UPA wakes up to smart diplomacy

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October 31, 2012

NEW DELHI — India's world view is set for a makeover with the appointment of the suave and articulate Salman Khurshid to head the Ministry of External Affairs or the foreign ministry. He is considered the best man for the job who can get policy engines running again.

The decision goes to prove the former law minister retains the confidence of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh despite recent allegations of corruption levelled against him.

October 31, 2012

NEW DELHI — India's world view is set for a makeover with the appointment of the suave and articulate Salman Khurshid to head the Ministry of External Affairs or the foreign ministry. He is considered the best man for the job who can get policy engines running again.

The decision goes to prove the former law minister retains the confidence of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh despite recent allegations of corruption levelled against him.

Khurshid's elevation is expected to bring new vigour to this crucial ministry after the exit of S. M. Krishna. "He's putting his core team together at the moment and it will be a clear, coherent approach," said a source at the ministry.

The new minister has spoken of transparency, and has a lot to play for, but he has little time on his side as general elections are due in 2014.

The 59-year old Khurshid will be keen to stamp his mark after three years of the 'Krishna Doctrine' which even diplomats were unsure about.

Khurshid's first stint at the foreign ministry was in 1992 as junior minister. He was tipped for the top job in 2004 before the Congress high command handed the post to Natwar Singh.

"It's a sort of homecoming for him. He was so close, yet far. Now here he is,'' said Uttam Kumar Sinha of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Immediately on the busy schedule for the new external affairs minister was a meeting with Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia on Tuesday.

On November 2, he will preside over the foreign ministers' meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation in Gurgaon, Haryana. Next stop Lagos in Nigeria for an Asia-Europe trade summit.

In diplomatic circles, he's perceived as a liberal who will engage with India's neighbours. "It's better to engage than to not talk at all," said Arvind Gupta of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

The diplomatic process is expected to turn robust, but not aggressive under Khurshid. More importantly, there appears to be relief that he won't be gaffe-prone like his predecessor Krishna, who once read out a speech meant for the Portuguese foreign minister at the United Nations.

Analysts like Uttam Kumar Sinha, said Khurshid being a Muslim also helps India project its secular face to the world. "It's a kind of connect which will help him forge ties and build trust."

The foreign minister is part of the important Cabinet Committee on Security which also comprises the finance, home and defence ministers. So what Khurshid does abroad will be reflection of India's domestic policies to some extent. Trade and commerce will be freely mixed with foreign policy to further the country's interests across the world.

Ties with the US are on the upswing, but balancing China and Pakistan on the left and right flanks are important, and Khurshid is not expected to do anything drastically different.

Plans for the Middle East are as yet unclear with the changes sweeping the region. Energy security is a concern with the continuing stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme, and Arvind Gupta ruled out India playing mediator between the West and Tehran over the issue. "India's commitment to non-alignment will give it the leverage to continue its independent external policy," he said.

Khurshid brings the quiet art of persuasion to the table, which is good for smart diplomacy.


Courtesy: KT