Foreign Ministry inter-ministerial group focuses on South Asia

“Neighborhood First” policy to ensure rapid response to border and humanitarian crises

“Neighborhood First” policy to ensure rapid response to border and humanitarian crises

Seeking to ensure a more effective and “whole-of-government” approach to crises in the South Asian neighborhood, including Pakistan, Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla convened the first meeting of an “Inter-Ministerial Coordination Group (IMCG)” involving secretaries from about 10 ministries as well as senior officials from the Cabinet Secretariat and the National Security Council Secretariat.

The meeting, held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan of the Ministry of External Affairs, aims to “mainstream” India’s “neighborhood first” policy, according to an MEA statement. Also, according to sources, the inclusion of ministries like trade, finance, fisheries and security structures would mean faster decision-making in the face of sudden economic crises and shooting flashpoints. at borders, fishing and prisoners in neighboring neighboring countries.

Bilateral links

“The IMCG provided global direction with a whole-of-government approach to promote better connectivity, stronger interconnections and greater people-to-people connection with our neighbours,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a tweet. .

“The meeting deliberated and made important decisions on various aspects of India’s bilateral relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the areas of trade and investment, connectivity, border infrastructure, immigration, development cooperation, border security, etc.,” the MEA statement added, noting that all countries in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), as well as Myanmar, are included in the initiative.

Sources said the IMCG would have many purposes giving examples of the construction of border infrastructure to help trade with Nepal, the sudden needs of essential commodities for Bhutan and the Maldives, as was needed during the Covid lockdown, rail connectivity with Bangladesh, humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and Myanmar as well as the fisheries issue with Sri Lanka, which has led to tensions in the past. Furthermore, the inclusion of security and border officials indicates that the IMCG could also be convened to help avoid tensions at the land borders with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Sri Lankan Flashpoint

While officials say the IMCG has been planned for some time, the timing of the initiative is significant as it comes days after massive protests over the economic situation in Sri Lanka, which announced it would default on international debt on Tuesday.

In February 2020, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister first raised requests for Indian support over the country’s twin crises over debt and currency decline with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to Delhi. Over the next several months, despite a nod in principle to support, no movement was made due to bureaucratic legal and accounting wrangling over demands for debt relief, currency swap agreements and lines of credit to help avert the crisis.

Sources said political relations were strained on a number of issues, and it was not until late 2021 that combined meetings between EAM S. Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Minister of Sri Lankan Finance at the time were able to resolve the support package that India has approved worth around $2.4 billion since January 2022, while Bangladesh has been helping Sri Lanka with a currency swap agreement.

“In addition to the IMCG mechanism, ministries and departments have been requested to give priority to India’s neighbors in their international activities, programs and projects,” the sources said, adding that the MEA has also organized a “module course” on India’s neighborhood for civilians. service trainees this year.

Shirlene J. Manley