Distinguished Lectures Distinguished Lectures

India's Neighbouring Countries: Addressing trust deficit and building bridges

  • Distinguished Lectures Detail

    By: Amb (Retd) Achal Kumar Malhotra
    Venue: Central University of Punjab, Bhatinda
    Date: March 18, 2016

Honourable Vice Chancellor,
Distinguished Faculty Members,
Dear Students
Ladies and Gentlemen

I consider it as my privilege to be given the opportunity to interact with you this morning on a subject which is close to my heart and which I have pursued as a practicing diplomat.

For several years, India’s Foreign policy has arguably remained the least debated or discussed subject in India. Trends are changing. Your University’s decision to host a Lecture on India’s relations with neighbourhood is in tune with the gradually growing interest in India’s foreign relations and their impact on and relevance to India’s domestic development.

The topic assigned to me is: India and Neighbouring Countries: Addressing Trust Deficit and Building Bridges. I propose to focus on SAAARC countries and if time permits we will touch upon China and Myanmar, may be during the Q&A Session.

If I were to identify one constant factor in India’s relations with its neighbouring countries, I would describe it as: "some degree of trust deficit”. The reasons are varied but not too difficult to identify. Let me quickly refer to some of them:

  • An interesting feature of India’s geographical location is that it shares land or maritime borders with all SAARC countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). With the exception of Pakistan and Afghanistan (which share borders with India as well with each other), no other SAARC country has common boundaries with any other SAARC country except India. In addition India shares long borders with China and Myanmar. The geographical contiguity has historically led to territorial disputes, illegal migration, human and drugs trafficking, cross-border terrorism and support for insurgencies from across the borders;
  • Ever since its emergence as an independent nation in 1947, India has adhered to Democracy as political form of governance; elections at regional and national levels have been held at regular intervals and have been, by and large, transparent leading to peaceful transfers of power. Political unrest and armed insurgencies in India have usually remained confined to selected pockets thus having no or minimal impact on the overall growth graph of India. In contrast, the countries in the neighbourhood have suffered from the ill impacts of political and economic instability; there have been civil wars, military coups and Army rules, Maoist insurgency, abolition of Monarchy etc;
  • In terms of size and population, India is the largest amongst its South Asian neighbours, and appears to dwarf the rest of South Asia; for at least past two decades, India has witnessed a sustained economic growth, displaying resilience even in the wake of the severe global financial crisis in 2008. India has gained considerable weight on international arena; its voice makes difference and is heard during deliberations on issues of global dimensions. India’s impeccable record in the sphere of non-proliferation has earned it the reputation of a responsible nuclear power;
  • At times the domestic regional political interests tend to influence India’s foreign policy; specific examples in the recent past include the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka, and West Bengal’s concerns over certain aspects of relations with Bangladesh, and more recently UP and Bihar on this side and Nepal on the other side of borders.

The peculiar geography and asymmetry in power and size, combined with domestic factors within India have unfortunately and for no good reasons worked to the disadvantage of India in South Asia.

The cumulative effect of the post colonial historical developments in the region has thus been such that a certain degree of unjustified mistrust for India in the mindset of its neighbours continues to persist. India on its part has got used to the accusations of behaving like "big brother” and "big bully”. In fact in some countries being anti-India is treated as being patriot.

Successive Governments in India have made attempts to address the impediment of trust deficit in the development of bilateral relations in their own way. Generous development assistance, grants-in-aid, concessional credit lines, capacity building through svcholarships and training programmes: these are some of the foreign policy tools India has employed on on-going basis to generate good will for India in its neighbourhood.

I intend to focus on the efforts made in this direction by the NDA Government since it came to power in May 2014.The very first signals from the NDA Government were that ‘Neighbourhood First’ figures high on the list of Government’s foreign policy priorities. The first initiative to reach out to neighbours was taken even before Mr Modi formally took over as Prime Minister. An invitation was sent out to all Heads of State and Government of SAARC Members to attend the swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi on 26th May 2014. The invitation, aptly described as a masterstroke as well as a bold step, sent a loud and clear message that the new political dispensation in India attached great importance to its relations with its neighbours in South Asia and it firmly believed in the usefulness of the integration of the region. The presence at the ceremony of all Heads of State and Government from the region confirmed the desire on their part to reciprocate India’s gesture. The occasion provided an excellent opportunity to establish initial contacts; these were followed up through exchange of visits or meetings on the side lines of regional and international conferences. During the first year of his tenure itself, PM Modi visited as many as four (Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) out of seven Member States of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and China. By now, with the exception of Maldives (on account of political instability in that country) PM Modi has visited all SAARC countries, including his surprise halt in Lahore to meet Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif on 25th December last year.

Let us now move on to look at how our relations are shaping with some key countries in the neighbourhood and assess in the process the dividends of "Neighbourhood First” policy:

Afghanistan

For past several years, Afghanistan has been going through difficult times. The current situation in Afghanistan remains a source of serious concern for India as it impinges upon its security interests. India therefore has serious stakes in the stability and friendship of Afghanistan. India can ill-afford the return of Taliban or the emergence of a regime in Afghanistan which is a proxy of Pakistan and dominated by fundamentalists.

Much to the displeasure of Pakistan, India signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan (4th October,2011 ); this is the first strategic partnership India has entered into with any country in South Asia. India has also committed over $ 2 billion assistance to Afghanistan for the development of its infrastructure, strengthening of the institutions of democracy, capacity building including training of Afghan armed forces as part of its contribution towards stabilization of Afghanistan, which remains high on the priority list of India. While India does not find itself in a position to meet all Afghan requests for defence equipment, it has supplied three multi-role Helicopters MI-35 which the Afghans have put to effective use in combating terrorists. Independent Surveys have shown that goodwill amongst the people of Afghanistan for India is enormous and indisputable.

Against this backdrop, it was intriguing that the new President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who assumed charge in September 2014 after a somewhat difficult political transition, gave enough reasons to create an impression that India figured relatively low in the list of his foreign policy priorities. His visit to India (April 28-29, 2015) came several months after assumption of charge; in between he visited two other countries in the region namely China and Pakistan, besides UK and Saudi Arabia. Eye brows were raised and questions asked in India as to whether this reflected a policy shift in Afghanistan in favour of Pakistan at the cost of India. If so what was the root cause for diminishing trust in India?

India was wise enough not to make any hue and cry, and instead allowed Afghan President enough time to realise that Pakistan could not be relied upon in bringing reconciliation with Taliban.

When asked by an Indian T.V. Channel (NDTV), during his visit to New Delhi in April 2015 , whether the timeline of his foreign visits was a reflection of his priorities, the Afghanistan President interestingly used a popular Dari proverb, "Der ayad, durust ayad (Better late than never)." As if to allay fears in this regard, an implied reference was incorporated in the Joint Statement of 28th April,2015 which stated inter alia that ‘peace, prosperity and security in the region was indivisible, and their mutually respectful relations are not at expense of other nations or group of nations.’ In the same Statement the Afghan President " reiterated Afghanistan's perspective on the foundational nature of Afghanistan's ties with India, and the fact that India figured in four of the five 'circles' of Afghanistan's foreign policy priorities.”

Currently, India-Afghan relations, after a very brief hiatus, are back on track. PM Modi visited Kabul in December last year when he inaugurated the new Afghanistan Parliament building built with India’s assistance and also addressed the Parliamentarians of Afghanistan. PM Modi reiterated " India’s commitment to extend all possible support to the efforts of the Afghan people in building a peaceful, stable, prosperous, inclusive and democratic country. According to a recent ( Feb.1, 2016) statement by Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan in New Delhi, PM Modi’s visit has "reenergised the strategic partnership between the two countries”

Bhutan

Our relations with the Himalayan kingdom Bhutan have been nurtured carefully and can be described as exemplary. PM Modi’s first oversees visit as Prime Minster was to Bhutan (15-16 June, 2014); this speaks for itself. The idea was to reiterate the importance which India attaches to Bhutan as a trusted and reliable friend. The emphasis during the visit was expectedly on development cooperation and economic ties. Bhutan greatly appreciates the assistance it has received from India in the implementation of its Five Year Plans since the first Plan was launched in 1961. India’s cooperation with Bhutan in hydro power sector is a win-win situation for both the countries, and serves as a model for other countries, particularly Nepal, to emulate. India has extended assistance in setting up power plants in Bhutan to exploit its enormous hydro potential; While India is buying power to meet its ever increasing energy needs, Bhutan is earning substantial revenue. In the past Bhutan flushed out anti-Indian insurgents from its territory in 2003 and India has its assurances that Bhutan will not allow its territories to be used for any activities which are inimical to national interests of India. The challenge to India- Bhutan relations is in being able to sustain the trust and goodwill for each other.

Bangladesh

Relations with Bangladesh have seen phases of ups and down, despite widespread acknowledgement of and appreciation for the role India played during the Bangladesh War of Liberation in 1971. From time to time, the irritants in our relations with Bangladesh have arisen out of the anti-India activities by the Indian insurgents from the Bangladesh soil, illegal migration from Bangladesh to India, causing social tensions in North East, smuggling across the unsettled borders, river water sharing etc. Whereas the Awami League Party led by Sheikh Hasina is considered soft towards India, the political forces represented by Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led by Begum Khalida Zia, and Bangladesh Jamaat-E-Islami are known to have taken a hard line towards India . In recent years, Bangladesh was ruled either by BNP or Awami League Government which in turn influenced the progress or stagnation in relations. In order to sustain its pro-India slant the Sheikh Hasina’s Government needs to demonstrate to its domestic constituency that India also cares for Bangladesh. During the past few years, Sheikh Hasina’s Government has adequately addressed India’s security related concerns. The extradition to India of ULFA General Secretary Anoop Chetia, seeking political asylum in Bangladesh in November last year, is one such example. Earlier Bangladesh had handed over ULFA Chief Arbinda Rajkhowa to India.

Somehow, an erroneous perception had prevails in Bangladesh that Bangladesh has not been compensated adequately in return, while Bangladesh has gone an extra mile to accommodate India’s interests.

PM Modi’s visit to Bangladesh ( June6-7, 2016) played an important role in straightening the wrinkles . The spotlight during the visit was justifiably on the Land Boundary Agreement, which was signed as early as 1974 but the successive Governments in India could not push its ratification in Parliament for a variety of reasons, including the reservations from the State Governments, particularly West Bengal and Assam. The manner in which PM Modi mobilised the opinion at Centre and in States( West Bengal and Assam in particular) facilitating unanimous passage of the 100th Constitution Amendment Bill paving the way for the ratification of the Agreement of 1974 and its Protocol of 2011 in the two Houses of Parliament is commendable. The LBA not only settles the 4096km of boundary between the two countries and gives a new identity to over 50000 persons, living in Indian /Bangladesh Enclaves , it has several other positive fall outs as well, the most important being the effective border management to check activities of insurgents, human trafficking, illegal migration, smuggling etc.

A truly important outcome of the visit is the agreement on the part of Bangladesh to provide transit through its territory for trade and travel; this would provide significantly improved connectivity between the North East and other parts of India, hitherto dependent on narrow and vulnerable Silliguri Corridor, popularly known as ‘Chicken neck’. Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati and Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala Bus Services are the beginning of a new chapter in the area of land connectivity within the region. Similarly the Coastal Shipping Agreement will cut short significantly the shipping time for cargo movement, with all entailing benefits. Equally important is the MoU on the use of Chittagong and Mongla ports of Bangladesh by India.

The Special Indian Economic Zones in Bangladesh should encourage Indian investments in Bangladesh, addressing in turn the Bangladesh’s concern over trade deficit, besides employment generation. The second Line of Credit worth $2bn will help Bangladesh in undertaking various development projects, particularly in the area of public transport, roads, railways, inland waterways, ports, ICT, education, health etc., while also contributing to export of goods, projects and services from India.Relations between India and Bangladesh have now arguably entered into a qualitatively new phase. The stability in relations stands confirmed. Also PM’s visit has set a loaded agenda for future bilateral as well as sub-regional cooperation in important areas such as sharing of water resources, power sector, (including civil nuclear energy), space, trade and investments including removal of remaining barriers in bilateral trade and operationalization of Special Economic Zones for India in Bangladesh, seamless multimodal connectivity and effective border management and so on. Above all, the visit has generated a good degree of confidence in Bangladesh in India’s ability to deliver.

Maldives is a tiny island country but of significant importance to India in the context of maritime security and blue/ocean economy due to its strategic location.

India has skill fully managed its relations with Maldives over several decades as it evolved from autocratic rule to troubled democracy. India enjoyed proximity with Maldives during the autocratic rule of President Gayoom from 1978 to 2008. In fact India intervened militarily in 1988 to foil a coup attempt against President Gayoom. India message for the first democratically elected President Nashhed in 2008 was guided by Real Politik; it was: "a prosperous, democratic and peaceful Maldives is in our mutual interests’’. The political crisis in Maldives in 2012-13 also adversely impacted upon the relations between the two countries. President Nasheed had to resign under pressure. In November 2013 elections Nasheed was defeated by Abdullah Yameen. President Nasheed’s departure was followed by a brief period when the relations touched very low. The Maldivian Government terminated the Indian company GMR contract of the Male airport on allegations of irregularity in awarding the project. The former President Nasheed had to take shelter in the Indian embassy in 2013 due to violent protests on the streets of Male. In January 2014, President Yameen’s visit to India was a clear indication of Maldives intention to repair its damaged relations with India. He profusely praised India for the assistance in times of difficulty for Maldives and sought India’s continued assistance in building its economy. India has reciprocated adequately, realising Maldives importance not only in the context of South Asia’s integration but also in the overall context of maritime security and cooperation amongst ocean economies.

Nepal

Relations with Nepal are unique. India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal. Under the provisions of this Treaty, the Nepalese citizens have enjoyed unparalleled advantages in India, availing facilities and opportunities at par with the Indian citizens. The Treaty has allowed Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a land–locked country. Nevertheless a certain degree of stagnation in relations with Nepal had set in during the past years. Nationalist elements in Nepal off and on demand the revision of Treaty of 1950. Vested interests in Nepal have managed to block India- Nepal hydro-power cooperation on the India-Bhutan model, as a result of which Nepal remains net importer of electricity despite enormous hydro-power resources and the bordering States in India continue to bear the brunt of floods in Nepal. At the same time there are complaints in Nepal of inordinate delays in the implementation of projects promised by India. Moreover, for over a decade now, Nepal has remained engaged in a difficult phase of political transition; it has witnessed the abolition of Monarchy, rise and decline of Maoist insurgency, the return of Maoists to mainstream, birth of democracy, and more recently the popular agitation by the Madhesi community against the newly adopted Constitution for the country.

The visit of Prime Minister Modi to Nepal in August 2014 was historic in more than one sense. It was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in seventeen years. PM undertook this visit within less than three months of assuming charge. The visit was preceded by the meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission, headed for the first time in twenty three years by the Foreign Ministers of two countries. PM Modi was the only foreigner extended the privilege of addressing Nepal’s Constituent Assembly and Legislature Parliament.

In response to the sensitivities of the Nepalese, it was agreed to "review, adjust and update the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950” so that "the revised Treaty should better reflect the current realities and aim to further consolidate and expand the multifaceted and deep rooted relationships in a forward looking manner.” (Joint Press Statement on Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal dt.4th August 2014). Addressing the trust deficit in Nepal, PM also assured the Nepalese that India had no intention to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs, and would like to cooperate with Nepal in bilateral and sub-regional formats. A $1 bn. soft line of credit for infrastructure development projects of Nepal’s priority was announced. The importance of power generation in Nepal for export to India for reducing Nepal’s trade deficit was also underlined.

On the whole the visit gave the much required push towards reinvigoration of India-Nepal relations, and while one could look forward to progress in bilateral ties, the last four months have once again seen turbulences in relations; these were caused by the agitation launched by Madhesis and Tharus against the new Constitution adopted by Nepal on 20th September 2015, replacing the Interim Constitution of 2007. Madhesis and Tharus are two large ethnic groups in the Nepalese society, living in central and eastern plains and in the western plains respectively of Nepal. Madhes is inhabited by large number of people of Indian origin who have linguistic, religious, cultural and matrimonial links with India strengthened by geographical contiguity. The Madhesese are of the opinion that the Constitution is anything but inclusive and does not address their concerns, particularly those pertaining to adequate representation in the Parliament and employment opportunities.

They organised massive protests and had imposed a bandh along the international open border with India to disrupt the supply of goods and fuel to the rest of Nepal. The shortages of essential goods thus caused in Nepal had once again inflamed anti-India sentiment in Nepal as the blockade was perceived as having India’s tacit backing. India rightly denied any role in the internal disruptions in Nepal. It is true, however, that India had wanted the Constitution to be inclusive taking into account the interests and concerns of all segments of the Nepalese Society, and had been assured that the Constitution shall carry along all sections and regions.

The blockade continued even after first few amendments to the Constitution were announced end January this year to address their concerns. The blockade was finally called off on 8th February, 2016 against the backdrop of announcement of Nepali PM’s visit to India from 19th February,2016. The six-day long visit (19-24 February, 2016) -- PM Olis’first overseas visit- was indeed useful in restoration of mutual trust. On his return to Kathmandu, PM Oli said he had tried to clear the "misconception” about the new Constitution of Nepal while India described the two amendments as "positive developments and hoped that other outstanding issues would also be addressed similarly in a constructive spirit.”

Pakistan: Relations between India and Pakistan have remained less than normal ever since the partition of the country in 1947. The two countries have fought wars in 1948, 1965, 1971 and later there was Kargil in 1999. The war of terror against India from across the border continues unabated. Sporadic efforts have been made towards normalization of relations but most of the time it has been a case of back to square one.

Relations with Pakistan were at their lowest ebb when the new Government took charge in May 2014. The invitation to Heads of State/Government of SAARC countries, including Pakistan, to attend PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May last year opened up an opportunity for breaking the ice; after initial hesitation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharrif of Pakistan did come for the event and the two sides agreed to resume the dialogue. Since then the dialogue process has been in ‘now-on-now-off’ mode. The Foreign Secretary level talks were scheduled but cancelled in August 2014 as India did not approve Pakistan’s planned consultations with the separatist Hurriyat leaders in Delhi on the eve of bilateral talks. The atmosphere was further vitiated when Pakistan renewed its efforts to internationalize the Kashmir issue during the UN General assembly Session in September 2014.

The ice was broken once again in Ufa (Russia), when PM Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit. The joint declaration issued on 15th July 2015, spelt out the sequence in which the two sides had agreed to resume and hold dialogue; the first in the sequence was to be a meeting between the National Security Advisors of the two countries to discuss terror. The Ufa joint Statement, however, came under heavy attack in Pakistan as it did not contain an explicit reference to Kashmir. Pakistan therefore went back on the agreed sequence and insisted that it wanted a comprehensive dialogue including Kashmir. The scheduled meeting between the NSAs of the two countries , was called off by Pakistan in August 2015, after considerable verbal dual including through media conferences. India adhered to its ‘dialogue –on- terror- first’ stance whereas Pakistan kept harping on ‘comprehensive dialogue’. What followed from hereon, was a quiet diplomacy. After PM Modi and PM Nawaz Sharif met very briefly in Paris on the sidelines of Climate Change Summit on 30th November 2015, the delegations from India and Pakistan led by their respective NSAs met in Bangkok quietly on 7th December, 2015 far away from public glare and media scrutiny. According to the brief statement issued on this occasion, the two sides discussed peace and security, terrorism, Jammu and Kashmir and other issues including tranquillity along the LOC.

Meanwhile, acts of terror from across the border have continued. Two major attacks namely the Gurdaspur attack and Pathankot attack are noteworthy for their timing : Gurdas pur attack on 27th July 2015 came within a fortnight of Ufa Declaration whereas the Pathankot was close on the heels of PM Modi’s unscheduled halt at Lahore on 25th December en-route to Delhi from Kabul. These attacks do raise questions about the sincerity of Pakistan. Yet this time around India has not cancelled the planned Foreign Secretary level talks and insists these have only been deferred.

It is apparent that India has climbed down from its earlier stated positions that talks and terror cannot go together or India will talk only on terror. At the same time India has let it be known that talk on terror remains top priority and Pakistan must take action against those who are responsible for acts of terrorism against India, and that there is no role for any third party in resolving India-Pakistan issues which are purely bilateral in nature. While it remains to be seen as to what lies in store, it must be mentioned that the roots of the problem with Pakistan do not lie in Kashmir; the roots are in the multiplicity of power centres in Pakistan: powerful army, influential ISI, fundamentalist forces and lobbies and a democratically elected but fragile Government in Pakistan. Unless there is a consensus amongst the power centres to mend ties with India, any tangible progress is only a wishful thinking. The current Pakistani NSA Nasir Khan Janjua is of army background which in turn makes at least some to hope that Army this time is on board. The best option for India at the moment therefore is to adhere to its policy of engagement through dialogue with the Pak Establishment and civil society on the one hand and the policy of containment of such forces as act against the interests of India, while operating from the Pakistani soil or Pak-occupied Kashmir.

Sri Lanka

India’ relations with Sri Lank have often been influenced by the so-called Tamil issue. After the liquidation of the LTTE in 2009, India had adopted a multi- pronged approach towards Sri Lanka; this policy had several components: i) to impress upon the Sri Lankan Government to abide by its commitments towards Sri Lankan Tamils particularly meaningful devolution of powers and the implementation of the 13th Amendment in a time bound manner; ii) reiteration of assurances from time to time to Sri Lankan Tamils that it would make every effort to ensure that the 13th amendment was not diluted and the future for the community was marked by equality, justice and self-respect; iii) investment into the reconstruction of Northern Sri Lanka badly affected by prolonged civil war; iv) accommodate the demands of the Tamil leadership in India to the extent feasible but ultimately exercise the prerogative of the Centre in the formulation of foreign policy taking broader national interests into account rather than being pushed by narrow regional priorities; v) to monitoring carefully the Chinese overtures in Sri Lanka and check the latter’s drift towards China. vi) address the fishermen’s issue.

Unfortunately, the former President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, despite assurances, did not deliver on his promises of devolution of power to Sri Lankan Tamil minority, while also playing the China card. His decidedly pro-China policy allowed China to capture significant strategic space in Sri Lanka. India’s vote in 2012 and 2013 against Sri Lanka on the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the issue of violation of human rights by the Government of Sri Lanka during its war against LTTE, was obviously not to the liking of Sri Lankans ; India’s decision to abstain in 2014 was taken as less than consolation.In recent times both India and Sri Lanka have witnessed change of Government: Sri Lanka in January 2015 and India in May 2014 . Four high level visits took place in quick succession and within short span of the change of guard in Sri Lanka in January 2015 (the visits of: Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to India, External Affairs Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka; Sri Lankan President’s visit to India and Indian PM’s visit to Sri Lanka); this by itself speaks volumes about the intentions of the leaderships of the two countries to reset their relations. In addition to the issues related to the devolution of powers to Sri Lankan Tamils through full implementation of 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, meaningful reconciliation in Sri Lanka, safety and security of fishermen, sensitivity to India’s security concerns, the new thrust has been added on promoting trade and commerce, maritime security, Ocean Economy etc. More importantly, there is a political will on both sides to make a new beginning and take their relations to newer heights.

In conclusion, the past one and a half year of extensive and energetic diplomacy in South Asia has been productive in several ways: it has reduced considerably the trust deficit, enhanced faith in India’s capability to deliver on its promises, further consolidated the existing relations, reset relations in certain cases, addressed the current challenges and set the agenda for long-term engagement, reiterated forcefully the need for peaceful coexistence as prerequisite for development and prosperity and integration of the region, including economic integration, through land, maritime and air connectivity. A subtle message has gone around that in areas where there are difficulties for all members to work together, let the bilateral or sub-regional format be adopted so that the willing members could join hands and move forward. The need now is for time-bound follow up to consolidate gains made so far, diligently deliver on the promises and assurances, and effectively address the unresolved matters.

Before I conclude, I must thank the Ministry of External Affairs and the Central University of Punjab in giving me the opportunity to be a part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. I must also thank Under Secretary Priya and Dr Anil Mantha in particular for their excellent coordination and for arranging the logistics to make my trip to and stay in Bhatinda a very pleasant experience.

I am now ready to take any questions you may have in mind.