Raisina Raises South-South Dialogue

Apart from terrorism, Raisina Dialogue held in New Delhi remained successful in bringing to the fore issues concerning the world, including urgent need of UNSC reforms

By Mridu Kumari

Though the Shangri-La Dialogue, conducted annually in Singapore by British think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), focuses on security and strategic aspects of the Asia-Pacific region, the Raisina Dialogue which is being organized by New Delhi for the past two years and is modeled after the former in terms of target and audiences, takes into account geo-political and geo-economics issues of the world in its entirety.

The second edition of the Raisina Dialogue, themed around ‘The New Normal: Multilateralism and Multipolarity,’ was categorically high on substance on the South Asian situation, however. It was in this context New Delhi asked Pakistan that if it wanted dialogue with India, Islamabad must have to walk away from terrorism. It was not a mere template, rather a genuine desire that peace should be the consideration of Pakistan for any meaningful relation with India. Also for prosperity and general happiness in the region, Pakistan should understand that talks and terrorism do not go together hand-in-hand. Pakistan was blamed for the fate of the SAARC. Last year, the group’s summit level meet in Islamabad was cancelled as India, in the wake of terrorist attack on the army’s camp in Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, refused to participate in the summit. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal too boycotted the summit, leading to Pakistan finally cancelling the 19th SAARC meet.

To compensate the SAARC loss, India has revived and strengthened regional groupings like Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) which comprises of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal. Not only India shares good relations with these countries, they are also partner in New Delhi’s projects related to physical connectivity and development. For the first time, BIMSTEC held its outreach meeting with BRICS during the five fast emerging economies’ conclave in Goa in October last year. Unlike SAARC where Pakistan did everything to subvert goals of making the group a dynamic and result-oriented South Asian platform, BIMSTEC is rid of rivalry and animosity among member states and also away from gripping influence of China even though it has hugely invested in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. At the Raisina Dialogue, while this was not touched upon, yet what did not stop India from lying bare its feeling about its northern neighbour was in the context of its continued attack on Indian interests?      

While blocking India’s entry into the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, China, for a third time in a row, put on hold India’s proposal in the UN Security Council on designating Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a terrorist. Besides, without keeping India in loop, it launched $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor crisscrossing Gilgit, Baltistan and parts of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. These developments found an echo in the Prime Minister’s statement at the three-day Raisina Dialogue.

“It is not unnatural for two large neighbouring powers to have some differences. In the management of our relationship, and for peace and progress in the region, both our countries, need to show sensitivity and respect for each other’s core concerns and interests,” the Prime Minister said. His statement that steady increase in military power, resources and wealth in the Asia-Pacific raised the stakes for the security, referred to the situation in the South China Sea.

A part of Pacific Ocean, the South China Sea is an area through which annually $5 trillion worth of merchandised goods are shipped. India also exports and imports 55 per cent of its goods through this area. Even as international tribunal has given a verdict against China’s claim over this contentious sea, Beijing is neither ready to respect this order nor it has stopped its reclaiming activities in the sea. China has built airfield and installed military-related gadgets and equipment after reclaiming thousands of kilometres of area of the South China Sea. As such continued verbal spat between the US and China over this has turned the South China Sea into a flashpoint area. Indications given by US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B Harris Jr suggest that this Asia-Pacific region may see a continuation of US policy under the Donald Trump administration also. India, the US, Japan and other countries have called for freedom of navigation and respect for international law in the case of the South China Sea.

As many as 65 countries’ 250 experts and leaders, including former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and ex-Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had participated in the Raisina Dialogue which had a field day on many issues, including expected improvement of ties between the new US administration and Russia. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated to the extent that the former imposed sanctions on the latter.

The European Union followed suit and also imposed sanctions on Russia. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House and his announcement during the presidential campaign about extending olive tree branch to Russian President, Vladimir Putin, a hope has been flashed around regarding improvement of relations between the two Cold War era rivals.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement that Putin is ready to meet Trump in the interest of global security and stability represents a new understanding in Russia about the Trump administration. Yet while most of speakers’ speech centered on peace and stability, Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar was specific in his statement that terrorism is a big beast, an evil that is threatening turbulence across the region. He was clear that India wanted peace of a garden and not the peace of a graveyard.

By all accounts, the Dialogue remained successful in bringing to the fore issues concerning the world, including urgent need of UNSC reforms.