An action-packed January for Indian diplomacy

By Manish Chand, IANS,

New Delhi : The new year starts on a busy note for Indian diplomacy as New Delhi hosts leaders of four countries in January and imparts fresh momentum to India’s engagement with Africa.

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Vice-President Hamid Ansari kicks off the diplomatic calendar Jan 5 with a week-long visit to three African countries — Botswana, Zambia and Malawi. The visit has been long in the making and will bring to the fore India’s multi-faceted ties with Africa that focuses on triple Ts — trade, technology transfer and training.

Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made it clear that India is not in a race with anyone — a veiled reference to China’s over $100 billion trade with Africa — the trip signals India’s thrust to advance its footprint in the continent that has seen economic growth of over five percent despite the global recession.

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor plans to go to Mozambique for the inauguration ceremony of the new president Jan 14 and will represent India at the African Union summit in Ethiopia at the end of the month, official sources said.

The visit by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, expected around Jan 10, will signal a new spring in bilateral ties that had drifted during the previous dispensation in Dhaka that was dominated by anti-India hardliners.

In an important confidence-building measure between the countries that did not enjoy the best of ties lately, Bangladeshi authorities “pushed back” one of India’s most wanted fugitives, Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and his top aides through the India-Bangladesh border in the northeastern state of Meghalaya.

In December, home secretaries of the two countries finalised three crucial accords in the area of counter-terrorism and security cooperation which will be signed during the visit of Sheikh Hasina.

India’s relations with its northernneighbour will be in focus when External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna goes to Kathmandu in the first half of January amid reports of rising anti-India sentiments in Nepal.

He will also attend the 68-nation conference on Afghanistan Jan 28 in London where he is likely to remind the international community not to nurse premature exit plans and reiterate New Delhi’s resolve to continue with the reconstruction of the violence-torn country, the sources added.

Following on from the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at the end of December, New Delhi will play host to two important players in the East Asia region – South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, an honour reserved for leaders of those countries with which India has special ties.

Earlier in January, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak will visit India. Malaysia has a significant population of Indian origin and has growing trade and IT ties.

Iceland President �lafur Ragnar Grimsson will also be coming to India in January in a bid to scale economic ties with the growing Asian economy after a time when the country teetered on the verge of bankruptcy.

The pace will quicken in the coming months with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh planning to visit Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit and Krishna planning a trip to Beijing. German President Horst Koehler plans to visit India in February.