Union Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj today responded sharply to the Opposition’s charge of spoiling relations with its neighbours and seeking the government’s roadmap for dealing with China amid the ongoing standoff. Rejecting the opposition’s demand for stepping up military presence at the borders, Swaraj said that wisdom lay in resolving the crisis through dialogue and diplomacy and not through war. “War is never the solution to a dispute. Wisdom is to resolve issues diplomatically,” she said in Rajya Sabha while replying to a debate on "India's foreign policy and engagement with strategic partners."
In a specific response to the steps being taken by the Indian government to resolve the Doklam crisis, Swaraj informed the Upper House that India was talking to China on the matter but talks weren’t limited to just that.
“We're not only negotiating over Doklam, but discussing bilateral relations with China as well. This is the only solution," she said.
The minister further sought to reject concerns over the government underplaying the Dokalam crisis on the Sikkim border. “The presence of Chinese troops in Dokalam is a matter of concern for us. It is India's duty to protect its friends. Nations which seek help from India are our friends,” she said, adding that Bhutan is India’s ‘dearest friend’ at the moment.
“India is the very definition of a ‘friend’ in the neighbourhood,” she said, while mentioning how the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi was prompt to provide assistance to Sri Lanka, Maldives and Nepal during natural disasters.
"India always believes peace and tranquility in India-China border areas is important prerequisite for smooth development of bilateral relations. We will continue to engage with Chinese side through diplomatic channels to find a mutually acceptable solution," she said, referring to the Opposition’s demands for clarity on the government’s stand on the crisis.
Sushma, however, also took the opportunity to slam Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, saying the party did not even find it appropriate to speak to the government and instead rushed to hear the Chinese side.
“They should have come to us and heard the government’s position on the Sikkim standoff. They should have heard us and then countered the Chinese envoy and stated India’s stand,” she said. “However, they thought it better to meet the Chinese envoy.”
The minister also said that Congress leader and former External Affairs minister Anand Sharma was also part of the meeting with the Chinese envoy alongside Rahul Gandhi.
When Sharma rose to counter Sushma saying Rahul had gone there at the envoy’s invitation, Sushma said, “If my information is correct, Anand Sharma was also part of that meeting.” Sharma responded saying that when the Indian envoy is present in China and that there was no harm if the Chinese envoy wants to meet the Opposition party and discuss the ongoing crisis at the Sikkim border. “By saying so, you (Anand Sharma) have not only admitted that you attended the meeting with the Chinese envoy, you are even justifying it,” Sushma quipped.
Talks with Pakistan when it stops promoting terror
India will start dialogue with Pakistan the day it stops promoting terrorism against this country, Swaraj said in Parliament, making it clear that terror and talks cannot go together.
A combative Swaraj rejected the Opposition contention that the Modi government has no policy with regard to Pakistan, asserting that it had laid the "roadmap" envisioning peace and normalcy even before it took over.
"But it can't be one-sided... Terror and talks cannot go together. The day they stop promoting terror, we will start the talks," she said replying to a discussion on "India’s foreign policy and engagement with strategic partners".
"You are asking what is our Pakistan roadmap? We had declared it even before the swearing-in. We had invited prime ministers of all the neighbouring countries and all came... Bilateral meetings were also held and I was present," Swaraj said.
She recalled that the then Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif along with leaders of all other neighbouring countries had been invited to the swearing-in ceremony of the Modi government in May 2014.
Since then, the relations with Pakistan have been witnessing ups and downs, she said.
The external affairs minister said when she visited Pakistan for the 'Heart of Asia Conference' on December 9,2015, Sharif had said the dialogue should be started in a new format and it was given the name of Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.
Afterwards, Modi went to Lahore as part of that initiative, taking an 'out-of-box' decision, she said.
The relations with Pakistan were at such height that on December 25, 2015, when Modi wished Sharif on his birthday, the Pakistani leader asked him to greet him personally. Modi then visited Lahore to so, putting protocol aside.
She said even after the terror attack on Pathankot Airbase on January 1,2016, Pakistan, shedding its past practice of being in denial, set up an investigating team to probe it.
"The story changed after (the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander) Burhan Wani (in an encounter) when they (Pakistan) declared him as a martyr," Swaraj said.
She also slammed the Congress for questioning the Modi government's foreign policy, telling the Opposition party that all the concerns that it was talking about now were born during the previous UPA rule.
"You are the ones who gave birth to the concerns raised now," she said.
She praised former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, saying he had done good work at international level. "However, while Nehru enhanced his personal image, the present prime minister is enhancing the country's image through his efforts across the world."