Prime Minister Modi greets neighborhood leaders in New Year, skips Pakistan

NEW DELHI: The first day of the afternoon Narendra Modi reiterated India's commitment to its first neighborhood policy and a vision of peace and prosperity shared in telephone conversations with leaders from all countries in the region, except Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The Prime Minister spelled out a commitment to prosperity and progress for all of India’s “friends and partners in the region”. Sources said the current circumstances in India- Pakistan bilateral ties didn’t lend themselves to a similar call to Khan though they didn't rule out an exchange of greetings in some form later.

The already stuttering ties with Pakistan further dipped after the abrogation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status last August that led to Islamabad launch of a diplomatic offensive. Khan attacked India for the anti-Muslim measure and spoke of a nuclear conflict in an effort to attract global attention and India's counteroffensive sent bilateral ties to deep freezing.

One of the first leaders Modi spoke with was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina , whom he congratulated for being re-elected as president of the Awami League for the next three years. Modi also expressed his condolences for the premature disappearance of the former high commissioner of Bangladesh to India, Syed Muazzem Ali.

He also mentioned the next centenary of the birth of Bangabandhu and the 50 years of the liberation of Bangladesh and the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties as well as important milestones to advance the close ties between India and Bangladesh, a priority of his government, said an official statement .

The conversation is important in the context of a heated policy on the Citizenship Law (Amendment) that has seen frequent references to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the persecution of Hindus in that country.

In his conversation with Prime Minister K P Oli of Nepal, Modi expressed satisfaction with the progress of relations in 2019, with the completion of several projects. He specifically noted the completion of the Motihari (India) -Amlekhgunj (Nepal) oil pipeline in record time. Both leaders also agreed to the early inauguration of the integrated checkpoint in Biratnagar and the housing reconstruction project in Nepal through videoconferencing. Later, Oli tweeted about his conversation in which he said the need to address outstanding issues was mentioned.

Modi also spoke with Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and President of Lankan Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, as well as Maldives President Ibrahim Solih.

“The Prime Minister conveyed to the leaders his New Year greetings and good wishes on behalf of the people of India and on his own behalf,” added the statement. In his conversation with the Bhutan king, Modi spoke of important achievements that led to further consolidation of special ties between India and Bhutan .

"The Prime Minister fondly recalled his last visit to Bhutan and the love and affection he received from the people there. He also emphasised the need to enhance youth exchanges between the two countries. The Prime Minister also mentioned that he was looking forward to forthcoming visit of the king to India,” said the government.

It was said that Gotabaya had warmly reciprocated Modi's wishes and expressed his confidence that India and Sri Lanka would further improve friendship ties in 2020. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to work together to achieve this end.

With Mahinda, Modi reiterated India's commitment to further expand the close and extensive cooperation with Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Rajapaksa responded warmly to the wishes and expressed a great desire to further improve relations between the two countries.