India's foreign policy seeks to safeguard the country's enlightened self-interest. The primary objective of India's foreign policy is to promote and maintain a peaceful and stable external environment in which the domestic tasks of inclusive economic development and poverty alleviation can progress rapidly and without obstacles. Given the high priority attached by the Government of India to socio-economic development, India has a vital stake in a supportive external environment both in our region and globally. India, therefore, seeks a peaceful periphery and works for good neighbourly relations in its extended neighbourhood. India's foreign policy also recognizes that the issues such as climate change and energy and food security that are crucial to India's transformation are global and require global cooperative solutions.
The year past witnessed several positive developments, some significant successes, and a few major fresh threats to India's foreign policy.
India shares a common destiny with its neighbours. Relations with Bhutan developed further in the year of His Majesty's coronation and the introduction of democracy in Bhutan. India has strongly supported Nepal's transition to a democratic polity, and the restoration of democracy in Bangladesh. India has contributed to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Apart from maintaining friendly and close bilateral relations with its neighbours, India has also worked for the evolution of SAARC into a result oriented organization that effectively promotes regional integration.
Bilateral relations with China were further consolidated during 2008 with PM Dr. Manmohan Singh's official visit to China in January and External Affairs Minister Shri Pranab Mukherji's visit in June 2008. The situation along the India-China border remained peaceful while the boundary question continued to be addressed by the Special Representatives. Defence cooperation between the two countries has contributed to enhancement of mutual trust. China opened a new Consulate in Kolkata in September 2008 and earlier in June 2008 India had opened its Consulate in Guangzhou.
A major development was the signing of the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement in October 2008. The Agreement marked the end of three decades of technology denial in the nuclear field. Following the signing of this bilateral agreement, agreements for civil nuclear cooperation have been signed with France, Russia and Kazakhstan. The India-US strategic partnership was further consolidated by PM Dr. Manmohan Singh's visits to the US in September 2008, when he had a bilateral meeting with the US President George W. Bush in Washington, and in November for the G-20 Summit. The US remained India's largest trading partner and source of technology and relations expanded in every field.
India's traditional friendship and strategic links with Russia were consolidated during the period. The president of the Russian Federation Mr. Dmitry Medvedev paid a state visit to India in December 2008 for the annual bilateral Summit. The year 2008 was observed in India as the 'Year of Russia'. The year 2009 is being observed in Russia as the 'Year of India'. India is committed to further carry forward its strategic relations with Russia. India intends to build on its strong historical and cultural links with the Central Asian countries, and to engage more closely with this region by ensuring that cooperation with Central Asia receives greater substance and diversification.
India has maintained and intensified its engagement with the EU, a strategic partner, as well as individual countries in Europe in diverse fields such as defence and security, nuclear and space, trade and investment, energy, climate change, science and technology, culture and education. The EU is today India's largest trading partner and one of our major sources of investment.
India continued to attach importance to its traditionally friendly and cooperative relations with African countries. A landmark event was the first ever India-Africa Forum Summit in April 2008 which adopted the Delhi Declaration and India-Africa Framework for Cooperation. Both documents together defined the future roadmap for cooperation between India and African countries. The Government of India's prestigious pan-African e-Network Project was inaugurated in New Delhi on 26th February, 2009 by EAM Shri Pranab Mukherjee.
India's efforts to cultivate stronger bonds with countries of the Latin American and Caribbean region have borne impressive results in recent years, with cross-sectoral dialogue at various levels and a framework of institutionalised mechanisms for mutually beneficial cooperation.
India's cooperation with the countries in West Asia and the Gulf region today reveal a contemporary nature and include the peaceful uses of outer space including the use of Indian launch vehicles. This region is also home to nearly five million Indian expatriates who have contributed significantly to the economic development of both India and the Gulf region.
India views cooperation with ASEAN, and the countries in the Asia-Pacific, as an important dimension of its diplomacy in the 21st century as reflected in India's "Look East Policy".
In 2009, India significantly expanded its network of economic and technical cooperation. India is ready to play a significant role in recently established forums such as IRC (India-Russia-China), BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) and IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa). India continues to engage Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, G-15, and the G-8.
With its strong commitment to multilateral India has worked to strengthen the United Nations. India has supported proposals for the reform of the UNSC and revitalization of the UNGA. India would like to see the global institutions reflecting the new realities of the world order, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of developing countries and emerging powers.
Concurrent to these positive developments, India's foreign policy in 2008-09 faced new threats to India's security including the unsettled security situation in India's terror infested periphery and cross-border terrorism.
The composite dialogue process with Pakistan entered its fifth round in 2008-09. The dialogue was premised on Pakistan's stated commitment that it would not permit territory under its control to be used to support terrorism against India in any manner. However, Pakistan's inability to implement her commitments as evidenced by the terrorist attacks from Pakistan on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and on Mumbai in November 2008 effectively suspended the dialogue process.
The Mumbai attacks were universally condemned by the International community. Overwhelming evidence was presented to Pakistan and the world about the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in these attacks. Pakistan subsequently admitted for the first time that Pakistani nationals had hatched the conspiracy behind the attacks and carried them out. However, subsequent actions by Pakistan were dilatory and obfuscatory, and are yet to bring the perpetrators to justice or to dismantle the infrastructure in Pakistan for terrorism against India.
In 2008, there were large scale military operations in Sri Lanka eliminating the LTTE's conventional military capability resulting in a major humanitarian crisis. India responded to the immediate humanitarian crisis by sending relief supplies and medical assistance to civilians and internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). India also continued to stay engaged with Sri Lanka in support of a negotiated political settlement to the ethnic problem. As the situation in Sri Lanka enters a new phase, India will work for a peaceful settlement of the issues within the framework of a united Sri Lanka acceptable to all communities including particularly the Tamils.
The other major challenge during the year was the deteriorating international economic situation. As the international financial crisis became an economic crisis with recession in major Western economies and markets, the supportive international environment for India's growth changed rapidly. Despite this the Indian economy grew by 6.7% in 2008-09, and continues to be a factor of growth and stability in the world economy. India participated actively in international efforts to address the crisis, such as the G-20, to see that the concerns of developing countries were addressed. India also sought to ensure that international decision-making on global economic issues is democratised to reflect present realities.
As the year 2008 ended, it was evident that cooperative global solutions are required to the major international issues which will affect India's future, such as the world economic crisis, international terrorism, general and nuclear disarmament, energy security, food security and sustainable development. As a responsible power, India remains an active and involved participant in the international effort to work out these solutions and will contribute to their success.