“Neither of us wants to blow this out of proportion,” the External Affairs Minister of India, Subramaniam Jaishankar said about the India-Maldives row in an exclusive an in-depth conversation with a senior journalist from an Indian media agency. The minister said that a team from Maldives visited India for two days adding “We have an understanding.”
In a free-wheeling interaction about his new book, Why Bharat Matters, Jaishankar spoke about various foreign policy issues and where India stands on the international stage. The minister addressed key concerns reading Maldives, China, Pakistan and the possible return of Donald Trump as a US president.
Speaking about the diplomatic tussle with the island nation of Maldives, the MEA Chief said, “I think that over a period of time there should not be an issue between us. I think the rest of the relationship is strong, we have many other things happening and I hope that the focus shifts there rather than drag on unnecessary on this particular issue,” he said. The Minister said that India is assessing whether we can have non-military personnel to fly medical evacuation aircraft. Maldives has asked India to evacuate its military personnel from the island nation.
Have deterred China
On diplomatic relations with China, the minister said that there are serious problems and that China is presenting a different posture on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), he has stood up to it. “I would say I have risen to challenge in a military sense. The fact that we have been able to deploy so many troops around the year in very hard conditions with a posture which deters Chinese response in many ways itself is an achievement.
He added that while criticising previous strategies that in the last decade, there has been a change in the border infrastructure. “In 2020, when the Chinese made a move on the LAC, we were in the middle of a Covid Lockdown. I think people fully do not appreciate that for us to move tens or thousands of troops with the rapidity to those cold mountains with the COVID lockdown was a phenomenal logistical operation.
Jaishankar said that to rise to the Chinese challenge, India must manufacture and develop technologies and build infrastructure and adding that these were neglected even in the area of reform.
Relations with Pakistan
Turning to another neighbour, the minister said that PM Narendra Modi wanted good relations with Pakistan from the moment he was sworn in. In the decade since, however, “the terror industry or infrastructure has not let up on India in a significant way. According to the Minster, the bottom line for India and Pakistan is the issue of terrorism.
“There is not getting away from it,” said the MEA Chief. “It is a problem that has dogged us for so long is we have not acknowledged its centrality in the past. What has happened since 2014 is that we say you cannot carry on with cross border terrorism, and say I would like good relations in all other spheres.
On prospects of peace between India and Pakistan, if Nawaz Sharif wins the Pakistan election, Jaishankar said “Unless there is fundamental reset in the thinking of cross-border terrorism there can’t be much change just because the cast of characters has changed. The issue of terrorism has to be addressed.
Independent Position on Trump
Moving further west, towards the United States of America, the MEA chief addressed concerns of Trump returning to power. He said “Obviously it matters who is the leader of the most powerful and important country in the world,” adding that “the Concerns are largely on the part of allies. Since we don’t fall in the category, we have always had an independent position, we won’t be in a position similar to those which many others have.”
The minister further said, “We have had very different presidents in the last two and a half decades: Bill Clinton, George Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden. We have been quite adept at responding to changes in America at forging new relationships, at building relationships. So, I would say have confidence that both structural and diplomatic aspects should leave us in a good position,”