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“India Maintains Smooth Relations With All Countries” —Sudhir T Devare

Updated: October 1, 2011 12:21 pm

Mr Sudhir T Devare joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1964 and served in India’s Missions in Moscow, Washington and Yangon. While serving in the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in Geneva, he was the alternate delegate to the Committee on Disarmament. He has also served as Consul General in Frankfurt, Germany and was India’s Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (1985-89), Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia (1992-94), and Indonesia (1994-98). From 1998 till his retirement from the IFS in June 2001, he was the Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. As Secretary, he dealt with India’s bilateral as well as multilateral economic relations and was closely associated with the ‘Look-East’ policy and the evolving relations with the Asia-Pacific. He was the Leader of the Indian delegation at the senior official meetings of India—ASEAN Dialogue Partnership, ASEAN Regional Forum, BIMST-EC, Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation and others. He was a Member of the National Security Advisory Board of India in 2002-03. He was a Visiting Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2002 and was the Vice-Chairman of the Research and Information System of Developing Countries (RIS), New Delhi. He has authored India and Southeast Asia: Towards Security Convergence (2006) by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore and Capital Publishing Co. Delhi and A New Energy Frontier: the Bay of Bengal Region published by ISEAS, Singapore (2008). He is currently the Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) New Delhi. Recently he had a long conversation with Atul Kumar Thakur on diverse issues related to Indian foreign policy. Excerpts:

How do you see the change in dynamics of Indian foreign policy, Especially, in the context of our traditional allies in South East Asia, Arab and Central Asian countries?

Indian foreign policy has undergone a consistent evolution since 1991; end of Cold War and subsequently, the collapse of USSR and emergence of new States besides India’s own liberalisation of economy left a huge impact from the policy perspectives. Moreover, post-9/11, strategic consideration pushed India for greater collaboration with US against the international terrorism. For the first time, US acknowledged India’s long suffering from the terrorism; it was indeed remarkable from the strategic point of views. Besides, India is still continuing strengthening co-operation with the likeminded nations to enhance its security safeguard.

India maintains functionally smooth relations with all the countries. Last year representatives of all the five permanent member nations of UN Security Council visited India. So the dynamism has broadened our ties in foreign affairs. Post-Cold War, a realisation grew that India should give greater attention towards South East Asia, that popularly known as “Look East Policy”. Even in historical terms, South East Asian nations remained our close allies albeit the interruption of Cold War resulted in the kind of distance for twenty years. The decade of 1990’s saw good rapture; now our relations are excellent, at the bilateral level with the nations of the region and through ASEAN. Free Trade Agreements {FTA} and close defence co-operation with the ASEAN nations are epitomes of our diplomatic stronghold in the region. My book, India and South Asia—Towards Security Convergence, argued that India entered in a comprehensive treaty that led towards convergence. So things are going on in a good direction though much has to be done ahead. ICWA is a steering organisation in India on ASEAN dialogue. Since last year we have taken many initiatives in this regard and also hosted a meaningful conference on India-ASEAN dialogue, which made a positive impact.

Central Asia has been a promising region in all the terms, our ties were at the peak during the Soviet Union era, though the collapse of USSR in 1991 necessitated to engage the each separated State individually. Connectivity is a big problem in this region, so we are facing limitation in our closeness. We have traditional presence in the Arab world, and that’s based on trust and fine engagements. India has consistently supported the Palestinian cause and its legitimate aspiration but we shall not interfere in their domestic affairs. Though, India is open to talking to these nations, if they feel such a need.

Has India emerged as an economic/strategic power influencing its conventional relationship with the neighbouring countries?

India’s capacity has considerably gone up principally in immediate neighbourhood. Around 70-80 per cent of SAARC nations’ economies are influenced by India, so significant happenings here leave a substantial impact on neighbours. In terms of commercial/educational/ service potential, India stands with a crucial position for its neighbours, so India must be taken into a good light and its rise should be seen positively. Since India got independence, it always forwarded its best support for neighbours’ prosperousness, though it’s worrisome that our trade volume is still much smaller with our neighbours in comparison to China. Here measures are immediately needed to broaden the trade relations in neighbourhood that must be started with adequate investment in these countries. This will be helpful in forming the atmosphere of goodwill.

How should India approach on Nepal’s ongoing stalemate?

India is closely monitoring the ongoing political development in Nepal. We have genuine concerns with our most-trusted neighbour, so we always need a peaceful and stable Nepal. India supported Maoists in the mainstream politics and their consolidated efforts for constitution making. As once again, Maoists are heading the coalition government under the premiership of Baburam Bhattarai, we are hoping a positive time ahead in our relationship. India has always been open to help.

Should China be taken more diplomatically or India should rather compete it economically in Nepal and Pakistan?

China’s action mustn’t endanger our legitimate bilateral security interest with both these countries. Until the Rubicon has not crossed; there is no need to hype such involvement.

What’s the official stand of India on Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)­? Strategically, should India retrieve its earlier closeness in ties with Russia?

NAM remains a key/cardinal principle of Indian foreign policy, but it needs not to be seen in blocks, as Cold War doesn’t exist now. It has historical importance, as the basic ideals of NAM reflect our consistent opposition to the colonial ironies. As a leading member and the world’s largest democracy, India will continue to sideline those anomalies for better equality on international platform. We will keep on playing a crucial role in the matters of importance at multilateral level negotiations. World needs a voice, India offers that along with Brazil and entire participants of BRICS. So, with a different shape, NAM remains relevant. As far as India-Russia relations are concerned, NAM plays practically no role; we have other intrinsic commonness in outlook besides a very closely shared historical past that plays rather cornerstone of our relations. Our collaboration in defence and science-technology is still touching high sphere. Now with enhanced capacity, India is equally crucial to Russia.

What should be the India’s next course of action in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh?

After the dissemination of Sri Lanka, there emerged some contentious issues, like the presence of large numbers of refugees created by a long civil war in the country. India keeps pressing Sri Lankan authority for the welfare of Tamils. Economically, both nations are on fine course, yet India will be concerned for Tamils who have been badly affected by the parochial ideas of LTTE and consistent ignorance by the Sri Lankan authority. We have old links with Myanmar that reached in closest terms during our shared struggle against the colonialism. Unfortunately democracy couldn’t sustain there for long and military rule’s shaky treatment with Aung San Suu Kyi created bad feelings. Though India kept engaging Myanmar government, it has recently introduced a formal democracy, following that, visit of our foreign minister and the high level envoy Nirupama Rao and theirs meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi is a positive development. Myanmar’s connectivity with ASEAN is crucial for us. With Bangladesh, we are working closely and many outstanding issues are being resolved now. Bangladesh has shown great action in extraditing top-ranked ULFA leaders; and moreover also showing goodwill in other directions as well. We have high regards for our bilateral relations and bond of sharing.

It’s quite intriguing to observe the mix reaction of Pakistani Air force following the end of military aid from the US. will the China leverage Pakistani Army in the same way as till recently the US did? What would be its implications on India-US relations and India’s interest in Afghanistan and north-west frontier?

Pakistan seems to remain a close partner of the US, even the US reduced military aid to Pakistan but it will not affect their ties too much. It should be taken in long perspectives only. China is an all-weather ally of Pakistan, so their level of co-operation can be easily anticipated. Of course, Pak-US relations have implications for India and in the specified regions particularly, but for now, there is little possibility for big change in a geo-strategic scenario.

Do you think that now the time is conducive for India to pitch strongly for a permanent seat in UN Security Council? Should India fix a balance between its traditional foreign policy with the newly strengthened alliances?

India, overall regard its right to be in UN Security Council, as it has always subscribed to the ideals of UN. So, India naturally deserves permanent membership. It will be our thrust in the days ahead. We are expecting all positives now from both the US and China.

What’s your view on the India-US Civil nuclear deal? What’s true meaning of new twist on non-waiver issues? Are we heading on the right path for our energy requirements, especially after FUKUSHIMA incident?

It’s indeed a positive development and must be regarded as our diplomatic achievement that secures the recognition of a matured Indian position on all nuclear questions all along. We have well guarded nuclear establishment, and so shall be sanguine about the future.

How Arab uprising should be seen—as democratic upheavals against the west-supported autocracy or series of revolt, generated by the local causes? What will be their impact on India, and the world at large?

Unrest is localised and against the western domination to some extent. India is watching closely the scene, however India welcomes the mass aspirations for democracy. Some of the movements are less bloody; those could be listed in a positive slot.

What is India’s opportunity in Libya and the Arab world?

India has good relationship with the Arab world including Libya, so it has big stakes in peace-making process inside these regions.

Will inclusion of India and Pakistan in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) make any constructive development in bilateral ties?

It seems ambiguous. SCO may not influence bilateral ties but will leave sound impact on the regions of Central Asia. So, overall it’s welcome development. Only SCO meetings shall not be considered the end in bilateral ties.

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