Indian foreign policy to be discussed at public durbar

By Syed Zarir Hussain


Support TwoCircles

Shillong : India's foreign policy will come closer to the people Saturday with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee scheduled to hold a public durbar here to discuss among other issues the country's 'Look East' policy – a vision expected to significantly impact the northeastern region.

The minister is arriving on a daylong visit to the Meghalaya capital to deliver a lecture titled "Geography as an Opportunity". He will also interact with civil society in matters of foreign policy, as part of a public diplomacy drive.

The representatives of civil society would include academics, business people, media and leading citizens from the region, who would get a chance to air their views and put forward suggestions for New Delhi to incorporate while framing strategic policies.

The focus of the daylong meet, organised by the Public Diplomacy division of the ministry of external affairs (MEA), would largely be on the Look East policy aimed at developing closer relations with the economic tigers of South-East Asia.

India's Look East policy, enunciated in the nineties by then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, had its genesis in the end of the Cold War following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Indian government made a shift in its foreign policy when it embarked on a programme of free market restructuring at home and sought new markets and economic partners abroad – primarily Southeast Asia – because of the geographical contiguity of the northeast with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

The re-opening of the historic World War II Stilwell Road to boost trade between the northeast and the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries could be another issue of economic and strategic significance likely to come up for discussion during the meet.

The 1,726 km Stilwell Road connects India's northeastern state of Assam to Kunming, the capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province, after cutting through Myanmar. It touches almost all the important Southeast Asian capitals.

"Talks are on at various levels between governments of the three countries to speed up re-opening the Stilwell Road. The external affairs minister would surely like to highlight the issue during the deliberations," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.

Named after American General Joseph Stilwell, who led its construction, Stilwell Road was a vital lifeline for the movement of Allied Forces during World War II as they battled to free China from Japanese occupation.

India, which is keen to extend its influence in neighbouring Myanmar to counter China's growing presence in the gas-rich nation, views the reopening of the road as a key to economic development in its landlocked northeast.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said his government is keen to further the country's Look East policy aimed at allowing border trade with neighbouring Asian nations.

"Our region would then have the potential to become the hub of business activities and the gateway to East Asian economic centres," Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told IANS over the phone.

Last year, India and China put frosty ties behind them to revive direct trade through the fabled Silk Road route along Nathu La Pass in Sikkim. Trade between the Asian giants, both among the world's fastest growing economies, has expanded quickly in recent years.