MEA played supporting role; relationship with China also manageable

In his last interaction with the media as External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna was confident that his successor would continue to play a role supporting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s drive to improve relations with Pakistan and China.

“Today I can say with a sense of conviction that we have a manageable relationship with both countries. They have realised that India means well and India's initiatives are not due to any weakness, but come out of certain inherent strengths that we as a nation have developed,” he said.

Mr. Krishna, who took over the Ministry at a time when India-Pakistan relations were in deep freeze following the Mumbai attacks, credited the Prime Minister for the current “relaxed phase” of ties with Islamabad. “We [the MEA] played a supporting role to the PM in bringing about change. My successor will continue to play that role…it is time for me to relax.”

At the same time, he felt his chemistry with many of his counterparts was an important catalyst too. Mr. Krishna named Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar and Yang Jiechi of China, with whom he had vibed well. He also mentioned the stylish Antonio de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil and the jovial South African Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, with whom he always looked forward to interacting, and “of course” the outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Economic growth

Taking the media on a brief assessment and recapitulation of India’s foreign policy thrust during his years at the Foreign Office, Mr. Krishna attributed the country’s high profile role today in global affairs to the economic growth it has clocked in the past decade. “U.S. President Barack Obama feels we have already emerged. Obama is right in assessing India’s intrinsic strengths, especially in the economic field. Whatever clout India has stems from its economic strength.”

Beginning his appraisal with China and Pakistan, he said both were “classic” cases where India’s interests clashed but “we were able to manage” issues which seemed to be confrontational all the time. “We had issues with China about the border but we didn’t allow it to affect our overall relationship. It was the same case with Pakistan,” he said. The two trips he made to Islamabad “on the Prime Minister’s direction” and those by Ms. Khar “certainly helped in improving the relationship.”

India simultaneously “forged better understanding than ever before” with the European Union, the U.S., Latin America and BRICS members. The government also gave importance to the SAARC, the ASEAN and the Look East approach.

Mr. Krishna eschewed any mention of the frustrations he endured over stonewalling and backtracking but underlined the importance of experience — “particularly in pursuance of foreign relations, there has to be an abundance of patience and perseverance.” Slipping into a pensive mode, Mr. Krishna said it would take time to produce results. “We have made a beginning and it won’t go in vain,” he affirmed.