24 June 2004

Manmohan's first month: Key inroads into Pak and China

24 June 2004
The Times of India

Manmohan's first month: Key inroads into Pak and China

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

New Delhi: Belying the expectations of naysayers in the BJP - and in the wider foreign policy community - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, in his first month in office, managed to not just keep the ship of Indian diplomacy on even keel but to also steam ahead decisively in key areas.

Relations with Pakistan and China are as good today if not better than they were when the Vajpayee government demitted office. As for the US, the PM has skilfully used the semiotics of diplomacy - the signing of condolence books, the dispatch of Natwar Singh for Reagan's funeral - to make the quiet assertion of an independent foreign policy more palatable to the Bush administration.

Indian soldiers will not go to Iraq and New Delhi is unlikely to support Washington's missile defence programme, but the US has come away from all the interactions it has had with the new government so far convinced that the bilateral relationship is continuing as before.

But if the going has been good so far, the PM knows the hardest part is yet to come. At the end of the week, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet to discuss Kashmir. And then will follow the month-long round of talks on Siachen, Sir Creek, Tulbul navigation project, economic relations and terrorism.

In August, the composite dialogue will be reviewed by the two foreign ministers. PM has to ensure that enough is achieved by then to convince Pakistan of the need to remain engaged.

With Washington, the Indo-US conference on 'Space Science: Applications and Commerce' in Bangalore is being cited by senior officials as proof of the strong continuity in relations under the new government.

Sponsored by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the US State Department, Nasa and the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the conference has attracted financial support from major US defence and space contractors. Despite this interaction, 14 subsidiaries of ISRO remain on the US bureau of export control's 'entities list', meaning exports to them need to be pre-cleared by Washington on a case-by-case basis.

On the China front, external affairs minister Natwar Singh's hugely successful interaction in Qingdao with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, augurs well for the bilateral relationship. Apart from the meeting between the two special representatives on the border issue, a number of high-level contacts are on the cards, say officials.

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