Barely a week after the SAARC summit at which India assumed the chair, the neighbourhood is squarely back in the government’s sights as a core focus area of its foreign policy. Relations with the major powers and "issues of the future, namely food security, water, energy and environment," constitute other core areas guiding Indian foreign policy, the government’s top diplomat said.
Speaking on "The Challenges Ahead for India’s Foreign Policy" at the Observer Research Foundation, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon on Tuesday said, "the primary task of our foreign policy is to ensure an external environment that is conducive to India’s transformation and development," he said, enabling it to transform into "a moderately well-off state" and grow at 8-10 per cent.
"The first area of focus for our foreign policy is naturally our neighbourhood," he said, speaking of the need to "accord the highest priority to closer political, economic and cultural ties with our neighbours."
"Each of our neighbours is going through accelerated internal political transformations," he told the leading think tank, briefly outlining the processes in motion in Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Relations with these three neighbours are possibly at "the least tension-ridden they have ever been," a former diplomat who has served in these countries said.
Menon was hopeful about ties with Pakistan, with which, he said, the dialogue process continues to change the relationship. Despite the "particular concern" about terrorism, "the composite dialogue, the Joint Commission and the Joint Anti-terrorism Mechanism have provided a structured framework within which major issues are discussed," he said. However, he expressed concern at the ethnic conflict within Sri Lanka, seeking a peaceful resolution of the conflict that closely impacts domestic politics in India.
Most interestingly, according to Menon, "today India is not the issue in any of our neighbors’ political transitions; rather, the countries of the neighbourhood look to the Indian market and economy as positive factors for their own economic growth," he said, citing "the smooth and productive course of the 14th SAARC Summit in Delhi, free of disputes or posturing," as a reflection of changing circumstances.