CHANDIGARH: Former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh has an advice for his successor PM Narendra Modi -- domestic reforms are the key to putting India on a higher growth path and giving the country the economic lift to conduct a pro-active foreign policy.
Though emphasising on “domestic reforms” as the key to the country’s effective diplomacy, Dr Singh skipped the Modi’s much-talked about ‘Make in India’ appeal to the foreign players, as the former PM also commented that India was on the threshold of change “provided the right policies were adopted”.
Addressing the valedictory session of the international conference on cooperation, development, peace and security in south and central Asia here, Dr Singh also saw the speeding up of the Indo-Iran co-operation in developing the Chahbahar Port in southern Iran “a must” to counter the China-Pakistan economic corridor.
“The international north-south transport corridor (NSTC) can help in developing the linkages of trade in the Afghan-Pak region, but can this corridor compete with the China-Pak economic corridor (CPEC)?” Dr Singh asked.
He said India’s policy planning structure had to be revamped for meeting these challenges.
Stating south Asia as an energy-deficient region, the former prime minister expressed his serious concern over the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline projects as neither of the two were materialising in the face of the conflict zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The other virtual tasks that Dr Singh hinted for the Modi regime to take for a stronger sub-continent included the incomplete railway connectivity. “The work is still in progress with respect to trade facilitation measures and regulatory issues,” he said.
He also stated that the electricity grids providing the benefits to Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal were “not in equal measure”.
He stated that “proximity and connectivity” that should have been the foundation of building strong economic linkages to build SAARC as another ASEAN have eluded the nations of south Asia. “The strained relations between India and Pakistan have been a major factor in preventing the growth of cooperative regional development strategies in south Asia,” he said.
Dr Singh said, “There is a need to ponder as to why we in south Asia move so slowly in matters of strengthening trade and infrastructure linkages when the benefits of the people and the governments in the sub-continent are so obvious.”
He also regretted that the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) remained “hobbled and bogged down” in non-tariff barriers, negative lists for trade, phytosanitary restrictions and poor border trade infrastructure, which were obstacles in enhancing free flow of goods in the region.
On the economic front, Dr Singh, however, hailed the India’s decision of joining the New Development Bank (BRICS Bank) and the Asian Infrastructural Investment Bank (AIIB). Also with both India and Pakistan joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, he said, would play an increasingly important role in the management of geo-political relations in Asia.
No representation from Pakistan
The two-day conference was organised by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) with the support of ministry of external affairs that summed up with the former diplomats from India as well as the south Asian countries and Russia expressing concern over the conflict zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan that led the proposed energy pipelines to nowhere, besides observing that Pakistan could not stand alone in isolation with one-to-one innings with China for long and had to break ice with India for a sustainable peace and development in the region.
However, there was no invite to any of the Pakistan delegate at the conference, which was attended by key former diplomats from countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.