Tradition Of All-Party Meet On International Issues Continues

EAM S Jaishankar briefs the all-party panel over the present situation in Afghanistan on Thursday

As the world continues to grapple with the evolving situation in Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar articulated the approach of the Narendra Modi government to the emerging challenge in the extended neighbourhood.

“On this [Afghanistan] matter, all political parties have similar views. We approached the issue with a spirit of national unity”, summing up the non-partisanship demonstrated by all concerned on issues of foreign policy.

Non-partisanship and consensual approach remains a hallmark of India’s foreign policy since the days of Independence with successive governments taking leaders of political parties into confidence on issues the country faces.

Such interactions allow governments to update parties with latest information on developments, share its assessment of the situation, likely trajectory of the situation and the way forward. These meetings also provide an opportunity for the government to acquire a sense of what different parties — allies and in opposition — have to offer and respond to concerns.

Criticism and concerns

Governments of the day cannot be immune to criticism over policy framework. These largely arise due to different perceptions. It is no surprise that leaders of various parties on Thursday flagged issues of concern. These ranged from pace of evacuation of Indians from the country, future of the operations post August 31 deadline of withdrawal of American troops, possible rise of terror in the region, or India’s attitude towards a new regime that is expected to take charge in Kabul.

Had Parliament been in session, an important development such as what happened in Afghanistan would have been on top of agenda for a discussion and debate. Different viewpoints could have been heard and the government would have got an opportunity to clear doubts, clarify issues and justify its action.

Iraq war and Indian position

The last time a major interaction on a development in the region came during 2003 when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The United States under President George Bush launched a military offensive against the regime of Saddam Hussein. The ostensible reason was to prevent the country under the military dictator acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

India faced a dilemma. The country maintained good relations with Iraq and depended on supplies to meet its demand for oil. On the other hand, relations with the United States had just entered a new friendly phase.

Around this time, the United States was keen that India deploys its military in Iraq and there were differences of opinion in the government and opposition on committing boots on the ground. India avoided sending a detachment.

PM Vajpayee called a couple of all-party meetings in March that year to evolve a common ground. In his remarks, PM Vajpayee then noted he always tried to maintain the tradition of consultations with major political parties on important international issues. “This has helped strengthen the national consensus on our foreign policy”. The tradition continues.

(The author is a senior journalist who worked with The Hindu and Tribune)

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