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India's New FM to Focus on Pakistan, China Relations

October 30, 2012

by Anjana Pasricha

India’s new foreign minister says he will strengthen relations with Pakistan and China. Salman Khurshid is expected to bring new energy to the government's efforts to improve ties with regional neighbors.

Forging relations

In one of his first comments after taking over as foreign minister, Khurshid said he hopes to work more closely with Pakistan.

Khurshid, 59, is much younger than his 80-year-old predecessor and is widely described as one of India’s most sophisticated and articulate politicians.

Khurshid comes from an illustrious Muslim family. And he is not a newcomer to the foreign ministry -- he was junior foreign minister in the 1990s.

The head of New Delhi’s Center for Media Studies, Bhaskar Rao, says the new minister will give momentum to India’s efforts to resolve differences with its Muslim neighbor.

“First and foremost the name itself rings a bell with people on the other side of the border. On any of these contentious issues, he is not known for taking [a] hard stand. He is a good negotiator. He would be able to establish a wavelength,” said Rao.

Peace talks between the nuclear-armed neighbors - put on hold after the 2008 Mumbai attacks -- restarted last year. But Islamabad’s failure to prosecute the Pakistani militants who allegedly plotted those attacks has stifled progress.

Common ground

Nevertheless, Khurshid is optimistic and suggests India has more common ground with Pakistan than ever before. He says issues New Delhi has highlighted in the past have emerged as a concern for Pakistan.

C. Rajamohan, a strategic affairs analyst at the Observer Research Foundation, says Khurshid is referring to India’s long-held concerns about terrorism and militant groups based in Pakistan.

“India’s terrorism comes from across Pakistan and [in] Pakistan, much of the threat is coming from within. I think the idea is that look as Pakistan’s civilian leaders and probably even its military recognize that terrorism is a threat to themselves it is possible to work together and try and find a way of working together to combat terrorism and then in the process also look at resolving outstanding disputes like Kashmir and other issues,” Rajamohan stated.

Closer ties with China

Khurshid is also optimistic about India’s ties with China. He says the potential for growth is huge and that the passage of time and emergence of a new economic order in the world has brought China and India far closer together.

As he vows to take India’s foreign policy ahead, the new foreign minister recommends so-call out-of-the-box thinking.

Analysts say Khurshid will likely display more diplomatic skill than his predecessor, whose reputation was battered by several public gaffes.

S.M. Krishna once began reading from the Portuguese foreign minister's speech at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York. Another embarrassment came when he was accused by his Pakistani counterpart at a press conference in 2010 of having to take his orders by phone from New Delhi.

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