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Sushma hopeful China will back India's NSG bid

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

In her hour-long annual press briefing, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj laid down her ministry\'s work over the past one year. Because of India\'s aggressive diplomatic outreach, foreign direct investment (FDI) has jumped 43% to $55 billion from the time of the UPA government.

She claimed India has emerged as an important power, which is shaping the global agenda as she cited how India set the agenda of \'climate justice at COP21, Paris, or the International Solar Alliance, whose secretariat will be based out of Delhi. Swaraj also explained how New Delhi is aggressively pursuing the need of arriving at a definition of \'terrorism\'.

Swaraj also spoke about how India aggressively reached out to Africa and West Asian countries, including the Arab League.

In the neighbourhood, she explained how India has been the first to reach out to neighbouring countries in distress - be it the earthquake in Nepal, the floods in Sri Lanka or the water crisis in Maldives.

Here is a round-up of important issues she spoke about:

The NSG bid

With the meeting in Seoul on the important issue of India's induction into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), just round the corner, Swaraj said she was hopeful China would support India's bid, and the group would be able to forge a consensus on India's entry.

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, was recently on a two-day visit to Beijing, which was kept under wraps from the media.

China opposed India's entry into the NSG in a recent close-door Vienna meeting, citing India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and saying no country-specific exemption should be made.

The Chinese also said any new entry into the NSG should not alter the balance of power in South Asia. China has been wary of India's growing proximity to the United States, especially in the light of the ongoing dispute regarding its expansionist policies in the South China Sea where several islands have recently come up.

The Big A has increased its military presence in the West Pacific, citing freedom of navigation. This China has seen with suspicion. Japan, too, has been wary of Chinese plans.

Interestingly, Swaraj told the Press that both India and the US have decided that Japan will be a permanent part of the annual Malabar Exercise. Until this year, Japan took part occasionally in the naval exercise.

Meanwhile, in her interaction, Swaraj said China was not opposing India's entry but talking of criteria and processes, which precede the waiver India got in 2008. Hence, in India's case credentials and track record matter.

India has an excellent track record, the foreign minister said: Even during the foreign secretary's recent visit, this was conveyed to the Chinese. The visit did not see any discussion on the South China Sea, though.

As Swaraj pointed out, China was not the only NSG member country that has issues with India's entry into the group. Out of 23 countries she reached out, one or two countries had reservations about India's bid, but she hoped those would be resolved.

Questions have been raised on why India was so aggressively pursuing membership of the elite group when it already has an exclusive waiver, post the nuclear deal with States. The waiver put it at par with the NSG members and there is a view that India is wasting too much diplomatic capital in pursuing the membership.

Swaraj, however, said: "There is a difference between sitting outside a room and sitting inside. You have a role in decision making once you are inside."

Minister Swaraj said investors in nuclear energy expect a predictable atmosphere. For that membership of the NSG was important.

India aims to fulfill 40% of its energy needs from non-fossil fuels. A third of it is expected to come from nuclear energy, according to Swaraj.

In line with the recent Indo-US joint statement, Swaraj also reiterated that India will not oppose any country's entry into the NSG, a reference to Pakistan, which is also vying for a place in the elite group despite its bad proliferation record.

"Since India is not a member of the NSG, the question of it opposing Pakistan's entry does not arise," she said. She, however, pointed out that such bids need to be decided on merit.

Ties with Pak

There is a view that India has been too lenient with Pakistan despite several attacks, including the one at the Pathankot airbase, whose origin have been traced to the neighbor.

But according to Swaraj, India's Pakistan policy hinges on three broad points, and needs to be viewed from that standpoint:

"First, we want to solve every issue thorough talks. Second, talks will be between India and Pakistan and no third country or party will be its part. Third, terror and talks will not go hand-in-hand," Swaraj said.

She harked back about how the foreign secretary-level talks were announced just a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took his oath of office.

India, though, cancelled the talks when the Pakistani High Commissioner invited members of the Kashmir-based Hurriyat conference days before the talks.

According to Swaraj, however, the talks were not cancelled. She pointed out how the foreign secretaries of the two countries met at the sidelines of the recent Heart of Asia meeting in Delhi.

At the same time, she said, "After Pathankot attack, there were expectations from government and people that there should be some concrete steps from their side. This expectation is not unreasonable. So we are waiting for concrete steps from their side."

Swaraj clarified that Pakistan has not refused to allow a team of the National Investigation Agency to visit the country to carry forward the probe into the Pathankot terror probe and that it has just sought some extra time to examine the evidence.

In early April, after the visit of Pakistan's joint investigation team, which even visited the Pathankot base, Swaraj's ministry said the visit was reciprocal.

However, minutes after ministry spokesperson's statement, the Pakistani High Commissioner said something completely different: "At this stage... the whole question is not about reciprocity in my view. It is about extending co-operation, or our two countries co-operating with each other to get to the bottom of the incident."

He had also come out in full support of China blocking India's attempt at the United Nation's Security Council for action on Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar. Which again showed that China may have acted on Pakistan's insistence.

Diplomats who have dealt with Pakistan have criticised Modi's Pakistan policy, saying the Indian government was not in tune with realities in Pakistan where Rawalpindi (the general headquarters of the Pak Army) was largely calling the shots. And that it was based on false assumptions and unilateral concessions.

Swaraj, meanwhile, accepted that some powers did not want good relations between the two countries, but reiterated that India stood for solving all issues through talks. And that at the same time, it was alert and careful.

She pointed out how there was ease and warmth in the relations between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif by giving examples of how Modi stopped by at Lahore to meet Sharif on his way back from Kabul; and how Sharif called him a night before his heart surgery. She also said the statements of the defence and the Home Minister show India was alert and careful.

Swaraj also pointed out how there was a sea change in Pakistan's attitude towards India: "Earlier, it would always be in a denial mode. However, after the Pathankot attack, PM Sharif called PM Modi saying that India should furnish evidence and that Pakistan will take action."

Bangladesh and the attacks on Hindus there

There has been a spate of attacks targeting atheist bloggers and members of the minority communities, including the Buddhists and the Hindus in Bangladesh.

The investigating agencies in the neighbouring country believe them to be the work of Islamist radicals belonging to organisations like the ISIS, the Jamiat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Hizbut Tahreer.

Recently, the almost century-old Ramkrishna Ashram in Dhaka received a threat. The violence has magnified ever since the Bangladeshi government started the war crimes tribunal. While Pakistan has denounced the punishment to leaders of Jamaat e Islami, who were involved in perpetrating crimes in the during the liberation war, India has been supportive of the Bangladeshi government.

The External Affairs Minister said while the attacks on Hindus were worrying, the Bangladeshi government was leaving no stone unturned in ensuring the perpetrators are brought to justice.

"They have arrested more than 3,000 suspects," Swaraj pointed out. She also commended the way the clergy came out with a Fatwa denouncing attacks on minorities. "The fact that fatwa has been signed by more than one lakh clerics, shows that both the government and the public are against attacks on minorities," she said.

On the pending Teesta agreement, she explained that the issue also involves the West Bengal government beside the governments in Dhaka and New Delhi. And that the dialogue will resume since West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee is not busy in the elections anymore.

"She has made it clear that she wants good relations with Bangladesh. She invited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the swearing-in ceremony," Swaraj said.

Indian hostages in Iraq, Afghanistan

The Indian government has faced a lot of criticism on the issue of 39 Indian labourers taken hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Mosul, Iraq. Harjeet Maseeh, who returned from there claimed all 39 people had been killed by ISIS, while the government has claimed it has been getting information that they are alive.

"I have no evidence that they are dead," Swaraj said while adding that how two heads of states have informed the Indian government that the hostages were alive. "It will be injustice to say that they are dead," Swaraj said.

Maseeh's stories have been countered by families of other hostages who have said that they got calls even after the date Harjeet claimed that they were killed, she said.

She also pointed out that efforts were on resolve the crisis involving the abduction of Judith D'souza, an Indian aid worker in Kabul.

"I will not abandon any Indian national," the External Affairs Minister said.


Swaraj said she hoped for an early adoption of the long-pending Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

She said so many countries including those in the Gulf region, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, who were not earlier ready, have recognised the need for having a uniform approach to dealing with terrorists.

She also mentioned that at the Russia, India, China (RIC) meeting she had said how there should be no distinction between good and bad terrorists. China has recently blocked India's bid for putting Masood Azhar on the UN list of proscribed terrorists.

Other highlights:

India has been facing difficulties in dealing with the KP Oli-led government in Nepal. The Minister, however, claimed that there was a little misunderstanding has been resolved with Oli's visit to New Delhi.

India stands for a political solution to the crisis in Syria. There should be negotiations to resolve the crisis instead of a military solution.

The International Yoga Day will be celebrated in 191 UN member countries this year except for Yemen and Libya. The External Affairs Minister was planning to visit Poland this year on Yoga Day, but she cancelled the visit due to health reasons.

India is yet to send official extradition requests to the UK in the cases of Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 19 June 2016, 11:42 IST