Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla said more than a dozen bilateral visits at the level of Heads of State and Government have been exchanged separately with Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka each since 2014.
New Delhi: India's much talked about 'The Neighbourhood First Policy' at the instance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi accords "highest priority" to relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, says Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla. However, he said, "It is these countries – with the exception of Pakistan – that we work most closely with."
The Foreign Secretary was speaking at the Inaugural Session of the Training Module on India's Neighbourhood at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration.
"Countries in our neighbourhood are of special significance to us. Our ties with these countries are underpinned by a shared history and culture," he said.
He maintained that the policy initiatives taken by India – and its neighbours–have implications for each other.
"Ties with the neighbouring countries have direct relevance to our States bordering these countries. India also realizes its prosperity and growth are linked to that of its neighbours. We cannot develop unless our neighbours develop," he asserted.
It was in this spirit, he said, the Cabinet Secretary wrote to all Government Ministries and departments asking them to accord priority
to India's neighbours in their international activities, programmes and projects. "Mechanisms have been created to enable greater inter-ministerial coordination and enhanced focus on Neighbourhood First," he said.
He said India's foreign and security policies operate at several levels and dimensions, adding, "We have separate bilateral relationships
with each of our neighbours. We also interact with them on pluriliteral constructs. We work with them within multilateral frameworks." Shringla asserted New Delhi maintains "excellent political relations" with neighbours.
"You might recall that South Asian leaders were invited when the present government was sworn in for the first time in 2014. Leaders of
BIMSTEC countries, that include several of our neighbours on the Bay of Bengal littoral, were invited when the government was sworn in for the second time in 2019," said Shringla.
He further stated that more than a dozen bilateral visits at the level of Heads of State and Government have been exchanged separately with Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka each since 2014.
"The only country that our President, Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister have all visited since the pandemic struck has been
Bangladesh," he pointed out.
Shringla, who also served as India's envoy in Dhaka, said the visits by Indian leaders to Bangladesh was aimed "to cement a very special relationship" on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh and the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations.
The first foreign visit by the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka after they assumed office was to India, he said.
"This intensity of political interaction is indicative of good and constructive bilateral relationships. They take place in a context in
which many persistent problems have slowly and patiently been dealt with in a mutually acceptable manner," he said.