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Syed Atiq ul Hassan: PM Howard’s Visit To India

PM Howard’s Visit To India

By Syed Atiq ul Hassan, Sydney

Just after US President George W. Bush's visit to India, Australian Prime Minister John Howard arrived in India to spend 4 busy days along with his team of 40 high-profile members including prominent ministers. John Howard’s visit to India is being considered as the most momentous visit by Australian leadership to boost-up strong ties with India in various fields. Commenting on his visit Prime Minister Howard said, the aim of his visit was to build closer ties with a country seen as an emerging economic global power with high growth rate in recent years.

Ofcourse Howard’s visit to India was well planned for a long time and had been due since last year when John Howard visited Paksitan to support earthquake victims. However, the visit is being valued to greater extent especially when Howard follows the visits of leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United States, France and Ireland to India in recent months, to take advantage of Indian growing opportunities for trade in an economy forecast to grow 8.1 percent in the fiscal year ending March. Bush's controversial nuclear co-operation deal with India - who has not signed yet the non-proliferation treaty - already, has India on spotlight for many western investors and marketers.

India's growth rate has been 7 to 8 per cent a year in the past three years and this steady economic growth has made India an attractive trade partner for the world’s leading economic power countries. India has the highest growth rate of middle-class professional manpower.

India is Australia's 12th biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade stands at slightly less than 5.5 billion US dollars, according to the most recent Australian figures with India being Australia's sixth largest market for exports. The current visit of Australian leadership to India is focusing to further promote the business, tourism and cultural links. There has been a delegation of 20 Australian top businessmen from banks, transport and resources companies as well as universities assisting Prime Minister Howard to sign number of agreements and memorandum of understanding. John Howard also launched a new push for more Indian students to study in Australia. India is the second-largest source of foreign students and our fourth-largest source of immigrants over the past 10 years. In 2005, about 25,000 students came to Australia for studies under different programmes. Last year, Australia sold India goods and services worth $6.9 billion while imports were $1.8 billion. Australian businesses have now begun to look at India to see more dollar signs.

In his recent visit, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with his Indian counter part Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in various important fields. India and Australia have agreed to enhance defence cooperation between the two countries. The MoU broadly covers cooperation in the areas regarding exchange of views on security and defence related matters, training, maritime cooperation, defence industries, defence research and development. The MoU also envisages setting up of India - Australia Joint Working Group on defence for guiding and monitoring the on-going defence cooperation between the two countries. The two sides also inked five other agreements, including a Trade and Economic Framework, an Air Services Agreement, MoUs on Customs and Biotechnology and a Letter of Intent on the establishment of a Strategic Research Fund. India also wants to become the member of Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC). Australia is hosting APEC 2007 conference and India wants Australian support to come as member.

India is also pushing Australia to market Uranium to India. Australia has about 40% of the world's known uranium deposits, but only sells it to countries which have signed the treaty. Howard was asked whether Australia would relax its policy of opposing exports of its uranium to countries such as India which are not signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Avoiding clear denial, Howard leaving open the possibility of a reversal in the future, said Australia would not "suddenly change" its policy.

The prolific visit of George Bush to India followed by Howard’s four busy days signing multiple agreements and MoU with India must have raised concerns in the capital of Pakistan. The prime reason for India to earn value and weight globally is that India is known by its long and largest democratic government in the world. On the other hand, military-controlled Pakistan has never satisfied the international community as a democratic running country even in times when the country was running by civilian leaders. The permanent hold of retired and deputed army officials in civil administration left a constant impression that Pakistani government system will ever be able to establish an army-free government. On the issue of resolving disputes with Pakistan India has always made a point to the international community that India cannot resolve the issues with Pakistan; as Pakistan always has a direct or indirect influence of army in State’s political and civil matters. George Bush has always praised President Musharraf, calling him “very good friend” and appreciated his deeds as being efforts to bring democratic process in Pakistan. However, when President Bush landed in Islamabad via Delhi his tone changed, he said, US wanted to see a fair election in Pakistan next year. This indicates Bush must have been convinced by the Indian leadership on Pakistan’s army ruled status and counted them as hitches to deal with Pakistan on the issues of mutual disputes, particularly, the core dispute of Kashmir.

Coming back to Australia-India ties in comparison with Australia’s relation with Pakistan, one prominent reason is the day-to-day performance of India’s foreign mission in Australia. India has a large and very active embassy and consulate offices in Australia. In Sydney, India has a very busy consulate, trade and tourism office. There are approximately 50 staff members and many diplomats are there to promote India by providing best services to the Australian tourists and business community. They promote India using the national media, holding cultural events and organising trade & cultural exhibitions round the year. Their promotional campaign can be seen on Australian national television. On the other hand one cannot see any activity from Pakistan foreign offices situated in Canberra and Sydney. Having traditional bureaucratic attitude and isolated life with traditional lavish and relax attitude Pakistan embassy in Canberra and consulate office in Sydney exist assumingly for nothing except stamping visas and renewing Pakistani passports. Even the Pakistani mission has closed its visa office from Sydney which is the largest city of Australia and where 80% Pakistanis live. The Pakistani diplomats have never shown any ability to coordinate with Pakistani Australians who are highly professionals and belong to various professions. They are scientist, educationist, doctors, intellectuals, journalists, IT professionals and so on. Last year, during the visit of President Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani mission found unable to organise the launch to be hosted by the business community in the honour of President Musharraf. The event was eventually handed over to Asian Society which is dominated by Indians.


Syed Atiq ul Hassan is a Sydney-based journalist and a media analyst - Email:

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