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Defence Pact lifts Indo-Kiwi amity

New Zealand and India appear to have drawn closer to each other with the visit of Prime Minister John Key to Delhi and Mumbai last fortnight.

Although he spent less than two days in the Capital, Mr Key had a crowded schedule of meetings from dawn to dusk with his counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh and a number of other leaders of the Central Government and political parties. As he returned home, he was confident that a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the world’s fastest growing economy, although not in his baggage, was moving fast to the delivery line.

While FTA is still almost a year away, Mr Key could perhaps take pride in the ‘Defence Cooperation’ (Agreement?) that he signed with Dr Singh, announcing the appointment of a Defence Advisor to India, based initially in Wellington.

That seemed odd, because India’s Defence establishment in terms of human resources alone would surpass the entire population of New Zealand (4.2 million), while its arsenal is beyond comparison.

However, it is not the size but the spirit behind the pact that matters.

As well as the FTA prospects, New Zealand stands to gain substantially through India’s huge potential in the investment, education and tourism sectors.

New Delhi would expect New Zealand to continue the waiver with the ‘Nuclear Supplier Group’ for supply of uranium to its nuclear power plants.

As a quid pro quo, New Zealand may have softened its stand on nuclear proliferation, considering that its small size does not make it a powerful enough advocate in a world that has changed significantly since September 9, 2001.

In addition, New Zealand would support India’s claim of permanent membership to the UN Security Council.

Neither Mr Key nor Dr Singh told any of us in as many words, but journalists are often good at reading between the lines.

The visit of Mr Key to the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai, his meeting with Vice Admiral DK Joshi, the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command and visit to the indigenously built Fast Attack Craft ‘INS Cankarso’ (fitted with Water Jet propulsion units made in Hamilton) were indications of new relationships in progress.

The Naval ship has played a major role in combating Somali pirates and rescuing Thai and Myanmar crew from their captivity.

“New Zealand is looking to strengthen maritime cooperation with India by significantly increasing the number of naval exercises between the two countries,” Mr Key told reporters in Mumbai on June 28.

“Piracy is among our major concerns and we are committed to tackling piracy in close collaboration with India,” he said.

John Key with Vice Admiral DK Joshi in Mumbai on June 28, 2011. National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi is also in the picture.

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