Indian diplomacy: Year of some highs, a few lows
By Aroonim Bhuyan
If signing of the trilateral agreement on developing the Chabahar port in Iran, the civil nuclear deal with Japan and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (Lemoa) with the US marked the major highlights of Indian diplomacy in 2016, deteriorating relations with Pakistan and Chi stalling India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) are the negatives.
With two major cross-border terror attacks from Pakistan and the Islamic State’s attacks in Europe, the fight against terrorism figured majorly in India’s diplomatic initiatives.
Prime Minister rendra Modi visited Brussels in March fresh after bombs ripped through the Belgian capital’s airport and a Metro station, claiming dozens of lives, including that of an Indian techie, and injuring an Indian air carrier’s staffer.
Modi’s visit to Brussels also marked the resumption of summit-level talks with the European Union after a gap of four years following the case of two Italian marines being charged with killing Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala.
Though India maged to draw the support of Switzerland, Mexico and South Africa for its membership of the NSG during Modi’s visits in June and July, Chi stalled New Delhi’s bid on the ground that for a country to be a member of the 48-member bloc, it has to be a sigtory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Despite two rounds of discussions between India’s Joint Secretary (Disarmament) and the Chinese Director General leading the NSG talks, Beijing continued to block New Delhi’s membership bid.
This, when India and Japan signed a historic civilian nuclear deal during the Prime Minister’s visit to Tokyo for the annual bilateral summit. Japan being an active player in the civil nuclear market, the agreement will help major companies like GE and Westinghouse of the US in setting up nuclear plants in India.
Though Chi said the test firing of the Agni V intercontinental ballistic missile earlier this month should help the strategic balance in South Asia, Beijing’s blocking of New Delhi’s NSG membership should be seen in the Chi-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) perspective. India has raised concerns over the CPEC that passes through Pakistan-adminsitered Kashmir (PoK) ending at the newly-developed Gwadar port in southwest Pakistan.
Against this, what can be seen as a major boost to New Delhi’s Act East Policy is its strengthening of ties with Myanmar that has newly acquired democracy. After Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s tiol League for Democracy (NLD) assumed power in March, Exterl Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited i Pyi Taw in August which was followed by a visit to New Delhi by Myanmarese President U Htin Kyaw within a week.
India’s relationship with Southeast Asia was further emphasised with Modi’s visit to Vietm in September during which the bilateral relationship was elevated from “Strategic Partnership” to “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”. India also offered a $500-million defence credit line, part of which will be used for the construction of offshore patrol boats by Larsen & Toubro.
This came in the wake of the an intertiol arbitration tribul at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague ruling in July that Chi violated the Philippines’ rights in the South Chi Sea, one of the world’s busiest commercial shipping routes.
India urged all stakeholders to follow the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (Unclos). During Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to New Delhi earlier this month, both sides agreed to ensure safety and security of the sea lanes while prioritising defence and security cooperation. On the western front, India’s ties with Pakistan dipped to a new low with two major cross-border terror attacks at an Indian Air Force Base in Pathankot in Punjab in January and at an Indian Army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September. A peace initiative that was launched by Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Islamabad in December 2015 and Modi’s visit to Lahore on Christmas Day the same year was thrown completely off the tracks.(IANS)
(This is a part of a series from IANS that look back at the year that was. Aroonim Bhuyan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)