New Delhi: In its annual report released Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) noted that the scope of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, US) is expanding, India’s relations with China remain “complex” despite some progress in border talks and that the onus is on Pakistan to restore “normal” bilateral relations.
In its Annual Report 2021-22, the MEA accused China of trying to change the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), ever since the Galwan Valley clash in 2020.
“India’s ties with China remained complex… even as the two sides made some progress in the resolution of the issues along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh,” the report stated.
“However, the continued unilateral attempts by China to change the status quo have impacted the bilateral relationship since then,” it added.
India and China have so far held 17 rounds of talks between senior military commanders, with the most recent one held on 20 December, 2022.
The MEA’s 352-page report indicated that complete disengagement from “all friction points” and full restoration of peace and tranquility along the LAC is yet to be achieved. It also expressed India’s “desire for normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan”, while expressing concern over its alleged sponsoring of cross-border terrorism and attempts to “vilify” New Delhi.
Moreover, the report said that enhancing economic cooperation with Russia is a priority for Indian foreign policy and that the “Neighbourhood First Policy” remained one of the main pillars of India’s diplomacy in 2022.
The “Neighbourhood First Policy” announced by the Modi government in 2014 aims to build cordial and synergetic relations with India’s South Asian neighbours in areas such as economy, science etc.
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The MEA’s annual report criticises Pakistan for alleged sponsoring of terrorism and “hostile” propaganda against India.
“Issues, if any, between India and Pakistan should be resolved bilaterally and peacefully, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. The onus is on Pakistan to create such a conducive environment,” noted the report.
However, Pakistan continues to “sponsor cross border terrorism against India” and restrict normal trade, connectivity, and people-to-people exchanges, it added.
The report further accused Pakistan of engaging in “hostile and fabricated propaganda to vilify India”, adding that there is a greater understanding among countries in the world that J&K is an integral part of India.
It adds that Islamabad is yet to show “sincerity” in delivering justice to the families of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
The report noted that India’s relations with China remained complex despite some disengagement achieved in areas like Pangong Tso, Gogra and Gogra-Hot Springs.
It reiterated the Indian government’s stance that restoration of normalcy in bilateral ties hinges on restoration of normalcy in the border areas.
“The continued unilateral attempts by China to change the status quo have impacted the bilateral relationship,” said the report, adding that there are still some “outstanding issues” that need to be resolved.
This comes days after a US intelligence assessment noted that the India-China border situation runs the risk of armed confrontation that may involve direct threats to the US and calls for its intervention.
On the Quad
According to the MEA report, engagement of the Quad acquired momentum in 2022, especially in the area of counter-terrorism, with the first working group meeting held last October.
This observation comes weeks after India hosted the Quad foreign ministers meeting, and as it prepares to attend the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Sydney, Australia, later this year.
The report noted that the scope of the Quad continues to expand into areas like climate change.
“Quad Climate Change Action and Mitigation Package was announced to strengthen efforts towards green shipping, clean energy including green hydrogen, and climate and disaster resilient infrastructure,” it noted.
The report made no explicit mention of military collaboration of the Quad members even as Australia prepares to host Exercise Malabar, a naval drill involving the four Quad nations.
Apart from its Quad members, the MEA report also noted that France has been increasingly engaged in wide areas of cooperation including maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region.
“While cooperation in the areas of defence and security, space and civil nuclear matters constitute the principal pillars of the India-France Strategic Partnership, both countries are increasingly engaged in wide areas of cooperation, including maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region…,” stated the report.
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On Ukraine & Russia
Following the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Delhi that noted the decline of multilateralism, the MEA report acknowledged that issues surrounding the Russia-Ukraine conflict dominated major multilateral forums, “including the UNSC, the UNGA, the UNHRC, UNESCO, ILO, IPU, ITU, IAEA”, while adding that India decisively abstained from UNGA resolutions.
On the topic of Russia, the report cited enhancing economic cooperation with Moscow as a “key priority” for the bilateral relationship, including increasing bilateral investment to $50 billion and bilateral trade to $30 billion by 2025.
This comes at a time when India-Russia bilateral trade has seen a boost amid New Delhi’s growing imports of Russian crude amid the Ukraine war.
Latest data indicates that India’s Russian oil imports climbed to a record 1.4 million barrels per day in January, up 9.2 per cent from last December.
The MEA report also made a note of the continued close cooperation with Russia in civil nuclear energy. However, it said that issues over a joint project in Tamil Nadu — Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant — need to be ironed out.
“India & Russia continued their close cooperation in the sphere of civil nuclear energy cooperation as part of the ongoing project at Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Construction work continued at Units 3 & 4 and 5 & 6 despite difficulties,” it said.
In 1988, then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had signed an agreement for the project. However, construction of various units of the project have been delayed for a variety of reasons over the years, such as maintenance issues, suspected malware attacks and, most recently, the Ukraine war.
“Both sides agreed to work in close contact to find an amicable solution to the difficulties,” the MEA report added.
On India’s efforts in Afghanistan
The MEA’s annual report described India as a “steadfast partner” in reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan despite serious security challenges.
However, it also noted that due to the current security situation — the Taliban takeover in August 2021 — the Indian government’s grant-in-aid projects in the war-torn country have been paused. “…Due to the current political and security situation, Grant in Aid projects in Afghanistan is on hold except support of scholarship programme for students presently enrolled in Indian University,” said the report.
This comes despite recent calls by the Taliban regime for India to resume several infrastructure projects in Afghanistan.
Last month, India’s Budget 2023 left development aid to Afghanistan unchanged at Rs 200 crore, but still lower than the Rs 350 allocated in 2021-22 (Budget estimates).
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)
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