U.K.-India ties see thaw with Minister Tariq Ahmad’s visit

U.K.-India ties see thaw with Minister Tariq Ahmad’s visit

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs to focus on technology and innovation partnerships during four-day visit

U.K. Minister of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Tariq Ahmad began a visit to India on May 27, in the first such senior-level visit since tensions over violent pro-Khalistan protests outside the Indian High Commission in London in March.

The four-day visit also follows days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met warmly in Hiroshima, indicating the détente in ties. Mr. Ahmad, called “Lord Ahmad” in the U.K., who deals with South Asia amongst other regions, began his trip from Jodhpur on Saturday. He will also visit Delhi and Hyderabad and is expected to focus on technology and innovation projects in India. 

“Building on the 2030 road map for India-U.K. future relations, we are deepening our collaboration on science and technology, bringing new innovations to both our nations,” Mr. Ahmad said, according to a release by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Saturday. During his tour, he will visit both cultural sites and high-tech research facilities, to “accelerate U.K.-India collaboration on science, technology and health”, including technology start-ups at the innovation campus in Hyderabad, a space launch vehicle company and the National Institute of Animal Biotechnology, the release said.

Mr. Ahmad, who visited India in different capacities in the past, was last in Delhi in 2021, to discuss cooperation on climate change. However, a planned visit to India in June 2022 was deferred at the last minute , reportedly due to concerns by the Ministry of External Affairs that he would, in his previous capacity as Minister for Human Rights, raise issues over religious freedom in India ahead of a Ministerial conference in the U.K. on the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

On this visit, however, Mr. Ahmad, who is the U.K. Minister of State for the Middle East, South Asia, United Nations and the Prime Minister Sunak’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, is expected to focus on “strengthening science, research and innovation links”, and will discuss India’s G-20 agenda ahead of the summit in September, which Mr. Sunak will attend.

Sources said the U.K. is also exploring possibilities for a separate stand-alone bilateral visit by Mr. Sunak this year, especially as both countries seek to seal a free trade agreement (FTA).

“With India’s presidency of the G-20, we have an opportunity also for the U.K. and India to work together to shape and deliver solutions to global problems,” U.K. Acting High commissioner Christina Scott said in a statement about the visit. 

Ancestral connect

While in Jodhpur, Mr. Ahmad will visit the Mehrangarh fort as well as places with ancestral links, officials said, as his mother was born in Jodhpur, while his father was born in Gurdaspur, Punjab. In Delhi, he will meet with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, and G-20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, in what will be seen as an opportunity to discuss bilateral issues and smooth over ties.

The violence at the Indian High Commission in London on March 19, where pro-Khalistan separatist protesters broke windows and forcibly removed the Tricolour, had to led to outrage in New Delhi. The Ministry of External Affairs had then issued a formal demarche accusing the U.K. of not providing the mission adequate security despite repeated requests, and the National Investigation Agency opened its own inquiry into the incident. In what was seen as a retaliatory gesture, the police in Delhi also withdrew security barricades placed outside the British High Commission. 

However, since then, relations have been restored, after the London metropolitan police increased presence around the mission, and the British High Commissioner Alex Ellis expressed regret, saying more recently that he too would have been “equally angry” over such an incident. 

After the incident, U.K. National Security Adviser Tim Barrow visited India at the end of March, but to attend the G-20 Sherpa meet in Kerala.

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