and the Asian, African and Indo-Pacific countries. He said that in these intersects; India should play an important role. He thereafter made a comprehensive analysis of India's relations with almost all the important countries.

Going through India's relations with neighbouring countries, Mr Ganapathi said with Bhutan, our closest neighbour, we had a multi-dimensional and integrated relationship based on our vital strategic interests. With Nepal, while we share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation, there have been differences and also issues of concern. Our relations with Bangladesh have been exceptional. On certain issues of concern, the leadership of Sheikh Hasina has been helpful to India. As regards Myanmar, he said though there had been some ups and downs, a cooperative relationship has been steadily built.

Mr Ganapathi said relations with Sri Lanka have been comprehensive. However, it is important for India to seek protection of the rights of Tamil in Sri Lanka and policies must be directed at engaging the Sri Lankan government towards ensuring this objective.

He said he was personally of the view that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should have attended the CHOGM Summit in Colombo. He should have travelled to Colombo via Jaffna. The ground for this should have been prepared by engaging Tamilnadu. After all, British Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to Colombo and Jaffna had been hailed even among the Tamilnadu parties.

Talking of Maldives, Mr Ganapathi said India had close and friendly relations with the archipelago-nation. Despite some difficulties last year, the visit of the newly elected President Abdullah Yameen to New Delhi was a landmark event and highly successful. Referring to the developments since February 2012, he said that at no point was any clause of the 2008 Constitution violated.

Pakistan has been our most difficult neighbour, Mr Ganapathi said. Most decisions in Pakistan are controlled by the armed forces. Elements of the political leadership and many in the Army see relations with India from an adversarial perspective. Thus, full improvement of relations will be a long haul.

The situation in and developments surrounding Afghanistan, particularly this year, was of crucial and strategic significance for India. He noted that India is committed to supporting Afghanistan by providing it moral, financial and material support. India has supported the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan but at the same time called for strict adherence to red lines.

Mr. Ganapathi saw SAARC as an important process in South Asian regional cooperation but noted that much progress was needed and desirable.

Even though our relations with China are unique, they are complex. While our relations are based on the Panchsheel principles enunciated in 1954, mutual partnership started developing since the 90's. President Xi Jinping listed a "five-point proposal" to guide our relations in May 2013. Our Prime Minister outlined "seven practical principles of engagement" during his visit to Beijing in October 2013. Mr. Ganapathi mentioned the series of Agreements that had been arrived at with China and the 17 rounds of talks between the Special Representatives of the two countries. He noted that both sides had agreed to call 2014 as a "Year of Friendly Exchanges".

India's relationship with Japan has been excellent. This year has seen an extraordinary high in relations with the visit of the Emperor and Empress to India and that of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the Chief Guest at the Republic Day. The Prime Ministers of the two countries have agreed on annual Summits. There is considerable forward movement in economic cooperation.

Relations with the Republic of Korea were touched upon, where the economic content in relations seen significant. With ASEAN, there is considerable strategic convergence of views from a political, economic and security viewpoint. Relations with Australia have been underpinned by greater level of trust and the economic imperative besides the engagement of the two sides in IORA.

Among the P-5, Russia remains the most important strategic partner. Annual Summits between leaders of India and any other country had been first agreed upon with the Russian Federation. Mr. Ganapathi recalled that President Vladimir Putin was a strong and focussed leader, who was on top of his brief. His attitude towards India was extremely friendly. He recalled the extent of bilateral cooperation by mentioning Moscow's assistance to India at crucial moments. Even though there had been some slippage in the commissioning of the Kudankulam project, he noted that it was an important bilateral project and it was a landmark project with Russian cooperation.

Mr. Ganapathi pointed out that relations with the European Union were significant. Cooperation was extensive and the EU was India's third largest trading partner. He hoped that the Indo-EU Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) would be concluded soon. Germany was an important partner in Europe. It was our largest trading partner and our relations covered every spectrum of bilateral activity. France was an important and reliable strategic partner.

Relations with the Gulf countries were crucial from a politico-economic perspective. The GCC was India's largest trading partner with trade turnover of nearly $ 150 billion - this was naturally based on India's petroleum and gas needs, providing for our energy security. More importantly, nearly 7 million Indian nationals worked in the Gulf countries. The progress in talks between Iran and E3+3 was welcome.

Mr Ganapathi said that with the US, we have developed a comprehensive global strategic partnership. Despite occasional irritants, broadbased cooperation with the USA had moved forward. At the same time, there is a feeling that there has been a slight dilution in attention and resultantly in our relations from the side of the Obama administration. There is also an inclination to believe that a Republican President was seen as being more favourable towards consolidation of relations with India.

Dwelling on relations with the African continent, Mr. Ganapathi touched on our historical relations with Africa, mentioned the India Africa Forum Summit process and the possibility of extensive and significant cooperation with Africa. He noted on the need for India to give attention to relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.

Talking of multilateral agencies, Mr Ganapathi touched on India's candidature for a permanent membership of a reformed UN Security Council, the relevance of NAM in our foreign policy and referred to NAM 2.0; talked of India's participation in the UN Climate Change Conferences; referred to India in IBSA and BRICS, G-20, IORA and other regional and multilateral organisations. He also touched upon the dangers emanating from terrorism, piracy, cyber security, maritime security and proliferation related issues

In conclusion, the role of the Ministry of External Affairs was touched upon. Mr. Ganapathi called for further enhancement in the cadre strength of Indian diplomats as also for a greater coordinating role for the Ministry in carrying out India's foreign policy objectives.

Looking to the future, Mr. Ganapathi said that we should pay greater attention to our neighbourhood, focus on attending to our energy and economic security needs, look at our strategic security requirements and reinforce and strengthen the Ministry of External Affairs.

(This report is prepared by Ramalingam Va, second year BA (Journalism & Mass Communication) student, S R M University, Chennai)

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