The Gist of Yojana: October 2015


The Gist of Yojana: October 2015


India and its Neighbours: Renewed Thrusts, New Directions

The emergence of a strong and stable Government in New Delhi following the Parliamentary elections held in 2014 sent the right signals to international community, including its neighbourhood that the time was ripe to take India seriously. Reflecting his personal commitment to international affairs, the PM travelled during the past one year to as many as nineteen countries, besides hosting several important leaders in New Delhi. In the process, he met and interacted with almost all important world leaders either in bilateral, regional or in multilateral format.

It is abundantly clear by now from Government’s diplomatic pursuits that ‘Neighbourhood First’ figures high on the list of the new Government’s foreign policy priorities. The first initiative to reach out to the neighbours was taken even before Mr Modi formally took over as Prime Minister. An invitation was sent out to all Heads of State and Government of SAARC Members to attend the swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister on 26th May last year. The invitation, aptly described as a masterstroke as well as a bold step, sent a loud and clear message that the new political dispensation in India attached great importance to its relations with its neighbours in South Asia and in the integration of the region. The presence at the ceremony of all Heads of State and Government from the region confirmed the desire on their part to reciprocate India’s gesture. The occasion provided an excellent opportunity to establish initial contacts; these were followed up through exchange of visits or meetings on the side lines of regional and international conferences. PM’s overseas destinations during the first year of tenure included four (Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) out of seven Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and China. The political, security and strategic circumstances are such that it may take some time before visits to remaining three SAARC Member States (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Maldives) could be scheduled. Meanwhile, the Afghan President visited India in April this year and the PM met his Pakistani and Maldivian counterparts in New Delhi at the time of his swearing in. In short, in course of one year, PM has met all leaders in the immediate neighbourhood at least once and in some cases even more than once.

India’s vision for the region was unveiled at SAARC Summit in Kathmandu (26th November, 2014) by the PM who said “For India, our vision for the region rests on five pillars: trade, investment, assistance, cooperation in every area, contact between our people, and all through seamless connectivity”. In an implied reference to those who were obstructing the progress, he said that there was a “new awakening” and the bonds between the SAARC member countries were bound to flow; he added: “this may happen either through SAARC or outside it, amongst all members of SAARC or between some of them”.
Relations with Bangladesh have seen phases of ups and downs, despite widespread acknowledgement of and appreciation for the role India played during the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971. Whereas the Awami League Party led by Sheikh Hasina is considered soft towards India, the political forces represented by Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led by Begum Khalida Zia, and Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami are known to have taken a hard line towards India. In recent years, Bangladesh was ruled either by BNP or Awami League Government which in turn influenced the progress or stagnation in relations. From time to time, the irritants in our relations with Bangladesh have arisen out of the anti-India activities by the Indian insurgents from the Bangladesh soil, illegal migration from Bangladesh to India, causing social tensions in North East, smuggling across the unsettled borders, sharing of water from common rivers, particularly Teesta etc.

The manner in which the PM mobillsed the opinion at the Centre and in the States facilitating unanimous passage of the 100th Constitution Amendment Bill paving the way for the ratification of the Agreement of 1974 and its Protocol of 2011 in the two Houses of Parliament is commendable. The LBA not only settles the 4096km of boundary between the two countries and gives a new identity to over 50000 persons, living in Indian /Bangladesh Enclaves ,it has several other positive tall outs as well, the most important being the effective border management to check activities of insurgents, human trafficking, illegal migration, smuggling etc,
For past several years: Afghanistan has been going through difficult times. The current situation in Afghanistan remains a source of serious concern for India as it impinges upon its security interests. NATO forces are in draw down mode. The recent political transition in Afghanistan was not very smooth. India can ill-afford the return of Taliban. The emergence of a regime in Afghanistan which is a proxy of Pakistan and dominated by fundamentalists would also not be in the interests of India. Soon after assuming the charge in September last year, the new President, of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, gave enough reasons to create an-impression that India figured low in the list of his foreign policy priorities. His visit to India (April 28-29, 2015) came several months after assumption of charge; in between he visited two other countries in the region namely China and Pakistan, besides UK and Saudi Arabia.

As if to allay fears in .this regard, an implied reference was incorporated in the Joint Statement of 28th April,2015 which stated inter alia that ‘peace, prosperity and security in the region was indivisible, and their mutually respectful relations are not at expense of other nations or group of nations.’ In the same Statement, the Afghan President “reiterated Afghanistan’s perspective on the foundational nature of Afghanistan’s ties with India, and the fact that India figured in four of the five ‘circles’ of Afghanistan’s foreign policy priorities.”

Afghanistan

India moved closer to complete its ongoing flagship projects in Afghanistan like the Salma Dam in Herat province in Parliament Building in Kabul and Restoration of Stor Palace in Kabul and Doshi-Charikar substations project.

  • India gifted three multi-role Cheetal helicopters to Afghanistan in April 2015.
  • Announced support to the Habibia School in Kabul over the next 10 years.
  • Contributed to the Afghan Red Crescent Society’s Programme to treat Child Congenital Heart disease over the next 5 years.
  • Supported the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health (lGICH) in Kabul over the next 5 years.
  • Extension of the 1000 scholarships per year scheme by another 5 years till 2022.
  • India and Afghanistan pledge to work closely with Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to make Chabahar Port a reality and a viable gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Pakistan

Relations between India and Pakistan have remained less than normal ever since the partition of the country in 1947. The two countries have fought wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and later there was Kargil in 1999. The war of terror against India from across the border continues unabated. Sporad ic efforts have been made towards normalization of relations but each time it has been a case of back to square one.

Relations with Pakistan were at their lowest ebb when the new Government took charge. The invitation to Heads of State/Government of SAARC countries, including Pakistan, to attend the PM’s sweating-in ceremony in May last year opened up an opportunity for breaking the ice. After initial hesitation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharrif of Pakistan did come for the event and the two sides agreed to resume the dialogue at the level of Foreign Secretaries.

Government’s decision to send Foreign Secretary to Pakistan (3rd March, 2015) as part of so-described SAARC Yatra, and some media reports on possible resumption of cricketing ties with Pakistan has led the critics to question India’s Pakistan policy. In this context, the External Affairs Minister’s statement at the media conference in New Delhi on 31st May 2015 is noteworthy. She denied there was any flip flop in India’s Pakistan policy adding that right from the beginning her Government had decided on three parameters for dialogue which have been repeatedly conveyed to Pakistan and have been scrupulously adhered to by India without any deviation; the first principle is that all issues must be resolved through peaceful dialogue ;secondly, the dialogue will be between India and Pakistan and no third country will be involved and finally, the discussion and dialogue will be in a peaceful atmosphere and through Shim1a Agreement and Lahore Declaration.

Sri Lanka

After the liquidation of the LTTE in 2009, India had adopted a multi-pronged approach towards Sri Lanka; this policy had several components: (i) to impress upon the Sri Lankan Government to abide by its commitments towards Sri Lankan Tamils particularly meaningful devolution of powers and the implementation of the 13th Amendment in a time bound manner; (ii) reiteration of assurances from time to time to Sri Lankan Tamils that it would make every effort to ensure that the 13th amendment was not diluted and the future for the community was marked by equality, justice and self-respect; (iii) investment into the reconstruction of Northern Sri Lanka badly affected by prolonged civil war; (iv) accommodate the demands of the Tamil leadership in India to the extent feasible but ultimately exercise the prerogative of the Centre in the formulation of foreign policy taking broader national interests into account rather than being pushed by narrow regional priorities; (v) to monitoring carefully the Chinese overtures in Sri Lanka and check the latter’s drift towards China. (vi) address the fishermen’s issue.

Sri lanka

  • India pledges a fresh LOC of up to $318 million for projects in the railway sector in Sri Lanka.
  • A Currency Swap Agreement of USD 1.5 billion which was earlier $400 million, to help keep the Sri Lankan rupee stable.
  • Signing of the landmark Civil Nuclear Agreement.
  • Setting up of a Joint Task Force in the area of ocean economy.
  • Flagging of the inaugural Talaimannar- Madu road train service by Indian PM on the North Western railway line upgraded by IRCON.
  • Handing over homes at Jaffna (part of the flagship housing project where India is aiding in construction of 50,000 houses).
  • Sri Lankans to benefit from Tourist Visa on Arrival’ ·Electronic Travel Authorisation’.
  • PM’s visit to Anuradhapura to offer prayers at the sacred Sri Mahabodhi tree which is said to have grown from a sapling of the original Bodhi tree brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC by Sanghamitra.
  • President Pranab Mukherjee released a special commemorative stamp on Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Anagarika Oharmapala.
  • Decision on developing a Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka and a Buddhist Circuit in India.
  • Foundation stone of the Jaffna Cultural Centre laid.
  • Assistance by India for the construction of Rabindranath Tagore Auditorium at Ruhuna University in Matara.
  • Collaboration between Indian and Sri Lankan petroleum firms to make Trincomalee a regional energy hub.

Nepal

For a variety of reasons, a certain degree of stagnation in relations with Nepal can be said to have set in during the past years. Nationalist elements in Nepal have been demanding the revision of India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, which forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal. Under the provisions of this Treaty, the Nepalese citizens have enjoyed unparalleled advantages in India, availing facilities and opportunities at par with the Indian citizens. The Treaty has allowed Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a land-locked country. Vested interests in Nepal have managed to block India- Nepal hydro-power cooperation on the India-Bhutan model, as a result of which, Nepal remains a net importer of electricity despite enormous hydro- power resources and the bordering States In India continue to bear the brunt of floods in Nepal.

At the same time, there are complaints in Nepal of inordinate delays in the implementation of projects promised by India. Moreover, for over a decade now, Nepal has remained engaged in a difficult phase of political transition; it has witnessed the abolition of Monarchy, rise and decline of Maoist insurgency, the return of Maoists to mainstream, birth of decmocracy, and now it is in the process of writing a new Constitution for the country.

The visit of the Prime Minister to Nepal in August last year was historic in more than one sense. It was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in seventeen years. PM undertook this visit within less than three months of assuming his charge. The visit was preceded by the meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, headed for the first time in twenty three years by the Foreign Ministers of two countries. The PM was the only foreigner extended the privilege of addressing Nepal’s Constituent Assembly and Legislature Parliament.

In conclusion, one year of extensive and energetic diplomacy in South Asia has been productive in several ways: it has reduced considerably the trust deficit, enhanced faith in India’s capability to deliver on its promises, further consolidated the existing relations, reset relations in certain cases, addressed the current challenges and set the agenda for long-term engagement, reiterated forcefully the need for peaceful coexistence as prerequisite for development and prosperity and integration of the region, including economic integration, through land, maritime and air connectivity. A subtle message has gone around that in areas where there are difficulties for all members to work together, let the bilateral or sub-regional format be adopted so that the willing members could join hands and move forward. The need now is for a time-bound follow up to consolidate gains made so far, diligently deliver on the promises and assurance, and effectively address the unresolved matters.

Landmark Motor Vehicles Agreement among Four SAARC Countries Signed

India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a landmark Motor Vehicles Agreement (MYA) for the Regulation of Passenger, Personnel and Cargo Vehicular Traffic among the four South Asian neighbours in Thimpu, Bhutan on June 15, 2015. The MY A agreement between sub-grouping of four SAARC nations, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) will pave the way for a seamless movement of people and goods across their borders for the benefit and integration of the region and its economic development.

“The Motor Vehicles Agreement is the “Over arching” frame work to fulfill our commitment to enhance regional connectivity. This will need to be followed through with formulation of the required protocols and procedures in the shortest time possible to realize the ultimate objective of free movement of people and goods in the region. This would further need to be supplemented through building and upgrading roads, railways and waterways infrastructure, energy Grids, communications and air links to ensure smooth cross border flow of goods, services, capital, technology and people. Taken together, this provides enormous opportunity for integration and development of our region.” said Sh. Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister of Road Transport & Highway and Shipping.

Mentioning about the initiative to strengthen connectivity of the sub-region to ASEAN, the Minister said, “In this regard a major breakthrough has been achieved between India-Myanmar and Thailand. Three nations have agreed to develop a similar framework motor vehicle agreement on the lines of draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement.

Taking note of the finding that transforming transport corridors into economic corridors could potentially increase intra-regional trade within South Asia by almost 60 percent and with the rest of the world by over 30 percent, a joint statement read, “We acknowledge that apart from physical infrastructure, the development of economic corridors within and between our countries requires the implementation of policy and regulatory measures, including the BBIN MYA, which will help address the nonphysical impediments to the seamless movement of goods vehicles and people between our four countries.”

ABBIN Friendship Motor Rally is planned to be held in October 2015 to highlight the sub-regional connectivity and the scope and opportunities for greater people-to-people contact and trade under the BBIN initiative.

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