Outgoing External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid says the United Progresseive Alliance (UPA) government has done ‘outstanding work’ in the field of foreign policy and is leaving India’s relations ‘in fairly good condition’ that the future government can look forward to.
Khurshid, in an interview just before the UPA government demitted office, said the UPA government’s contribution in building relations in its 10 years in power has been that despite working in a ‘difficult world and neighbourhood’ India has been able to ensure that bilateral relations are stable.
He praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for steering India’s foreign policy.
He said that in the 15 months he has been External Affairs Minister, he had an opportunity to work with the prime minister, who took keen interest in foreign policy and in raising India’s standing in the world order.
On India’s relations with neighbours, Khurshid said there were ‘difficult conditions operating in countries in the neighbourhood’, in Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
“The conditions were difficult, both in all those countries and spilling over and reflecting in politics in our country — and, therefore, to manage good relations without creating unnecessary tension in our country was not an easy job. But we managed to do it vis-a-vis Nepal, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and with Bangladesh.”
On not being able to deliver to Bangladesh the Teesta water sharing accord and the Land Boundary Agreements, Khurshid acknowledged that the UPA government had not been able to deliver the two outstanding agreements though the Sheikh Hasina government provided a lot of cooperation on tackling militant groups based in that country.
“We couldn’t walk all over (West Bengal Chief Minister) Mamata Banerjee,” Khurshid said, referring to Banerjee’s refusal to endorse the Teesta water sharing accord in 2011. Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress was then a constituent of the UPA and the government had to back out from going ahead on Teesta.
“As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the issue about accountability has not yet settled. The issues are important for us and them. But the point is not damaging relations, and that we’ve been able to do.”
On ties with Colombo, Khurshid said the prime minister not attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Summit last November has not affected ties.
“Our relations remain intact. We are actually discussing nuclear areas as well. Our tourism is exceeding all previous bounds, investment both ways is increasing — where the alternative was a complete breakdown of relations. But there are issues on both sides, and we need to resolve them. There are no magic solutions,” he added.
Khurshid denied any perception of downslide in ties with the US. “There is no downslide in ties. It is only because both the countries have had a very difficult economic situation. In such a situation we can’t have an extreme position. We need to accommodate each other. We haven’t allowed any damage to any of our relations -- Russia, US, UK, France, the neighbourhood, everybody.”
“The fact that we have a huge interface with China, Russia, Japan and with Singapore, these are very important, and a massive development programme for Africa. These are features that stand out in our foreign policy.”
Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.