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Rediff.com  » News » Missing in President's speech: The Middle East

Missing in President's speech: The Middle East

June 10, 2014 02:19 IST

Pakistan and Israel will define the relationship between the Modi government and the Middle East. While the region is concerned that India-Pakistan relations may become prickly in the Modi regime, it is also worried that the BJP government will give greater weightage to its ties with Israel. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports.

While outlining the Narendra Modi government's proposed foreign policy initiatives, President Pranab Mukherjee's address to the joint session of Parliament on Monday, June 9, referred to the new dispensation's commitment to strengthen relations with a host of countries, including Japan, the United States of America and China.

The speech was silent on the Middle East and West Asia.

In 2009, when the United Progressive Alliance government returned to power for the second time, its roadmap on foreign affairs, articulated by then President Pratibha Patil in her speech, had a brief reference to this region.

'My government will continue to work with other developing nations. It will contribute to all efforts at peace in West Asia through the establishment of a viable Palestinian State at the earliest. The traditionally close ties with countries in the Gulf will be strengthened,' Patil had then told the joint session of Parliament.

While the UPA government's words did not translate into action -- West Asia remained low on its list of priorities -- it is not clear if the omission of this region in President Mukherjee's speech was deliberate or an oversight.

Millions of Indians live and work in the Middle East. India also depends on the region for almost 70 per cent of its energy imports. India's trade with the Middle East is estimated to be $110 billion, making it this country's largest trading partner.

Pakistan and Israel will define the relationship between the Modi government and the Middle East.

While the region is concerned that India-Pakistan relations may become prickly in the Modi regime, it is also worried that the Bharatiya Janata Party government will give greater weightage to its ties with Israel.

Since Pakistan wields considerable clout in the Muslim world, the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad will come under special scrutiny in this region.

Prime Minister Modi sent out an unmistakable signal to Pakistan about his government's intention to forge friendly ties with its neighbour when he invited heads of SAARC countries for his swearing-in ceremony on May 26.

This message was somewhat diluted on Monday when the President's speech did not specifically mention Pakistan. It only referred to the government's 'commitment and determination to work towards building a peaceful, stable and economically inter-linked neighbourhood' which, it said, is essential for the collective development and prosperity of the South Asian region.

While mentioning that the government will work together with South Asian leaders, the speech underlined the neighbourhood's shared prosperity 'can only be built on the foundation of stability in the region, which requires sensitivity to security concerns and an end to export of terrorism to neighbours.'

The reference to Pakistan was obvious, though not clearly spelt out.

The UPA government, in its 2009 Presidential speech, while resolving to work with its neighbours in sorting out all outstanding issues, President Patil had said, 'My government will seek to reshape our relationship with Pakistan,' but added a caveat that this will depend on Islamabad's sincerity to confront groups who launch terrorist attacks against India from its territory.

The Middle East's concern about Israel stems from the fact that Modi visited the country as Gujarat chief minister to seek investments. The BJP is also known to empathise with the Jewish battle to protect their homeland.

Image: Narendra Modi takes his oath as prime minister at Rashtrapati Bhavan on May 16. Photograph: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Anita Katyal in New Delhi