Among the main challenges of the new External Affairs Minister will be to balance India’s relationships with the United States and Iran — a dilemma that will need debate, discussion and thought. There will be several other issues to manage, both in India’s neighbourhood and beyond.
Neighbourhood: The challenge with Pakistan will be to open a window of opportunity while maintaining the official position that talks and terror cannot go together. With Bangladesh, the goal will be to build on the successes of the past five years. The new Minister will also have to invest in the relationship with Nepal and the Maldives, and in BIMSTEC as a whole, which the Prime Minister has indicated as a priority.
China: There are a host of unresolved issues with Beijing, including the border dispute. The Ministry of External Affairs under its new leadership will have to coordinate with the Prime Minister’s Office and other government agencies to craft a coherent strategy towards managing the relationship. While the informal summits between the PM and the Chinese President will set the course, the Foreign Minister has to fill in the crucial gaps.
US & Russia: While the relationship with the US is robust, contentious issues include trade and H1B visas, besides Iran. Potential US sanctions will be a factor as India seeks to enhance its longstanding strategic partnership with Russia, especially in defence, nuclear energy and space.
Middle East: New Delhi has reached a solid footing in its relationship with the Gulf countries as well as Israel in the last few years. Eight million Indians live and work in the Middle East, and the region is key to India’s energy security. The new Minister will have the task of keeping India’s relationships insulated from rivalries of the region.
Multilateral Groupings: As India takes up a wider global leadership role in the G-20, SCO, BRICS, RIC, India-ASEAN, India-Africa Forum, a whole range of relationships will have to be pursued, with India’s core national interests on top at each of these groupings.