Delivering a keynote address at the inaugural session of the Seminar on ‘India and the Great Powers: Continuity and Change’, organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in collaboration with the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS), on Monday, Foreign Secretary, Dr S Jaishankar, said that India needs to engage with a multiplicity of actors in a varied range of arenas and try to straddle what can be contradictory trends in our foreign policy.
Speaking further, Dr Jaishankar pointed out that the contradictions between India and the other great powers are far less than before, offering the country an opportunity to forge ahead in a much more fluid and multi-polar set up than before. We should work towards an India which is prepared to engage the great powers more robustly, and see in that engagement a possibility of advancing its own prospects, he added.
Speaking on the issue of connectivity, the foreign secretary said that the lack of connectivity in South Asia is what is holding back India’s and South Asia’s prospects. We need to figure out how India and South Asia fit into the larger connectivity grid, he observed.
Dr Jaishankar noted the fluidity and the free play at the great power level have translated into greater uncertainties at the regional level, adding that Asia is a large continent marked by sharp national rivalries and the absence of a security architecture.
Stating that forums like BRICS offer the possibility of finding common ground with countries like Russia and China, the foreign secretary pointed out that the changing nature of India’s engagement with the great powers is reflected in recent engagements with the British Prime Minister Theresa May’s bilateral visit to India, the Chinese and Russian presidents’ participation at the BRICS meet in Goa recently, and the Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to Japan – all reflect a decisive shift in India’s foreign policy.
Apart from great powers, India also needs to focus on the regional flux, observed Dr Jaishankar. The region is moving into a much more dynamic and complex environment, with unprecedented developments in the maritime space and on the land hubs on either side of India, he said.
The seminar, attended by reputed experts, examined India’s relations with the great powers, particularly the relationships with the United States, China, Russia, and Japan.
On the issue of westward connectivity, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during his recent visit to India had stated that there are ways to overcome a major obstacle like Pakistan and that both India and Afghanistan must work towards achieving the connectivity as it will lead to a much looked forward boost in trade between the two countries.
India’s eastward land connectivity with Southeast Asian countries has been hampered by at least a half a century long post- Independence mindset of not developing its vast North Eastern region. For India’s much talked about Look East policy/projects to succeed, there are two major steps required to be meaningfully pursued. These are effectively sorting out the security situation caused initially owing to the lack of development, compounded by a weak/flawed security policy, or lack of it, which neighbors like China and even distant Pakistan were allowed to take great advantage of. The beginning made by the construction of the 160 km long road into Myanmar by India’s Border Roads Organisation must be made best of by extending the same for the Mekong connection. Also, infrastructural development of North Eastern states must be expedited.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made unprecedented strides in improving politico-diplomatic relations with many of India’s close neighbors and the Indian Ocean littoral nations, of course, other than Pakistan for obvious reasons, it is time to relentlessly pursue to build a momentum and maintain it.