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Among the many challenges that the new government will face, one will definitely be foreign policy. The world is going through testing times: The US is due to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, Russia’s economic clout is receding, West Asia is in turmoil, and the world economy is still in the doldrums. India’s new foreign policy will have to factor in all these and much more before the government comes up with a viable blueprint.
More than the West, the next government’s policy trajectory towards the neighbourhood will be crucial. Under the UPA, India made some positive moves towards increasing trade and interactions with China. The new government must carry this forward. With Pakistan’s General Raheel Sharif saying that India is the country’s ‘jugular vein’, and various terror groups threatening to attack India, New Delhi will have to keep its expectations of peace at realistic levels. The recent arrest of an alleged Inter-Services Intelligence agent in Tamil Nadu, who has named an official of the Pakistan high commission in Colombo, is another indication that Islamabad will not give up its destablising game. On the contrary, it is now trying to exploit India’s vast coastline. With Sri Lanka, India needs to discuss issues like the arrests of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and the democratic rights of the Lankan Tamils. New Delhi should also allay fears about the Sethusamudram shipping canal project. The next government should not take Bhutan for granted and do more to bring stability to Nepal. India should also give more of an economic thrust to its ties with Myanmar, Maldives and Vietnam.
For long there has been a perception that India’s foreign policy is risk-averse. If India needs to be taken seriously in the comity of nations, this has to change. The next government must come up with a foreign policy that demonstrates a degree of flexibility where required while safeguarding India’s interests.