A week of creative diplomacy

NEW DELHI: In a refreshing break from a war of wars inflicted by Pakistan that has dominated headlines, India is set to harness its diplomatic energies this week to bolster relations with Australia, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.

Thematically, India’s relations with each of the three countries follow different trajectories and focuses on a different set of issues and priorities. The back-to-back visits by foreign ministers of Australia, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka to India are, therefore, coincidental, but illustrate a new dynamic in New Delhi’s foreign policy. Economic diplomacy cuts through all the three interactions, but the menu of issues on the table will be varied.

Building on the successful visit of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia’s Foreign Minister Robert John Carr’s talks with his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid is set to energise the implementation of key outcomes of the prime ministerial visit. Gillard’s visit was a milestone of sorts, with Canberra shedding the old ambivalence and announcing its readiness to launch negotiations for a deal on supplying uranium to India. The economic ties are already on an upswing: trade in goods and services was estimated to be around $ A 21 billion in 2011-12. A closer convergence on a host of strategic issues, including maritime security, piracy and the evolving Asia-Pacific security architecture, is also shaping the growing India-Australia engagement.

India’s energy diplomacy will be in focus when Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov holds talks with Minister of State for External Affairs E.Ahamed in the Indian capital (Jan 22). He will meet Khurshid and Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas M. Veerappa Moily.

The gas-rich Central Asian state has emerged as an important pillar of India’s quest for energy security and its newly-launched ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy. Since the landmark visit of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in May 2010, cooperation in hydrocarbons has been progressing well. The TAPI gas pipeline, that will straddles Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, is now on fast track, and could prove to be a game-changer for the region.

With Sri Lanka, India is poised for some creative diplomacy and straight talk. Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris is no stranger to his Indian interlocutors and is likely to reassure New Delhi about a slew of steps taken by Colombo for the rehabilitation of the ethnic Tamils displaced by the war with the LTTE that ended nearly three years ago. Despite some differences in perception over the course of the political reconciliation in Sri Lanka, the two countries have shown maturity and foresight to concentrate on scaling up trade and investment that create win-win opportunities for the people of both sides. India has emerged as Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner, with bilateral trade in goods having surpassed US$5 billion in 2011-12. India has also emerged as the largest foreign direct investor in Sri Lanka.

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