NEW DELHI: In a year bookended by the coronavirus pandemic, India displayed a firm resolve to expand its strategic influence in reshaping the regional power balance in the face of an increasingly complex geopolitical entanglement of confronting an aggressive China and dealing with the aftermath of the Taliban's swift takeover of power in Kabul.
Distrustful of China's politics and policies, India shifted gears in rejuvenating strategic ties with its major partners like the US and Russia and focused on drumming up global support for its distinct strategy in the Indo-Pacific to check Beijing's increasing muscle-flexing in the region.
As the bitter border standoff in eastern Ladakh lingered on for over 18 months despite multiple rounds of diplomatic and military talks, India made it amply clear to China that the two countries cannot simultaneously have a "tense, high friction" border and great relations at the same time in all other spheres.
India was also among the leading voices globally that focused on rallying support of democratic nations to put in place resilient supply chains and create trusted technologies, a move largely seen as aimed at minimising reliance on China.
Another key foreign policy challenge for India was complexities arising out of the situation after the Taliban's lightning military triumph and capture of power in Kabul on August 15 following the departure of the US troops from Afghanistan.
Caught by surprise by the speed of the Taliban's juggernaut across Afghanistan, India reached out to major global powers to craft a broad framework in confronting the situation as it was concerned over the possibility of the war-torn country becoming a hotbed for terrorist groups including those having bases in Pakistan.
Under India's presidency, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on August 30, demanding that Afghan territory should not be used for terrorism, called for upholding of human rights and pitched for a negotiated political settlement to the crisis.
Subsequently, the resolution became the basis for discussions on the Afghan crisis at various global forums and dialogues.
Following the Taliban's capture of power, India evacuated a total of 448 Indians and 206 Afghans from Afghanistan as part of its evacuation mission christened "Operation Devi Shakti".
In November, India hosted a regional dialogue on Afghanistan that was attended by the national security advisors of Russia, Iran and all the five Central Asian countries.
Weeks later, India hosted the foreign ministers of the Central Asian countries at a conclave that called for immediate humanitarian aid to the Afghan people and renewed demand for a "truly inclusive" government in Kabul.
One of the key takeaways of India's diplomatic engagement in 2021 was the significant expansion of strategic partnership with the US under the Biden administration that assumed power on January 20.
In March, American President Joe Biden hosted the first-ever summit of the Quad leaders in the virtual format that was followed by an in-person summit in Washington in September for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had travelled to the US.
During the visit, Modi held separate bilateral talks with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, covering a range of critical areas including tackling climate change and ramping up cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
"I think that the relationship between India and the United States -- the largest democracies in the world -- is destined to be stronger, closer, and tighter.
And I think it can benefit the whole world," Biden said at the meeting with Modi.
India's ties with Russia also witnessed major expansion as both sides signed 28 agreements to further broad-base the relations at a summit between Modi and President Vladimir Putin in early December.
In the neighbourhood, India's relations with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives remained on an upward trajectory.
However, India's relations with Pakistan remained unchanged as Islamabad continued its support to cross border terrorism to create unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.
India also maintained its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan on the issue of terrorism and remained firm on its position on not having any talks with Islamabad until it stops cross border terrorism.
At the fag end of the year, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day visit to Myanmar in the first such high-level outreach from India after that country's military evicted the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup on February 1.
In his meetings with the leaders of the ruling dispensation, Shringla sought the restoration of democracy in the country.
India's ties with Australia, France, Japan, Germany, the UK, Vietnam, the European Union, G-20 and the African continent also saw an upswing.
In late October, Modi travelled to Rome to attend the 16th G-20 Summit.
During the visit, he also met Pope Francis in the Vatican.
From Italy, Modi flew into Glasgow to attend the COP26 Summit where he made a big announcement that India will reach the target of net zero emissions by 2070.
In February, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had to deal with the situation arising out of criticism by American singer Rihanna, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, American actress Amanda Cerniand and several other global celebrities on farmer protests.
The MEA reacted sharply to the adverse comments by the global celebrities and activists saying the facts on the issue must be ascertained before rushing to comment on it.
As India was reeling under a devastating second wave of coronavirus pandemic, countries across the globe extended a helping hand to it by sending Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO), ventilators, oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies.
India also played a significant role in ensuring vaccine equity as it sent around 10 crore doses to around 97 countries under its 'Vaccine Maitri' initiative.
The country also pitched for a united global approach to deal with the pandemic with the external affairs minister saying that it has not just been a once-in-a-century shock to the international system but it also thoroughly exposed all its fault-lines and shortcomings.
The year 2021 also saw the MEA speeding up its economic diplomacy with a sharper reorientation on achieving concrete outcomes.
The Indian missions and posts abroad were conveyed to further the goal of promoting three Ts -- trade, tourism and technology.