To-Do List for For­eign Min­is­ter

Im­prove re­la­tions with US, have a sen­si­ble China pol­icy, re­as­sure smaller neigh­bours

The Economic Times - - World View - Ra­jesh Ra­jagopalan

The new ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter (EAM) has a long list of for­eign pol­icy chal­lenges and very lit­tle time to lose. Over the past sev­eral years, In­dian diplo­macy has been ham­strung by ide­o­log­i­cal blink­ers of an­other age, do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence in for­eign pol­icy, and glar­ing in­sti­tu­tional weak­nesses. The new EAM needs to move with some alacrity in ad­dress­ing these prob­lems be­fore they in­flict more dam­age to In­dian for­eign pol­icy. val­ued and friendly neigh­bours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, need to be re­vived and the new dis­pen­sa­tion in New Delhi is per­fectly po­si­tioned to do it. Invit­ing the heads of SAARC coun­tries was a dra­matic ges­ture but it needs to be fol­lowed up with sub­stan­tive ac­tion be­cause In­dia’s smaller neigh­bours re­quire re­as­sur­ance about In­dia’s in­ten­tions. They should not be driven by fear of In­dia into the hands of ex­tra-re­gional pow­ers in­im­i­cal to In­dia. The crit­i­cal Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship is likely to re­main in the hands of the PMO but the EAM should be play­ing an im­por­tant sup­port­ing role in push­ing those as­pects of the re­la­tion­ship that can be pushed for­ward, in­clud­ing on people-to-people links. The ex­ter­nal af­fairs min­is­ter also needs to right-size In­dian for­eign pol­icy by dis­pens­ing with some of the re­cent di­ver­sions into the 1970s, such as the re­newed fo­cus on nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment and on new ver­sions of Third World bloc pol­i­tics such as BRICS and BA­SIC. The large agenda that In­dian for­eign pol­icy al­ready has on its plate does not need these dis­trac­tions. A longer-term but vi­tal is­sue that the new EAM needs to fo­cus on is the in­sti­tu­tional in­fra­struc­ture of In­dian for­eign pol­icy. In­dia’s for­eign ser­vice is by far the small­est among the ma­jor pow­ers, with its to­tal strength around the same as that of much smaller coun­tries like Malaysia and New Zealand. Con­sid­er­ing the new re­spon­si­bil­i­ties — from new mul­ti­lat­eral fora to eco­nomic diplo­macy — this tiny ser­vice needs to be ex­panded. While a start has been made, the tra­di­tional route of in­creas­ing the cadre strength is likely to be in­suf­fi­cient and could take too long. The bu­reau­cracy might re­sist, but the EAM should ex­plore other av­enues for ex­pand­ing the ser­vice, in­clud­ing through lat­eral in­take. Even this par­tial list rep­re­sents a huge agenda for the EAM. But the kind of man­date that her govern­ment has re­ceived pre­sents a unique op­por­tu­nity to un­der­take both im­por­tant pol­icy and in­sti­tu­tional changes. Such op­por­tu­ni­ties come but rarely and it would be a shame if this one is wasted.

The writer is pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics, JNU, Delhi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.