“Looking beyond our borders, there is little doubt that connectivity can impart that new momentum to Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and propel it to a higher orbit of cooperation,” Jaishankar said during his keynote speech at the Raisina Dialogue here, a three-day global conclave on geopolitics and geo-economics.
“This is happening even as we speak, some of it through Saarc mechanisms, others through sub-regional solutions like BBIN (Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal), and the rest through bilateral or trilateral arrangements,” he said.
With the theme of “Connecting Asia” this year, the flagship conference called Raisina Dialogue 2016, organised by the external affairs ministry and the Observer Research Foundation, is designed to explore and examine the prospects and opportunities for Asian integration as well as Asia’s integration with the larger world.
Over 450 participants from around 40 countries are participating in this year’s conference.
Jaishankar said that today the outcome of interactions among the south Asian neighbours was “replete with examples of road and rail building, power generation and transmission, waterway usage and shipping and so on”.
“More than the achievements themselves, they represent a change in mindset. For us, in India, if there is a lesson, it is to be strategic and outcome-driven,” he said.
The foreign secretary said that India’s first effort to go beyond the region was expressed as a Look East policy aimed at the southeast Asian region.
“The intensity with which we now address South East Asia is sought to be captured in the new terminology of ‘Act East’,” he said.
“Efforts to build physical connectivity should close the gap with economic and security linkages that have raced far ahead. The next goal is to go beyond Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Region) to the Asia Pacific.”
Jaishankar said if connectivity on the eastern front was building upon longstanding policy, that with the Gulf region in India’s west, home to around seven million expatriate Indians, was “relatively more recent conceptually”.
“Our energy dependence on the region was also dictated more by markets than by policy,” he said.
Stating that India was no longer content to be passive recipient of outcomes, he said “the combination of human and energy connectivity offers immense opportunities, magnified by the prospect that this region can serve as a bridge to nations further beyond”.
“I can confidently predict that ‘Act East’ would be matched with ‘Think West’,” he said.
The foreign secretary said if there were visible obstructions to growing connectivity, it was primarily on India’s northwest.
“The absence of transit rights there is an impediment to trade, energy flows and economic integration,” he aid.
“Normalisation of the situation in Iran is, therefore, particularly welcome. We are working to invest in the Chahbahar port, join the Ashgabat Agreement and participate in the International North South Transport Corridor,” he said, adding that these could be game changers in Central Asia.
Turning to maritime connectivity, Jaishankar said that the Indian Ocean was increasingly being seen as a connectivity pathway.
“Much of the world’s trade passes through it, as does that of India. Its economic potential spans a wide arc that goes well beyond its littoral limits,” he said.
“These waters must not only get better connected but remain free from non-traditional and traditional threats that could impede the seamless movement of goods, people and ideas.”
He called for the need to meet the twin objectives of addressing common threats while unlocking the potential of these waters.
“India therefore supports a range of activities to that end, which extend from building coastal surveillance and off shore patrolling capabilities to offering hydrographic services and monitoring white shipping,” he said.
Jaishankar also said that if one sought a multi-polar world, the right way to begin would be to create a multi-polar Asia.