UPA Report Card: Foreign Affairs

By Akrita Reyar | Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 18:27 PM IST

Akrita Reyar THUMBS UP Undoubtedly, the stature of India in the comity of nations has grown by leaps and bounds. Seen as a regional superpower and an economic power house, the West and especially the UK and the US have been more than keen to cultivate better relations with the country.

Indo-US Nuke Deal The proof of this is found in the signing of the historic Indo-US nuclear deal which de facto acknowledges India as a nuclear power. The United States made major exceptions for India, amending its own Constitution and backing us unequivocally at the IAEA and NSG, despite stiff resistance put up by some European countries and China. The passage of the deal also paved way for similar deals with other countries like Russia and France. The irony was not lost when one considered that the NSG had at one time come into existence as a reaction to curb India’s nuclear ambitions, and it was the same body which now finally gave the go ahead to fulfill India’s nuclear aspirations. Western Nations India-European Union summits have helped build stronger bonds with the region, which now accepts India as an increasingly important global player. The EU and India are now negotiating a Free Trade Agreement covering both goods and services and also building cooperation in field space technology and launch of satellites. Besides, bilateral ties were strengthened with UK, France, Italy and Germany with Summit level meetings. The UK has also come out in full support of India for a permanent seat at the UNSC.

Israel & the Muslim world India drew closer still to Israel without particularly alienating the Muslim world. Israel is now India’s second largest weapons supplier. The two countries also increasingly shared intelligence and conducted military training exercises. India tried to bridge the gap with Saudi Arabia with the country’s King paying a historic visit. We also built stronger bonds with Central Asian countries and Tajikistan emerged as a strong partner. The country was able to regain its foothold in Afghanistan, with the Karzai government in favour of strong ties. India’s assistance programme to Afghanistan is considered the best drafted and executed by any country involved in the region. The return of the Awami League government in Bangladesh spelt good news for country, but this development came only at the fag end of the UPA tenure. New Frontiers Through several initiatives like the TEAM 9, Aid to Africa etc, India stayed in the race in the world’s new playing field – Africa. As a result, we ended up inking twenty nine trade agreements with African countries. India also found some good friends in terrains less tested – South and Latin America. We attempted to bring on board with us countries like - Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Colombia with summit level meeting and multi-layered agreements. Old Friends Our relations were our old ally Russia, though generally warm, did hot some rough patches. While Sonia Gandhi was given an exceptionally warm reception, there were time when Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee was cold shouldered. And also while there was a disagreement over pricing of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, the two countries increased cooperation for R&D of weaponry instead of just maintaining a buyer and seller relationship.

The two countries also avowed to maintain relations at strategic partnership level. Our embrace grew warmer culturally with Russia and India hosting festivals on the each other. World Bodies India was also an active participant at several world fora like G 8, ASEAN, IBSA BIMSTEC, EAS, G20. It also was a leading voice of the developing countries during climate change talks. Overall, India is taken more seriously on the world stage. For example, India stood its ground during the WTO talks championing the case of developing countries, just as it did at the G 20. India was also the theme at World Economic Forum, 2007 held at Davos, which really announced our having arrived. India’ candidate Kamalesh Sharma was also nominated as the Commonwealth General Secretary. The UN finally acknowledged India’s contribution towards peace by declaring October 02, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, as the International Non-Violence Day.

THUMBS DOWN While India has been building bridges with the rest of the world, our relations have remained strained or indifferent with our immediate neighbourhood. Pakistan Pakistan remains the biggest headache, with forces malignant to Indian interests having a free run. The UPA government displayed from Day 1 that taking forward initiatives set off by the Vajpayee regime was not top priority. This is clearly reflected by the fact that there has been no visit by either by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi to the Islamic nation. The government didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic to play host either. There can be three main reasons for the impasse that has set in our relations. First, the PM’s way of thinking. Economic concerns and development of the country have take precedence over friendly relations with Pakistan in his list of things. Second, Pakistan itself has been in a state of flux with regime changes, civil movement of lawyers and assassination of one of its main political figures – Benazir Bhutto. However, the third and most important factor has been the unbridled and sustained infiltration of terrorism into our country, which climaxed in the dastardly attacks of 26/11. So while the UPA government, had taken some measures to increase people to people’s contact through increased bus services, including between the two Kashmirs; train services, laxer visa regime etc, it all culminated into nothing. 26/11 took brinkmanship to a new level with fresh threats of war being issued from some of the highest authorities of our country. Clearly, the stalemate has only gotten worse.

Bangladesh On the East, in Bangladesh, the situation was fluid too, with the military government in power after Khaleda Zia’s rule. Both foster hostile feeling for India, and did little to address our growing concerns of Bangladesh being used as transit route for terrorists. There were in fact more worrying reports about ISI and HuJI joining hands and also holding training camps in the very country which owes its independence to India. Nepal Nepal saw the abolition of the Monarchy and the installation of a Communist government, which openly courts China. The issue of Pakistan using the porous Indo-Nepal border for sending in terrorists remains unresolved and a grave matter of concern. Sri Lanka The Sri Lankan government has been too busy fighting its own battle with LTTE. The Indian government seemed in a quandary about how to handle the situation. To oppose the action would mean an active role into their internal affairs; and the Congress having burnt its fingers once is not keen to repeat the mistake. Moreover the LTTE was responsible for assassination of one of Congress’ most illustrious leaders – Rajiv Gandhi. On the other hand, to remain mute is not an option, as the government does not want to project an insensitive image to its own Tamil population. It also was under tremendous pressure from one of its own allies the DMK, which wanted the government to play a more pro-active role. The government thus in a fix, satisfied different parties from time to time by issuing statements that suited the moment, but did precious little. Things did at one time take an ugly turn when the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister asked DMK leader, M Karunandihi, who is a part of the UPA government to mind his own business. China China remained as unpredictable and untrustworthy as ever. It continued to cozy up with Pakistan while all the while paying us lip service about friendly ties. Summit level meeting at one point did assuage some concerns in South Block, but it was not too long before the real picture emerged as clear as ever. While China wants to keep thorny issues like border demarcation etc on the back burner, it is no mood for compromises or camaraderie. While the opening of Nathu La pass was symbolic, China intermittently kept laying claims to Indian territories like Tawang, which forced cancellations of several meetings between the two countries. But the place where China really bared its fangs was at the NSG, where the country did everything to scuttle to passage of India’s nuclear permit. And only a direct phone call by George Bush to the Hu Jintao, made China beat a retreat. It was more evident than ever that relations with the nation of the Dragon would go into a deep freeze for while. India made its unpleasantness communicated through “official channels”, but the moral of the story was that China can’t stand India’s growing eminence. All in all, while US appeared to be our best buddy, it still did not back us for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Iran By voting in 2006 against Iran at the IAEA, so as to toe the US line, we alienated a tried and tested friend. And Iran paid us back in the same coin in 2008 by opposing us at the same forum when India’s turn came for nuclear clearance. This was a bit of shock, but the game evened out. Later, better sense prevailed and Mohamad Khatami’s visit to India went a long way to rebuild fences. The fact is that while Saudi Arabia is a friend of Pakistan and we are not friendly terms with Pakistan and Iran is not in the best terms with Saudi Arabia, it makes Iran and India natural partners. And thus despite the little progress that we made on the India-Iran gas pipeline and the aberration mentioned above, the two understand well the merit of sticking together. Besides coalescing interests of Russia, Iran and India in Afghanistan and Central Asia ensure that the three remain traditional partners, even while each bargained to find new friends as per the dynamic of the changing geo-strategic relations.