Prez heads to Russia, Tajikistan today

Patils visit comes at a time when geopolitics of the region is undergoing tectonic changes

Prez heads to Russia, Tajikistan today

The choice of countries for the President’s first state visit after the UPA government returned to power in May is also significant: An old and trusted ally whose shoulder India needs more than ever to lean on, and a country that borders Afghanistan and has a huge bearing on India’s security concerns. The President will have meetings with the Russian strongman and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev among others, during her extended stay in Moscow, before she proceeds to St Petersburg and then to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, for talks with its long-serving President Emomali Rakhmon. The presidential delegation will return to New Delhi on September 8.

Besides senior officials from the external affairs ministry, including its newly appointed secretary Nirupama Rao, the delegation consists of two ministers, Murli Deora and Panabaka Lakshmi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Cabinet colleagues will give a ceremonial send-off to Pratibha Patil at the Palam airport, which is not a regular feature.
After carelessly dismantling some of the foreign policy initiatives taken by the Vajpayee government and leaning heavily towards the United States, the UPA government in its second innings seems ready to make a conscious effort at course correction and get back to India’s “natural” allies.

Unhelpful US

The largely unhelpful attitude of the Obama Administration in bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attack to book, which in turn has emboldened Pakistan to adopt a devil-may-care response, has shocked the Manmohan Singh government out of its complacency. Besides, the “rewarding” of Pakistan with a US$ 5-billion aid and the unfolding of  the Obama Administration’s Central Asian policy in the last few months, pursuing its own agenda, has had a deleterious effect on India.

Russia’s political, economic and security concerns in Central Asia are well known. Post-9/11, the United States-led North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has not only occupied Afghanistan, but it has been relentlessly expanding its influence in the region. It has already roped in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan into its sphere of influence and has also been tugging away at Tajikistan, which has a strong economic and military tie-up with Russia.

Though India would not like to get entangled in big power rivalries in the region, it has areas of concern which it cannot ignore. For one, Islamic radicalism is spreading its tentacles, justifying its terrorist methods and adding to the instability in Central Asia. Two, the US, besides recognising Pakistan as a frontline state in its hegemonistic goals, is also preparing the ground for reconciling with the Taliban.

India would like to collaborate with Russia and Tajikistan in halting the march of Islamic radicalism, though it is unlikely to adopt any proactive role. Tajik President Rakhmon is a friend of India and has visited the country four times, while Patil will be the first Indian head of state to visit Dushanbe. The then Prime Minister Vajpayee had paid a visit in 2003. As the region is rich in natural resources, Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Murli Deora is expected to explore the possibilities of meeting India’s energy requirements.

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