THE ROVING DIPLOMAT
India’s regional importance is growing with international recognition
The international scene has been unusually active with a succession of summits and conferences. Elsewhere, regions witnessed developments that could shape their history. In Asia, the focus is on India’s growing international prestige, which it has earned through wide-ranging and dramatic initiatives in recent times.
And the first is the visit of President Vladimir Putin, which is likely to result in the signing of a strategic partnership declaration and several bilateral agreements between the two countries.
To lay the groundwork for the visit, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh is visiting Moscow where he’s expected to discuss a wide range of subjects with his counterparts. These include Indo-Russian cooperation in combating international terrorism and religious extremism; the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty; the Russian proposal for a joint missiles shield; and joint trade and economic, as well as scientific, cooperation.
There was also the visit by Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes where important security contracts for Russian T-90 tanks, an aircraft carrier and the production of fighter planes in India were signed. It is clear that the visit marked the restoration of the historic axis between the two countries. In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, it will be a milestone event in bilateral relations.
Another important visitor to India was Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The aim was to advance Australia’s economic and political links with India, while recognising that (in the premier’s words) “India is an increasingly important player in regional and international affairs.” Australia would pursue an enhanced dialogue on economic and strategic issues of mutual interest with India, he added.
A further achievement for India was its summit meeting with the EU, which was held in Lisbon in June and marks its admission to this elite circle. India is one of the few countries to have this honour – the others being the US, Russia, China, Japan and Canada.
Therefore, India is now on the ascendance in the international sphere by gaining honours and recognition all around. However, it is facing problems internally from tribal groups in Nagaland who are fighting for a tribal homeland and eternally from Nepal, which alleges that India has violated international law and Nepal’s sovereignty by building a dam so close to its border as to cause flooding.
Another serious internal challenge is the current wave of attacks against Christian organisations that have resulted in several deaths. But Hindu organisations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) regard such attacks as retaliation against so-called ‘Christian terrorists’ who are attempting mass conversions to Christianity – especially in tribal areas such as Nagaland and Joshi. The VHP is demanding a law to ban religious conversions.
Probably the most serious of these internal threats is the proposal adopted by the Provincial Assembly of the state of Jammu and Kashmir for autonomy. This will restore the pre-1953 arrangement under which the state government was responsible for all issues other than defence and foreign affairs.
This move has been condemned by the BJP’s president as retrograde and the Congress Party representative in Srinagar has stated that restoration of autonomy will be the first step towards secession of the state from the Indian Union.
Perhaps the most dramatic development within India in the recent past, which is overshadowing in its impact, is its testing of a short-range surface-to-surface Prithvi missile. It is believed to be nuclear capable and the latest in India’s guided missile development programme, which already includes one designed for the army, another version for the air force and a third for the navy.
In other regions as well, momentous events have occurred – one of them being the historic meeting in Pyongyang between the heads of state of North and South Korea, and the landmark declaration they signed. This hopefully opens up a new era of peace and will end tensions, which have spanned more than half a century. It is without doubt the hope of all concerned that both parties will display good faith and live up to their commitments.
BY The late Deshamanya Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis