Lok Sabha election 2019: US, China and neighbouring countries to be focus areas of new government, say former envoys

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India May 24, 2019, 12.21 PM(IST) Written By: Sidhant Sibal

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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Our principal diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal spoke to 11 former Indian envoys on focus areas for the new government and the challenges ahead.  

The neighbourhood will be a priority and the focus will be on India's ties with the United States and China in the backdrop of Beijing-Washington standoff over trade issue, former envoys said after the historic victory of Narendra Modi led-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in country's 17 Lok Sabha elections. Other than this, ties with Iran on the energy front and Russia which is a long-standing ally of India will also be in focus. 

Our principal diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal spoke to 11 former Indian envoys on focus areas for the new government and the challenges ahead.

"The new government will have its hands full. And one of the many priorities would be the immediate neighbourhood- Sri Lanka Afghanistan and Pakistan should be higher on the list- need to work with Sri Lanka, work on Pakistan and with and for Afghanistan  as it stands on a critical crossroad.US Taliban talks seem to have hit the wall of Taliban's intransigence andIR inflexibility. India has to be mindful of the danger of Afghanistan being pushed back to dark ages and thus needs a proactive role with all stakeholders to ensure gains of last 18 years are not sacrificed," said Amar Sinha, former Ambassador of India to Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

Ashok Sajjanhar, former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia said, "Relations with the US and China will be the most challenging. India will have to deftly and skillfully deal with China's ascendancy and assertiveness through both cooperation and competition to safeguard and promote its strategic and economic interests. With Washington, India will need to ensure that America's growing capriciousness and unpredictability on trade matters does not adversely impact on the rapidly advancing bilateral strategic partnership. Energy security and prices, Pakistan, Afghanistan and West Asia are other challenges looming on the horizon which will need to be attended to urgently."

Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary said, "Standing up to the US  on issues where it’s policies hurt our interests while maintaining the forward momentum of our ties. Keeping China engaged while boosting the Indo-Pacific concept. Preserving close ties with Russia as we become closer to the US and participate in hedging policies towards China."

Sharat Sabharwal, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Ambassador to Uzbekistan, said, "Managing the relationship with a fast-rising and increasingly assertive China will remain the major foreign policy challenge of the new government. But an immediate crisis that the government may have to deal with is the mounting tension between the US and Iran, with the potential of a military conflict and its impact on India's energy supplies from West Asia and the large Indian diaspora there."

Anil Trigunayat, former Ambassador to Jordan Libya and Malta, said, "The biggest challenge in my view will be in managing the US especially with regard to our engagement with Russia and Iran as blatant unilateralism has the potential to undermine our strategic autonomy.  If the US-Iran confrontation crosses the threshold it will have the worst repercussions for our energy security and diaspora welfare in the Gulf region."

Vijay K Nambiar, India’s former Permanent Representative to United Nations and former envoy to Pak, China, Afghanistan, said, "We are increasingly presenting an image to the outside world of an angry "underdog" power wanting to disrupt the status quo. Our biggest challenge, in the coming period, therefore, will be to preserve our traditional soft power image of an open, inclusive and introspective society that, while confident and unselfconscious about its own particularities, is willing to adopt a humane and harmonious attitude towards the outside world and to learn from others."

Deepa Wadhwa, a former envoy to Qatar, Japan, Sweden, Latvia and the Marshall Islands, said, "Sidhant, I believe the first issue the new government will have to confront, will be the fallout of the US-Iran standoff and its effect on our interests in the Middle East. The other priority will be our relationship with the US and in particular, deteriorating trade ties."

"There are perennials of our relations with China and the new government will soon have an opportunity to convey our sensitivities and concerns while batting for improved relations at the second informal summit to be held between the leaders of the two countries in the latter half of the year," Wadhwa added.

Anil Wadhwa, former Indian envoy to Italy, Poland, Oman and Thailand said, "The biggest challenge facing the new government will be the management of its complex web of relationships with the United States, Russia and China, and adapting and keeping pace with the new technological revolution which is changing the way countries operate and move forward in their domestic and external policies."

Bhaswati Mukherjee, a former Indian envoy to the Netherlands, said, "Managing the contradictions in the US-China relationship and its impact on India if a full-fledged trade war breaks out. Balancing out the relationship with Russia in the context of our strategic partnership with the US. Preparing for a meltdown in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of US troops."

Rajiv Dogra, former Indian envoy to Italy and consul general to Karachi "The biggest foreign policy challenge of the new government will be it, itself. If it flips -flops and changes direction whimsically it hands over the policy advantage to others. All said and done the coming months will test the new government repeatedly on the foreign policy front."

Neelam Deo, former Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast said, "With Prime Minister Modi’s return to the office, India will have continuity in foreign policy direction. We can expect an enhancement in the initiatives started in PM Modi’s first term. For example. a strong outreach to members of the Quad – Japan, USA and Australia in defence, especially on maritime matters. There will be an increased focus on building infrastructure, for example in partnership with Japan in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well as Africa under the Asia Africa Growth Corridor. In its second term, the Modi government will move rapidly to put more content into its relationship with the West, especially the US, while the Gulf countries will be the focus of energy diplomacy."