India at the Bled Strategic Forum

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India at the Bled Strategic Forum

Friday, 03 September 2021 | KUMARDEEP BANERJEE

India at the Bled Strategic Forum

India reaches out to key European Union member-nations for strategic partnership

Two presidents, ten prime ministers, two European commissioners besides a bunch of foreign ministers attended one of Europe’s most prestigious ministerial conferences this week in a town of central Europe, Bled in Slovenia. The Bled Strategic Forum, the European thought leadership and networking platform frames global narratives on key issues for the European Union. Some of the key agendas that came up for discussion included the role of Europe in the Indo-Pacific region, transatlantic relations and the future of Afghanistan. That is where India comes into the picture as external affairs minister S. Jaishankar was perhaps the first Indian foreign minister to participate in this summit discussion. Incidentally, India has just come out as the chair of UNSC, and the foreign minister visited two other key countries in the region in the wake of the changed geopolitics in India's vicinity. The fall of Kabul and ignominious exit of US and NATO allies has at least temporarily changed the geopolitics of the region. China andits all-weather friend Pakistan have been the first countries to formally welcome the infamous Taliban-led leadership in Afghanistan. China and Russia, meanwhile, have refrained from a vote on the US-drafted UNSC statement on Afghanistan. This fulfills the long stated strategic objectives of both nations including unfettered access to a treasure trove of nearly $1trillion in minerals and metals. Both countries are not India's best friends and will use this opportunity to create an atmosphere of threat on India’s borders, if not within the country, and counter Indian charges of human rights violations in Afghanistan with alleged violations in Kashmir. China wantsto use Afghanistan as its first step towards achieving a superpower status even as it harps on the misery and fall of a 'democratic' regime in Afghanistan.The deep military state of Pakistan run from Rawalpindi is more than happy to keep India busy with security threats using non-State Taliban players armed with sophisticated weapons. India’s outreach for finding a new bunch of partners, therefore, is a step towards establishing a new axis of strategic friendship in the region. India reached out to key diplomats of Europe and influencers of Europe during Jaishankar’s tour of Slovenia, Croatia and Denmark. The issues deliberated upon included future of Afghanistan after Western forces’ withdrawal, the march of China into Europe and India-EU. It may be the first time that the Forumspent an entire day discussing some of these issues, underlining a growing level of engagement between European Union members and India. An EU report released in August highlights the highest number of trade defense measures taken against China for unfair trade practices in 2020. It also notes a new type of surreptitious trade practice emerging from China, and it has “imposed countervailing duties on cross-border financial support given by China to Chinese-owned companies manufacturing glass fiber fabrics and continuous filament glass fiber products based in Egypt for export to the EU”. This means that, for the first time, “the Commission addressed cross-border subsidies given by a country to enterprises located in another country for exports to the EU”. Clearly Europe is closely monitoring the China danger and India needs to get its narrative integrated with mutual economic benefits. The Indian trade minister has talked about possible free trade agreements with the EU. India’s interests with EU also converge on many emerging areas such as Artificial intelligence, digital economy and therefore policy framework, cyber security and obviously a flourishing trade relationship. India can wait out the near-term play on the Afghan front, but it has to play the strategic long-term, loyal partner role with the EU to be in a safe place.

(The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.)

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