Prickly issues

With S M Krishna taking over as the country’s new External Affairs minister, the government can now attend to the multiple crises in the neighbourhood. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is worrying especially since the clout of the Taliban is growing. India has been building ties with Afghanistan by focusing on reconstruction work. While continuing with this strategy, Krishna needs to craft a strategy whereby India can reach out more effectively to Pashtuns among whom it has little or no influence. Presidential polls are due in Afghanistan in a few months and India must avoid being seen to be close to one candidate or the other. As for Pakistan, the peace process is in a state of suspension. All the gains made over the past five years are in danger of being lost if the peace process is not revived soon. It is essential therefore that India takes the initiative to revive the process. The war in Sri Lanka has ended and India has an important role to play there by providing humanitarian relief to the displaced and ensuring that the Lankan government acts to provide a fair devolution package to the island’s Tamils.  Failure to get Colombo to begin working on devolution immediately will not only trigger tensions anew in the island but also fuel secessionist sentiment in Tamil Nadu.

As for India’s relations with China, despite overall improvement they have been in a state of drift over the past five years. The border dispute remains unresolved giving Beijing the opportunity to provoke skirmishes along the border from time-to-time. It is time the government speeded up the talks with Beijing on the border issue.

 There is concern in some quarters that free of pressure from the Left, the government will enter into a closer embrace of the US. India-US engagement is sure to increase. It is for India to ensure that this engagement is in India’s long-term interests. Increasing stridency on the part of the Obama administration on the issue of non-proliferation is likely to see Washington step up pressure on India to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  India should state its position calmly and clearly. The UPA’s decisive mandate has given the government more elbow room in fashioning its foreign policy. It would be a pity if it failed to craft a policy that will enhance India’s interests in the long run.

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