The stunning election victory of the UPA now gives Dr Manmohan Singh's government a second chance to establish priorities, in foreign policy no less than in other spheres. It is notable that foreign policy did not become an election issue. Despite attempts to elevate the India-US nuclear deal to the status of a decisive issue, this particular subject seemed to fade away even before the campaign got into full swing. Similarly, calls for tougher handling of the issue of terrorism did not much resonate with the electors. Even the escalating Tamil casualties in the final assault by Sri Lanka on the LTTE did not become an issue affecting the vote. In foreign policy as much as in other realms, the election result has been seen as a vote for continuity and stability. No basic re-orientation has been demanded or promised. Moreover, the strengthening of the Congress party in Parliament means that internal pressures within the ruling coalition, as became evident at crucial times during the last government, can no longer threaten to force the issue and unbalance decision making. Continuity is the watchword and we can legitimately expect to see foreign policy continue along its established path. This should not imply that there is no need for change or for fresh initiatives. Indeed, it should be possible as the government heads into its second term to pick up a number of threads from its previous initiatives and re-state essential goals, presenting a coherent picture of where the government aims to go over the next five years. There are reports that a programme for the first 100 days is being shaped in the PM's Office, presumably along the lines of what is seen in the USA, to try to ensure that the newly installed government gets off to a flying start. Though dealings with foreign countries cannot readily be fitted into a domestic timetable, it is possible that this 100 day programme may outline some of the priority areas in external policy: an initial agenda, as it were. Regarding the substance of the matter, it is evident that India's main problems in its external relations lie close to home. Surveying the neighbourhood in almost every direction, there are problems to be discerned. This is nothing new and differences of one sort or another with neighbours are more or less taken for granted. But India has advanced greatly: it has always loomed over its South Asian neighbours and with the rapid progress recorded over the last several years it has pulled further ahead. For it to remain entangled in regional, sometimes even parochial, issues is hardly in keeping with the country's wider interests and associations. Maybe it is now an opportune moment for another attempt to transform the neighbourhood from one of niggling contentiousness to one of genuine cooperation. The most practical and well-received Indian move in this direction was that of then Prime Minister I K Gujral whose 'Gujral Doctrine' remains a signpost for South Asia. The essence of this doctrine was that India undertook to meet its smaller neighbours more than halfway and not demand strict reciprocity in its dealings with them. This brought real expectation to the region and led to some enduring agreements that helped resolve long-standing bilateral problems. Mr Gujral did not remain in office long enough for the full impact of his doctrine to take effect. It could be time now for a fresh all-encompassing initiative by New Delhi that places India's relations with the surrounding countries on a healthier and more cooperative basis. In its first term, the UPA did much to move in this direction. It helped achieve a democratic solution to the Maoist insurgency in Nepal and tried to moderate the closing phase of the military destruction of the LTTE. Most important, as confirmed by the prime minister during the campaign, back channel talks with Pakistan brought the two sides within reach of agreement on issues that have bedeviled their relationship since they first emerged as independent nations. Thus it is possible to aspire to a South Asia free of major bilateral conflict, joined in a Virtuous Circle of mutual support and cooperation. Such an ambition would be a worthy goal for the government in its second coming. On the wider stage, India's regional and international role needs closer explication. Much has been said - almost too much - about the implications of the India-US nuclear deal. Even though the criticism that the deal tends to make us subservient to today's sole superpower is wide of the mark, with the nuclear deal India has entered a new strategic era whose implications are as yet somewhat unclear. The strengthening link with the USA comes at a time when that country has become more active than ever in South Asia. The AfPak strategy makes demands on the region as a whole, not on the two principals alone. The USA has been careful until now to disclaim any direct attempt to bring India into the fold of its new policy but things might change, especially if confronting the Taliban insurgency proves more difficult and more prolonged than presently anticipated. There are also other areas of activity where a different form of collaboration has emerged, notably in the affairs of the Indian Ocean. Here, too, the purpose and the limits of Indian strategy are not too clear. Now that India is on a crest, its democratic credentials yet again on display and several years of economic success behind it, its external associations are bound to become ever more elaborate and extensive. To give an idea of where we are headed and what shape our future global strategy might take is a task that devolves on the country's leadership. A vision for the future commensurate with the country's changing needs and capacities is required. Nor can we ignore major issues where India's role has been under question and policy adjustments may be necessary - such as environment and climate change, WTO, security and counter-terrorism, among others. One matter that is likely to loom large in the near future is that of nuclear disarmament. This is something on which we occupied the moral high ground for decades. Even now, it is India that can claim to have placed the most comprehensive and closely reasoned plan before the international community. As priorities have shifted and the older nuclear powers have started to revive global disarmament concepts, a fresh opportunity has arisen for India to take its proper place within the debate. In the wake of the election and the clear verdict it has provided, India is in a position to play a bigger part in international events. Indeed, its burgeoning interests drive it in that direction. This is a time for big ideas and imaginative projections, which represents a considerable challenge to the incoming government. The writer is India's former foreign secretary