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External Affairs Minister’s interview to Politika during his visit to Serbia

November 13, 2019

Economic ties between Serbia and India will strengthen, independent of the EU

''India and Serbia have contributed significantly to the creation of a new and democratic world order, challenging the concept of a bipolar world'', said the Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jainshankar, who is ending his visit to Belgrade today. The non-Aligned period is behind us, but Minister Jaishankar said, "The cooperation between the two countries in recent years has been stepped up to a higher level, owing to bilateral exchange of visits of high-ranking officials, among other things.”

He said that India continues to support Serbia regarding Kosovo, and India has not recognized the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo, ''based on its principled beliefs''. India is also troubled by the problem of separatism in one of the regions, in Kashmir. Serbia does not resemble India in the respect that India is amongst the strongest world economies, "Our governments, Jaishankar stated, are strengthening the framework for deeper economic engagement.”

''Our bilateral trade, currently at around $200 million is on an upswing, but certainly below potential. Serbia is growing at the rate of about 3.5% - an economy looking for options. India has set a growth target of 5 trillion USD in the near future. There is scope to promote bilateral collaboration in priority areas of interest such as agriculture, food processing, defence manufacturing, science and technology, IT, infrastructure, tourism and pharmaceuticals'', said Jaishankar in an interview to 'Politika' done electronically.

Q. How can Serbia find a path towards the prosperous Indian market? Does the delay of the trade agreement between India and the EU have any influence on that?

Indian companies have made investments in Serbia particularly in sectors such as tractors, IT Park, food processing, aluminium panels, waste management equipment. India has started participating in International Agriculture Fair of Novi Sad. Three leading brands of Indian tractors are being assembled and manufactured in Serbia. The growing trend of shooting Indian films in Serbia is another positive development. I am also happy to learn that 160 Serbians have received scholarships offered under India’s Technical Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme.

India is open to concluding a fair and balanced Agreement with the EU. I do not think that its outcome will influence in any manner the India-Serbia economic ties that will grow on their own.

Q. Indian authorities have abolished the autonomy of Kashmir. If that is to help in the fight against terrorism, could the blockade of that region and the resistance it creates among the Muslims there become a barrier to greater investments in Kashmir and liberation of women from retrograde traditions, which has been stated as motives for redefining the status of that region?

The Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India as a result of fully legal and irrevocable accession to India on 26 October 1947. It is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic region with a sizeable population of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.

Article 370 was a temporary provision of the Indian Constitution. It was adopted in 1949 in the Constituent Assembly that had representatives from Jammu and Kashmir. The temporary provision was meant to provide time for Jammu and Kashmir to fully align with the rest of the nation as it faced a unique situation resulting from aggression from Pakistan.

Over the last 70 years, the temporary provision of the Indian Constitution, that was meant to act as a bridge between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, ended up becoming a barrier. This provision resulted in creation of vested interests who misused it for their own political and economic gains at the cost of the people. The cost of doing business in Jammu and Kashmir was artificially raised which dissuaded investments, stagnated economic growth and impeded employment generation. The national legislations meant for welfare of women, including protection from domestic violence, equal inheritance rights, representations in local bodies; laws for welfare and protection of rights of the children; affirmative actions for the underprivileged sections of the society, could not be extended to Jammu and Kashmir due to the artificial barrier created by this temporary provision.

Doing away with this temporary provision and redefining the status of the region is with the view of giving the people of J&K a better life-.

Q. China has supported Pakistan over Kashmir, in addition to other issues. How much does China's support to Pakistan complicate eventual improvement of relations between India and Pakistan?

India and China are two of the largest and fastest growing developing countries representing almost one-third of the global population. Both countries agree that stable and balanced development of bilateral relations will not only be beneficial for our two peoples but also a factor of stability in the current uncertain global environment. It is natural that there would be issues in bilateral ties between two large neighbours, but both countries have agreed to manage their differences without allowing them to become disputes. The future of India-China relations will depend on mutual sensitivity to each other's core concerns.

Q. The US is heading towards withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the advances of Islamist militants in that country. Given the importance Afghanistan has for India as a transport corridor, as well as because of the problem of Islamic extremism, how do you view the US withdrawal from Afghanistan?

As a contiguous neighbour, we have abiding interest in peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. We support efforts aimed at bringing national peace and reconciliation through an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process. We do understand that various countries, including the US, have been committed in Afghanistan for a long time. It is, therefore, no surprise that there is a change in posture based on each country’s national interests and priorities. The challenge for those of us that have no ''exit policy'' for Afghanistan – and most of all for the Afghans themselves - is to work something out with the broadest possible acceptance along with the best possible outcome. And the best possible outcome will involve preserving as much of the gains of the last two decades as possible - preserving democracy and pluralism, protecting the rights of the women, children and the minorities, and strengthening the territorial integrity and unity of Afghanistan. A sustainable and enduring peace in Afghanistan would also require putting an end to terror safe havens that exist beyond its borders. International community would need to continue to support the Government and the people of Afghanistan as they take on greater responsibility for their future. The countries in the region would also need to play their role. As for India, we have established a development partnership with Afghanistan based on their priorities; and remain committed to supporting the Government and the people of Afghanistan as they build a peaceful, stable, prosperous, pluralistic and democratic nation.

Q. Objections have been voiced against India for, in the fight against Islamic extremism, rejecting secularism by inclining to Hindu nationalism and for oppression against Muslims. Do you fear that such a perception will trigger new terrorist acts against India?

i do not accept that respect for all faiths is under threat in India or that any section of the society is being ‘oppressed’ Secularism is enshrined in the Indian Constitution because it is in the very ethos of the society. Nobody disputes that India is a pluralistic society and a pluralistic polity; a liberal democracy with a governance model based on the rule of law. India's approach has been appreciated by the majority of Muslim countries, barring perhaps just one that has made terrorism an instrument of its state policy. And yes, Pakistani leaders have on several occasions threatened India with terrorist attacks.

The growing linkages between terror groups and cross-border operations including terror financing networks, and the spread of hateful ideologies through modern communication technologies have left no country untouched by this scourge. Terrorism is the single biggest threat not only to international peace and security, but also to development. The world community cannot afford selective approaches or double standards in its fight against this menace.

How to buy Russian weapons and not fall under US sanctions

Q. India has excellent relations with the US, but tariff rates and the purchase of Russian S-400 system pose some problems. Washington does not pressure India over that like it pressures the European Union, Turkey and Japan, and, even Serbia as far as weapons are concerned. How much can that be attributed to India's strength, and how much to Washington viewing India as help in suppressing China's influence in Asia?

India-US relation has developed into a "global strategic partnership”, based on shared democratic values and increasing convergence of interests on bilateral, regional and global issues. Regular exchanges of high-level political visits have provided sustained momentum to bilateral cooperation, while the while the wide-ranging and ever-expanding dialogue architecture, has established a long-term framework for deeper engagement. Support across the political spectrum in both countries nurtures our bilateral relationship. Diaspora --- with nearly 4 million Indian-Americans and several million Indian nationals living and working in the U.S. - is another cementing factor. Despite structural differences between the two economies, which make differences over trade policy natural, our annual trade in goods and services with the U.S. has been increasing at double digit rates for the past three years, reaching US$ 142 billion in 2018 - reflecting the underlying strength and resilience of our economic ties. Cooperation between India and the U.S. is global in nature, with a large focus on preserving peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region that is home to both our nations. Thus, our relations with the U.S. are independent of our relations with third countries, and these relations have grown on their own merits.

Construction of 195.000km of roads

Q. In spite of its economic strength, India still has a lot to do in eliminating poverty and social inequality. How do you assess India's perspective in that regard?

The New India, envisioned by Prime Minister Modi, is more than the metrics of its economy - growth, investments, trade, per capita income – important as these are, both as indicators of progress and as a means to transform the lives of people. It is about making a real difference in governance and in the lives of our people.

The achievements of the past five years speak for themselves. In 2014, Prime Minister Modi gave a call for Clean India campaign of universal access to sanitation. In 5 years, we have built 96 million toilets, expanding the coverage from less than 40% of the population to over 90% today. We have built 15 million affordable rural homes and are building 20 million more; added 195000 km of rural roads that now connect 97% of all habitats in the country. We have provided 200 million micro-credits, of which nearly 75% went to women. There are 360 million new bank accounts in the country. More than USD 60 billion in direct benefit transfers from Government has flown into these accounts. Millions of farmers, small merchants and workers are now connected to pension and insurance. We launched the world’s largest healthcare scheme that will cover 500 million Indians with medical care. India’s success in financial inclusion, creating a digital identity for 1.2 billion people and establishing the most sophisticated digital payment infrastructure is a matter of global recognition.

To achieve our objectives, economic growth is essential. The challenges are not simple. It is easier to change laws and rules than mind sets. But, it is happening. We are moving closer to our goals of eliminating poverty and social inequality.

Assurance of Mutual support

Relations between India and Serbia are traditionally good and the two countries' officials do not need to call one another for support, as there is assurance - this was concluded following the meeting yesterday between Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs of Serbia Ivica Dacic and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

After the meeting, Dacic said that traditionally good relations between the two countries date back from the period of the Non-Aligned Movement, and emphasized the need to develop these relations. Jaishankar agreed with Dacic's statement and said: ''We do not ask one another, we instinctively support each other on the international scene''. Dacic underscored that taking all that into consideration, and also considering India's support regarding Kosovo-Metohija, we are very grateful to this country, recalling that Serbia has the same attitude towards the Kashmir issue. Jaishankar met yesterday with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, and with Defence Minister Aleksandar Vulin as well.

An Agreement on Defence Cooperation was signed between the two countries and Minister Vulin reiterated that Serbia is fully committed to military neutrality and committed to cooperation with partners in both the East and the West.

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