How India strengthened foreign relations in 2018, expectations for 2019

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How India strengthened foreign relations in 2018, expectations for 2019

Wanting to be close to all major countries, India's policy goes beyond the non-alignment spirit.

SOCHI SUMMIT TO RESET RUSSIA TIES

Upset with growing closeness between India and the United States, Russia started its own alliances in the region.

The recent agreements and defence cooperation of Russia with Pakistan shook New Delhi and led to mending the ties between the two countries.

The two leaders, PM Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin, chose the same "informal" format to reset ties in the Russian city of Sochi, situated on the Black Sea on May 21.

WUHAN BREAKS THE DEADLOCK

Coming on the back of the Doklam standoff between India and China at the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction, the Wuhan Summit was a useful, timely and necessary step to cut through the negativity building up within their ties.

Both countries sent right signal with the summit to revive relations and create a positive atmosphere while working on their differences.

Since this was an informal summit, there was no stated objective and laid out agenda. Therefore, the leaders enjoyed a free-wheeling conversation, providing a broad context to the summit and outline future cooperation efforts.

INDO-US 2+2 DIALOGUE

AFTER a couple of postponements, the first edition of 2+2 dialogue between India-US was held in New Delhi. Known as the second highest level of engagement between both countries after summit-level engagement between the Prime Minister and the US President, this is an essential mechanism that saw external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman holding extensive talks with US secretary of state Michael R. Pompeo and secretary of defence James Mattis.

The two sides signed the India-specific Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) which provides the legal framework for the US to part with its sensitive communication equipment and codes which will enable India's security establishment to gather realtime operational information.

INDIA AGAINST BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

India became the 43rd member of the Australia Group, which aims to prevent proliferation of biological and chemical weapons, will ensure a more secure world. With this India is a member of three of the four nuclear export control regimes.

Earlier, India joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016 and the Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) in 2017. India's membership bid for the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is pending as India's bid is being opposed by China.

INDIA-JAPAN AND INDIAN OCEAN SECURITY

The India-Japan annual summit saw the signing of key defence agreements and the official start of negotiations between the two countries on an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), which will grant each of their armed forces reciprocal access to the other's bases and military facilities. A move to contain China's rise and aggressive posturing in the Indian Ocean and other maritime spaces.

PM'S BALANCING ACT IN SOUTH ASIAN NATIONS

India's ties with its South Asian neighbours were not in the most deniable place. But, certain changes and domestic political developments in the neighbourhood have worked in India's favour.

The overt interference of India missing was also a welcome sign: change in regime in Maldives, stable Nepal government and Modi's visit sending the right signals, Sri Lanka overcoming a huge political turmoil and showing strength in the elected representatives; are sign of possibilities of greater South Asia engagement for India.

BALANCING TIES WITH ISRAEL & PALESTINE

On 10th of February when Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Ramallah for a day visit, it was a mark of solidarity with the Palestinian people and commitment to "deepening of ties".

India's message was clear. India tried to maintain a balance in the delicate relations with Israel and with Palestine. The policy of dehyphenation of the two nations has been seen with positivity in Ramallah because Palestine no longer is considered a "tail" of Israel wherein the main visit is to the latter and the former only gets a courtesy visit.

For India, Israel is a strategic partner and therefore, Tel Aviv has always tried to push India away from Ramallah leading to initial voting by Modi government against the Palestinian State at the UN, but the shift towards rebalancing ties with Palestine was evident with the realisation in New Delhi of India's stakes in West Asia and partisan behaviour by India was hurting ties with other Muslim nations.

INDIA AND GLOBAL SOLAR ALLIANCE

India took leadership of the International Solar Alliance along with France when the so called superpowers of world shied away from the greatest challenge that faces the planet, globally warming and climate change. India has been consciously working towards the issue of climate problems in the world

US VS IRAN: INDIA HOLDS ITS GROUND

India did not budge or succumb to US pressure on Iran. It managed to get US Waiver For Chabahar port given that it would connect India to Afghanistan through Iran and give countries stationed there an alternative to the Pakistan route, although regarding oil imports, America is clear that the imports will have to be brought down to zero and there has been a significant reduction in oil imports. From the second largest exporter of oil to India, Iran now has come down to the sixth position.

GREY-LISTING OF PAK ON TERROR

It took some hard diplomacy and clever negotiations to ensure the numbers swung against Pakistan and the global financial watchdog FATF placed Pakistan on its 'grey list' during a plenary meeting in Paris, arguing that Pak had failed to act on terror financing. While the decision to place Pakistan on the list was taken in February this year, Islamabad was asked to submit an action plan on curbing terror financing and counter-terrorism efforts.

Pakistan in its 26-point action plan launched a diplomatic onslaught to avert the 'grey listing' but to no avail. At every FATF meeting, the Indian delegation made effort to prove the nexus between financial systems within Pakistan that abet and support terrorism

EXPECTATIONS FROM 2019:

  • India will have a huge impact if the US pulls soldiers out of Afghanistan.
  • Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud visits India.
  • India-UAE-Saudi Arabia: India to focus on the West Asia outreach.
  • Keeping the neighbourhood in mind, India will continue with its South Asia outreach.
  • US-China-Russia Cold War will have an impact on India.
  • Elections in countries such as Indonesia, Australia, Bangladesh: The elections are closely being monitored. Any change of guard, especially in Bangladesh which goes to polls on December 30, can change the dynamics in the region.
  • UK-Brexit: The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March, 2019. India is preparing itself to work with the UK irrespective of what happens in the coming year since the British PM Theresa May has been facing a lot of challenges back home.

CHALLENGES FACING THE GOVERNMENT:

PAKISTAN

Pakistan has been more of an irritant rather than a challenge. With no respite on terrorism emanating from Pakistan and the establishment raking up the issue of Kashmir to foment trouble in the valley, the message is clear that Pakistan's ISI and the new Imran Khan government only talks peace but doesn't want better relations with India.

TERRORISM

Cross-border terrorism has been one of the biggest challenges for India. An area that India has used diplomatic means to tackle as well by ensuring that countries call out countries that harbour terrorists.

Khalistani movement is also getting an impetus through Pakistani agencies in various countries. Kartarpur corridor is also being seen as a gateway for the Khalistanis to misuse and create trouble in India. India has been working closely with countries that have a significant Sikh population.

INDO-US TRADE TRADE

negotiations with US continues to remain a challenge. The two sides are yet to work out the 'Trade package'.

CAATSA

India is still not in the clear when it comes to getting waivers from the US for many of the deals and defence equipment that India intends to buy from countries like Russia such as the S-400s.

CHINESE EXPANSIONISM

Chinese expansionism, its continued support to Pakistan and India's cancellation of the celebration of the birth anniversary celebrations of the Dalai Lama in New Delhi shows that Beijing, despite the peace overtures, is a work in progress.