|By P Venkat Rao||Published: February 2018|
New Delhi. The Raisina Dialogue is increasingly creating its own space in the world of international diplomacy as a forum for frank and unfettered exchange of ideas and contestations amid ever increasing challenges in the world in general and the Asian region in particular.
The signature exercise initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Government in collaboration with the Observer Research Foundation in the words of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has ‘’rapidly emerged as the premier conclave in India on international relations. Its broadening participation and expansive agenda is reflective of the growing interest with which India is engaged by other countries in the world.
Modelled on the lines of the Shangrila Dialogue organised every year in Singapore, this year’s Raisina Dialogue on the theme ‘’Managing Disruptive Transitions Ideas, Institutions and Idioms’’ was inaugurated on January 16 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, a singular honour accorded to the dignitary who became the first Head of the Government ever from this West Asian country to visit India. He called for an Alliance of Democracies to face the “Challenge of Radical Islam” pointing out only democracies and pluralistic societies like India and Israel could help protect the international order.
He described the Indian Prime Minister, who graciously conceded the centre stage to the visiting dignitary, a Friend of Israel.
Over 50 sessions, 150 speakers, over 550 delegates from 90 countries participated for three days, January 16-18, and among the galaxy were leaders including former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, former PM of Sweden Carl Bildt, former United States Army General David Petraeus, strategic affairs experts, diplomats, top brass of the Indian Military.
There was significant presence of Australian Naval Chief Vice Admiral Tim Barret, Commander of the U S Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris Jr, and Japan Self Defence Chief of Staff Joint Staff Admiral Katsutosho Kawano, as well as the Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba.
Ministerial delegations from many countries like Australia, Russia, Singapore, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Poland were there as were ministers include Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, Indonesia’s Minister for Defence Ryamizard Ryacudu, Bangladesh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Igor Morgulov, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign affairs, Maliki Osman, Poland’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marek Magierowski, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Kazem Sajjadpour, Hungary’s Minister of State for Security Policy and International Cooperation, Istvan Mikola and Sri Lanka’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vasantha Senanayake.
ORF Chairman Sunjoy Joshi said the Raisina Dialogue was born in the belief that the Asian century that the world was talking about was not about any exclusive geographical region. It was rather about the engagement of global actors with Asia and of Asia with the world. So this dialogue took birth as a platform, where the old and the new could work together, to discover their connections, their inter-dependence. It has today become a crucible for conversations and ideas that while located in India can be owned by the world.
While the Government was adequately represented, articulating the voice of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was its powerful general secretary Ram Madhav.
While taking part in a panel discussion on ‘Towards a new framework for a new free and open Indo-Pacific’ he said India wants to include commerce and trade in relations with other countries for the betterment of the region, and “not against any country…We don’t want it to be seen as a group against China.”
There was Chinese presence at the event, from the world of academia and think tanks.
Nonetheless, many other participants viewed activities of China, especially in the region and South China Sea, with suspicion and circumspection.
That four naval Chiefs took part in the Dialogue underscored the threats being felt from an aggressive China, particularly over its creation and occupation of artificial islands in the South China Sea.
Perhaps the most vocal articulation on this came from the US Naval PaCom Commander Admiral Harry B Harris who described China as the disruptive force in the Indo-Pacific, suggesting all like-minded countries in the region to unite to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Participating in the panel discussion on ‘Unchartered waters: In search for Order in the Indo-Pacific’ he said the Indo-Pacific community needed to take tough decisions to keep the region safe and open. Interestingly, in response to a from a Chinese participant, Admiral Harris observed that he had no issues in engaging China if it was also interested in keeping the region peaceful, safe and open.
Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said the region was facing a deficiency of trust and fear of insecurity and hence there was need for developing trust among the countries of the region as well as transparent inter-operability. Since 2008, he said a change in the deployment of PLA Navy was noticed but clarified that there was no evidence so far of military purposes in it.
Stating it was difficult to alter China’s aggressive policy, Japan’s Admiral Kawano said Beijing could be isolated soon if it violated international rules in East China Sea and South China
Australian Navy Chief Vice Admiral Timothy William Barrett said there needs to be a meaningful outcome from discussions among like-minded nations to take on China.
Emphasising trust deficiency, Indonesia’s strategic expert, Dino Patti Djalal, lamented poverty of ideas on how to work together to ensure peace and stability in the region, and felt there was a need for a new leadership.
The situation in Afghanistan continues to engage the strategic community across the globe and the people of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. With the US deciding on a phased military withdrawal and the terror activities continuing unabated, the situation in this terror-infested country remains a matter of concern.
Taking part in a discussion, former President Hamid Karzai hoped US President Donald Trump would “walk the talk” on his position on Pakistan’s support to the terrorists.
Sharing the stage with Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh, who served as the Army Chief of India, Mr Karzai was referring to President Trump’s message on Twitter on New Year Day warning Pakistan to stop supporting terrorists or else the US would stop military aid to Islamabad.
Russian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Igor Morgulov who was on the panel with Mr Karzai, ruled out a military solution to the Afghan problem, underscoring that talks with all the stake holders was the only way out.
Moscow is working in tandem with Beijing to find a solution and Morgulov said Russia is trying its best to find a solution to the problem with the help of Government of President Ashraf Ghani.
The Russian Minister said his country is seeking to rope in everyone in the talks – the neighbours, stake holders and even the US, regretting that Washington had not shown willingness to participate in this Russia initiative.
Summing up the Raisina Dialoge mean
It was est put in the words of a Brazilian Professor Dawisson Belem Lopes, who was among the Young Raisina Fellows. He said: When participants from approximately 90 countries are commissioned to think about the situation of the Indo-Pacific region, the emergence of a Bay of Bengal community, Digital money and connectivity, or A new ethos for the world to come, it means that India is tentatively drawing the contours of a new self-referenced narrative on geopolitics and geoeconomics.
Having just concluded its third edition, the Raisina Dialogue already shines as a mandatory stop for world leaders and thinkers.
May that impetus last!