"Neighbourhood first" policy is on track: Sushma

December 19, 2015 03:20 am | Updated March 24, 2016 10:46 am IST - NEW DELHI:

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj speaking at FICCI’s 88th Annual General Meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj speaking at FICCI’s 88th Annual General Meeting in New Delhi on Friday.

India’s “Neighbourhood first” policy is on track, said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday, citing that the recent NSA-level talks and the announcement of the Comprehensive Dialogue Process with Pakistan had created new opportunities for solving old issues in the region.

“Ties with Pakistan have predictably been the most challenging to take forward. However, the recent NSA-level dialogue on security and terrorism and the establishment of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue following my visit to Islamabad now offers a pathway,” Ms. Swaraj said while delivering the keynote address of the 88th Annual General Meeting of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce).

Counting the positive steps taken by India for Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives, Ms. Swaraj said the “Neighbourhood First” policy of the NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been a consistent policy since May 2014. “Foreign policy begins on our borders and quite appropriately, we embarked on a ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy from the very inception of our tenure,” she said.

Analysts' view

Analysts, however, have pointed out that though Ms. Swaraj counted achievements for the government in the neighbourhood, the last 18 months have not been smooth for India’s neighbourhood affairs.

While Nepal is yet to emerge out of the setback of a blockade and bitterness persists in bilateral ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to drop the Maldives from a planned Indian Ocean trip while dialogue with Pakistan is yet to begin formally.

“External Affairs Minister needs to speak objectively on the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Apart from other issues in the region, relationship with Nepal has been disastrous. The handling of the Nepal crisis by India sent a very negative message to the entire South Asian region,” said Devi Prasad Tripathi of the Nationalist Congress Party, who is a member of the Consultative Committee on External Affairs.

Challenging situation

Ms. Swaraj said a more challenging situation had risen beyond the South Asian frontiers and that had been met successfully. Dr. Tripathi said that while India’s voice was often heard on international platforms, its focus should primarily be in the South Asian region due to its importance to India’s domestic affairs.

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