Script: Sunil Gatade, Political Commentator
Giving a boost to their bilateral ties, India and Belarus signed as many as ten pacts to expand cooperation in a wide range of areas. The major highlight of the just concluded visit of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is however the decision to explore joint development and manufacturing in the defence sector.
At a time when New Delhi has embarked on the ambitious “Make in India” programme, it realises that there is an increased scope of defence cooperation with Belarus especially in view of the fact that Belarus has manufacturing and technological backup from the Soviet Union era. In the extensive talks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the visiting Belarusian President Lukashenko agreed to focus on ramping up economic engagement between the two countries, holding that there was huge scope to boost trade and investment.
While Mr. Modi called the talks as wide ranging and forward looking, the Belarusian President hit the nail right on the head when he declared that the two countries were at the doorstep of a “new stage” of cooperation. He wanted India to emerge as a “mightful pole” in the multi-polar world. Former President Pranab Mukherjee had visited Belarus in May 2015. India’s relations with Belarus have been traditionally warm and cordial. India was one of the first countries to recognize Belarus as independent country in 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Formal diplomatic relations were established and the Indian diplomatic mission was opened in Minsk in 1992. Belarus opened its embassy in New Delhi in 1998.
The visit by the Belarusian President, the third by him to India, was also significant as it came at a time when the two countries are celebrating 25 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties. A highlight of the visit was that Prime Minister Modi and President Lukashenko released a postage stamp to mark the occasion.
The pacts inked provide for enhancing bilateral cooperation in a variety of areas, including oil and gas, agriculture, science and technology, education and sports. The two sides agreed on encouraging joint development and manufacturing in the defence sector under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Inviting Indian investors to Belarus, Mr. Lukashenko has promised to provide them with the most favourable and ideal conditions for doing business. India is linked with Belarus under multilateral economic initiatives such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and the International North South Transport Corridor. India has on-going negotiations with the EEU for a free trade agreement. Belarus is part of the five-member EEU, considered to be an influential Central Asian bloc. The volume of Indo-Belarusian bilateral trade in 2016 amounted to US$ 402 million approximately. There are abundant business and investment opportunities in various sectors, including in pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.
Seeking to give a new thrust to the economic ties, the Indian Prime Minister has rightfully emphasised that companies on both sides have to evolve from a buyer-seller framework to deeper engagement. This is necessary so that both sides could build upon the natural complementarities between the two countries.
On the political side, the two leaders agreed to closely cooperate on “matters of mutual interest” in multilateral fora. There has been good understanding and cooperation between the two countries in the international, multilateral and regional matters with a remarkable commonality of views on almost all international and regional issues. Belarus has been supportive of India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNDC). Belarus had supported India’s candidature for the non-permanent seat of UNSC for 2011-12. Belarus also supported India at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India supported Belarus for its membership in the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and also other international and multilateral fora like Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) which was appreciated by Minsk.
India’s supportive stand on various resolutions in Geneva and New York targeting Belarus for violation of human rights and restrictions on freedom of expression has been appreciated by Belarus. Belarus recognizes India as an emerging global power and seeks to develop “strategic relationship” with India. The just concluded visit of the Belarusian President was indicative of this. Earnest efforts were initiated to put the economic engagements on fast track. It is a win-win for both the countries.