‘Strategic partners’ are now dime a dozen

Updated - January 12, 2017 03:23 pm IST

Published - January 11, 2017 11:47 pm IST - New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017 in Gandhinagar on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, on the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017 in Gandhinagar on Tuesday.

India and Rwanda announced a strategic partnership after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Paul Kagame at the ongoing Vibrant Gujarat summit this week, promising to enhance their exchanges and tighten cooperation between them. But the move has raised eyebrows both within the Ministry of External Affairs and outside, with officials conceding that they have “lost count” of the number of such strategic partnerships announced by India in the past two decades.

Since signing its first strategic partnership with France in 1998, India has announced 30 such, a senior official told The Hindu, adding that the Ministry had no “official list” of its strategic partners nor had it “formalised any criterion” for which a country qualifies for the term. “Sometimes, we sign partnerships with countries or entities such as the EU, without even fulfilling basic commitments on annual meetings with them,” the official said.

No mission in Kigali

In the case of Rwanda, experts say, India has signed a “strategic partnership” despite the fact that New Delhi does not even maintain a mission in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

In the joint statement issued after the Kagame-Modi meeting in Gandhinagar, India said only that it “is positively considering opening a resident Mission in Kigali”.

“I do not see what ‘strategic’ interests India has in Rwanda at present,” said Satish Kumar, a former JNU professor who has assessed India’s most important partnerships for a study on India’s strategic partners by the Foundation for National Security Research.

At present, the Indian High Commission in Uganda is concurrently accredited to Rwanda and Burundi, though Rwanda opened its mission in Delhi in 1999 and has posted an Ambassador here since 2001. President Kagame has visited India on a number of occasions, including the India Africa business summit, but the last Indian dignitary to visit Rwanda was the then Minister of State for External Affairs, Preneet Kaur, in 2012.

The larger problem, officials and experts said, was that “really important” strategic partnerships with countries such as the U.S., Russia, France and Germany and neighbours such as Afghanistan lose some value every time the government associates a country with the title that does not have the same strategic importance.

“The main criterion for choosing strategic partners should be a complementarity of interests in vital areas like security, defence and investments, on a long-term basis,” said Mr. Kumar. “If you keep adding countries to the list that India has relatively minor geopolitical interests with, the term becomes mere rhetoric,” he added.

Officials said the Ministry was often asked to come up with “qualifiers” to add emphasis during summits with those countries. For example, India’s ties with Russia were referred to as a “special and privileged strategic partnership”, the United Kingdom is a “long-term strategic partnership,” Vietnam has been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” and Malaysia an “enhanced strategic partnership”, the officials said, suggesting that a more formalised structure for strategic partnerships needs to be devised.

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