India's Ambassador to the United States Ronen Sen has said that 'a proactive and vigorous pursuit of foreign policy' is 'not a matter of choice for India, but an inescapable necessity for securing India's political, security and economic interests.'
Delivering the keynote at a conference on The Future of India's Foreign Policy, organized by the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's Centre for the Advanced Study of India, Sen said this was particularly imperative in the context of today's world that is 'shaped by globalization, inter-dependence, inter-connectedness and rapid changes.
'The rapid improvement in global connectivity has opened new possibilities to reach out to the world,' he said. 'We recognize that this process must begin in our neighbourhood. A peaceful, stable and prosperous periphery is indispensable for us.'
The envoy spoke of how India was in recent times breaking through the insularity of the past, and seeking security and shared prosperity through increased connectivity in the Indian subcontinent.
'We seek to create regional stakes in our economic growth, and to cooperate, whenever asked, in dealing with political transitions and economic development. India will obviously gain from the spread of democracy. We will continue to encourage, but not seek to engineer or impose transitions to democracy in our region or elsewhere.'
Describing the current geopolitical environment, Sen said that in India's immediate neighbourhood, various nations were in varying degrees of political transitions. 'The process of these transitions will inevitably have a direct impact on us, in terms of our economy, security and socio-political stability.
'We are encouraged by the successful conduct of democratic elections in Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal and hope for the consolidation and strengthening of democratic institutions in these countries.'
Referring to Afghanistan, Sen noted that among Indian-aided projects in that country is the construction of the new National Assembly in Kabul.
In the case of China, Sen said, 'We accept and deal with certain complexities in the relationship. We also face some common challenges. We recognize and seek to increasingly benefit from the opportunities for constructive cooperation.'
He pointed out that China is poised to replace the US as India's largest trading partner.
Moving out of the immediate neighbourhood, Sen detailed India's efforts to rebuild its relations and role in West Asia; engagement with Central Asia would be a growing priority for New Delhi in the coming years, he said, as would expanding the frontiers of economic and political engagement with South-east and East Asia.
While on this aspect, Sen noted that India's economic ties with Japan had expanded into a strategic relationship.
Sen detailed the changing relations with African countries, as manifest in the recent India-Africa Summit in New Delhi, and with Latin America, as symbolized by President Pratibha Patil's recent official trip to the region.
The envoy pointed out that a measure of India's engagement with major powers could be seen in the fact that in just one month, January 2008, India had summit meetings with China, France and the United Kingdom, and more recently a summit with 'our traditional friend, Russia.'
Sen pointed out that by virtue of his having held diplomatic assignments in Moscow in the 1960s thru the 1980s, 'and as a long-serving Ambassador to Russia in the 90s, I can testify to the great importance of our traditional friendship with that country. As India's envoy to Germany and the United Kingdom, I am aware of the major significance of our summit level dialogue with the European Union.'
None of this, Sen said, was to dilute the importance of the US in India's foreign policy. 'During the last three-and-a-half years of my current assignment, I am glad to witness the irrevocable transformation of our relations with the United States.
'In addition to the rapid growth of two-way trade and investment, cooperation in education and science and technology, the governments in both countries have invested significant political capital in building a strategic partnership based on shared values and common concerns. India-US relations encompass the most wide-ranging engagement that India has with any country today.'
Side-stepping the stalled status of the US-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, Sen argued that for too long India, 'a proponent and adherent of nuclear non-proliferation, itself was treated as a target of international instruments to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, notwithstanding the fact that India's system of controls over nuclear material, equipment and technology were perhaps the most effective in the world.
'We are now engaged in a major endeavour, primarily in cooperation with the United States, on correcting this historical anomaly,' he said.
Sen avoided direct reference to the political opposition to the nuclear deal in India, but in his close, said 'Whether the traditional national consensus in India on our foreign policy will evolve and hold, or elude us for some time, will depend on the degree to which the challenges and opportunities of the changed realities are recognized across the political spectrum in our country.
'Such a consensus will emerge when perceptions and realities intersect in our collective consciousness, as it is bound to happen sooner or later.'
The envoy prefaced his keynote with tributes to erstwhile US envoy to India and former president of Princeton University Robert Goheen, who passed away March 31.
Sen said Goheen, President Emeritus of Princeton University and the Chairman Emeritus of CASI's International Advisory Board, had "returned to India, the land of his birth and childhood, to serve as the Ambassador to the United States from 1977 to 1980.
'This was a challenging period in our bilateral relations, as was evident from my own experience at the time at the Department of Atomic Energy. Ambassador Goheen's abiding love for India was matched by a strong conviction in India's relevance to the future of the world.'
Barring Sen's keynote, the rest of the conference was off -record and closed to the media because, organizers said, the papers being presented by various participants were first drafts, that would be 'revised after discussions and interactions at the conference' before being finalized. These submissions will then be compiled as a conference report, organizers said.