By Rajeev Sharma
Baburam Bhattarai commenced his four-day India visit on October 20, his maiden bilateral visit abroad and his first official visit to India after taking charge as the Prime Minister of Nepal. During this visit, Bhattarai held delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and also met a host of Indian leaders, including President Pratibha Patil, and interacted with representatives of Indian business community, civil society and intellectuals. Bhattarai had met Manmohan Singh on the margins of the 66th UN General Assembly in New York on September 24. Bhattarai briefed his Indian interlocutors on the current political situation in his country. It has been over 45 days since Bhattarai was elected the Prime Minister and he had pledged to complete the peace process within 45 days. The situation in Nepal today is that the peace process is stuck where it was before. Bhattarai is in a piquant situation as he is facing challenges to his leadership from his own party, which has made it difficult for him to fulfill his pledges. Bhattarai’s another notable lack of success is that he has backtracked on his statement of bringing to fruition the peace process as he has been unable to get the major political parties to agree on a consensus. A stable and peaceful Nepal is of vital interest and importance to New Delhi as India shares a 1751-km-long porous border with this country. It is against this backdrop that peace process in Nepal is important for India. A major point of concern for the Bhattarai government is that just about another 40 days remain for the Constituent Assembly’s extended tenure to end and the political logjam still continues.
IBSA continues to be relevant
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attended the 5th India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Summit in Pretoria on October 18 which took place at a time when all the three member countries India, Brazil South Africa are non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. The focus of this summit was global economy, security and UN reforms. A trilateral India-Brazil-South Africa MoU for cooperation among the diplomatic academies of the three countries was signed in the presence of the leaders of the three countries.
The IBSA synergy came to the fore a couple of months ago when an IBSA delegation went to Syria and again earlier this month when all three countries abstained in the vote on the Syria Resolution in the United Nations Security Council. IBSA is a unique forum which brings together three large democracies from three different continents, which are Asia, Africa and the Americas, facing common aspirations and challenges. India, Brazil and South Africa are pluralistic societies and developing nations. The three countries occupy an important position in their respective regions as also globally. They are all members of the G20, BRICS and BASIC group of countries. Cooperation in IBSA is perceived on three broad fronts. These include: (1) as a forum for consultation and coordination on significant political issues; (2) it is seen as an instrument for trilateral collaboration on concrete areas and projects through sixteen Working Groups and six People-to-People Forum; and (3) IBSA is involved in assisting other developing countries by developing projects in these countries through the IBSA Trust Fund. The Indian diplomatic establishment is confident that IBSA is still relevant even though BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) has been expanded to BRICS (the ‘S’ in the acronym standing for ‘South Africa’). In fact, the relevance of IBSA was evidently felt by the visit of the IBSA countries to Syria and by the coordination of the positions during the Syria vote wherein IBSA countries had abstained. Moreover, all the three countries have a harmonised position on a series of issues.
India, Myanmar come closer
India and Myanmar are coming closer. Nothing unusual now a times. What is unusual is the rapidity with which this proximity is taking the shape of a strategic understanding — “strategic partnership” is still far away. The next phase of India-Myanmar bonhomie unraveled during the October 12-15 state visit of Myanmar’s President U Thein Sein, his third visit to India in seven years, the last time in November 2008 when he came calling to New Delhi as Prime Minister. Sein imparted a significant piece of diplomatic symbolism with this visit as it was his first visit to a foreign country since general elections in his country earlier this year. On October 14, Sein had comprehensive delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Hyderabad House in New Delhi. How “compressive” these talks were can be gauged by the fact that he visited India with as many as 13 cabinet ministers in tow. Two high points of Sein-Singh talks were that India announced a $ 500 million Line of Credit to Myanmar for specific projects, which is in addition to a $ 300 million Line of Credit already given by India; and Myanmar’s assurance that it would not allow its territory to be used against India in any manner, a prime national security concern for India. Besides, an additional Land Customs Station / border trade point will be opened on the India-Myanmar border to allow for the smooth flow of goods generated by the multi-modal Kaladan Project. The two sides decided to speed up the construction of India-aided $120 million Sittwe deep water port with a view to making it operational by June 2013.
The importance of Myanmar for India cannot be over-emphasised. Myanmar is the only Southeast Asian State with which India has a long land boundary running into 1600 kilometers.