India's regional diplomacy faltering

India's regional diplomacy faltering

NEW DELHI - From Sri Lanka to Maldives to Bangladesh, India's relationship with its neighbours seems to have run into trouble.

The decision over the weekend by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to pull out of the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka is seen by many to be a policy miscalculation which will hurt bilateral ties.

Dr Singh will miss the meeting of 52 nations taking place in India's backyard because of domestic opposition to Colombo's alleged failure to investigate war crimes against the Tamil minority.

Most saw little gain in the last-minute cancellation.

"The Prime Minister talks about the importance of neighbourhood and engagement and then takes a decision to boycott Chogm hosted by Sri Lanka which will have an impact on ties," said former Indian foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. Chogm is short for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

"In the short term, I would say neighbourhood policy is in shambles."

Other leaders, such as New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, have said it is "more constructive to engage" Colombo and push it to investigate alleged war crimes in months leading to the end of the civil war in 2009.

Critics highlighted the Sri Lanka episode to say there is little focus on India's immediate neighbourhood.

The Congress-led government in its second term in power has been hobbled by domestic problems including corruption scandals and rising food prices. Foreign policy is seen to have taken a backseat.

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