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Countering Ukraine questions, EAM shows Afghanistan mirror to the West

"in terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there, so let's see it in the right context"

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New Delhi: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday was blunt in his criticism of how the West shut its eyes a year ago to the Afghan crisis when an “entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world”, even as he reiterated India’s position on Ukraine, of finding a way to stop the fighting and returning to the path of diplomacy and dialogue.

Responding to questions by two European foreign ministers – from Norway and Luxembourg — at a Townhall event at the Raisina Dialogue here, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said that the past two years have brought in some big shocks in the form of Covid, Afghanistan and, the Ukraine conflict, with the sharper friction between the big powers – between the West and Russia and between the US and China, adding to it.

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The EAM said there would be “no winners” after the Ukraine conflict, and that while the issue was occupying the West, especially Europe, “to the exclusion of everything else”, there were other pressing issues concerning the rest of the world, especially Asia and Africa, of rising fuel prices and food inflation.

To the Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt asking how did India as the world’s largest democracy view its role amid Russia’s “authoritarian attack on Ukraine because it is a democracy“, the EAM cited India’s position on Ukraine – of articulating for urgent cessation of fighting, of return to diplomacy and dialogue and stressing on the need to respect the territorial integrity of states.

“I think this is a concern, not just for India, because the fact is there are different countries which evolve a combination of values, interests, history, experiences, culture, to approach conflicts, and specific situations.

“I remember what happened less than a year ago in Afghanistan, where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world.”

“We in Asia face our own sets of challenges which often impact on the rules- based order. “All of us would like to find the right balance of our beliefs, of our interests, of our experiences, and that is what we are all trying to do.. And it looks different from different parts of the world, priorities are different; that is quite natural, but as I said at the moment, these shocks for all of us are really to be concerned about, as each of these events, Afghanistan, Covid, Ukraine, big power rivalry, have global consequences, and consequences for the everyday person.”

When the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg mentioned the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to India and asked what was Russia’s justification of its actions in Ukraine which he said was “against international law”, EAM Jaishankar quipped that in terms of the justification that Lavrov had to offer “I think he has engaged many of you in Europe probably more on the subject than he has engaged us”.

“So I don’t think I have anything particularly new to contribute to that. But again I do recognize today that the conflict in Ukraine is the dominant issues, if not among the dominant issues of the day, and it is the dominant issue not just in terms of principles and values alone, but also in terms of the practical consequences of it, the knock-on effects.”

“You have in this part of the world, not just in Africa, but other parts of Asia, people are seeing the conflict play out in terms of higher energy prices, in terms of food inflation, in terms of disruptions of various kinds; so the truth is there is really nobody who wants to see the conflict; there will be no winners after this conflict. But I also stress, and I understand that at this moment this would probably occupy you to the exclusion of everything else.

“But there is also a world out there, and I am very glad that you are sitting here in India, because it would remind you that there are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world. I mentioned Afghanistan, I mentioned the challenges we which we faced in Asia, and if I were to place those very challenges in terms of principles, when the rules based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was – ‘do more trade’; at least we are not giving you that advice.”

“And in terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there, so let’s see it in the right context. “Our position is that we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue (in Ukraine) and to do that the fighting must stop, and that is the focus of what we are trying to do,” he said.

His comments come as the West has been pumping weapons, arsenal and money into Ukraine to keep the fighting going against Russia.

He also said that to deal with the big shocks of Covid, Afghanistan, Ukraine and big power rivalry, in terms of foreign policy there is a need to develop “operational metrics to respond to the world which is changing”.

“How do you course correct, and in our case, since 2014-15, we’ve had a much greater clarity in how we engage the world — with neighbourhood first, extended neighbourhood, and a conscious effort in engaging the world.”

“Also how do you develop a larger footprint, how do you develop capabilities, Atmanirbhar Bharat, a more self reliant India also, and in shouldering greater responsibility you need a narrative in the sense of a new India,” and added that they were “Getting the world right, developing the operational strategy to deal with that world and developing the capabilities and the narratives to deal with that”.

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