The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leading from front & mincing no words
"...we have succeeded in bringing the US to our point of view. It is not a mean achievement that America now uses the vocabulary of cross-border infiltration and terrorism" Kanwal Sibal

New Delhi, Nov. 24: Nobody can accuse Kanwal Sibal of having been a lacklustre foreign secretary.

Known to lead from the front, Sibal, who demits office at the end of this month, was never shy of clearly spelling out the government’s policy.

He came as a breath of fresh air into the foreign office, never ducked any questions and was a journalist’s delight.

“One can have a faceless foreign secretary or one with a face. I think in a modern democratic system where foreign policy has to be explained and the mind of those involved in policy making made more known, it is helpful to have an articulate foreign secretary with the ability to handle his interlocutors with persuasion,” Sibal said.

However, he was quick to point out that a foreign secretary “cannot be so foolish as to believe that he has more than his designated role in fashioning and expressing government policy.”

Commenting on the foreign policy challenges facing the country, Sibal said: “Foreign policy is formulated at two levels — tactical and strategic. We are good at tactics because we can fashion an immediate response to an immediate challenge. The bigger challenge is to fit our tactical responses into a larger strategic framework.”

In the changed global scenario, according to Sibal, a major challenge to Indian foreign policy was “to effectively manage the relationship with the US while emphasising the positives and limiting the negatives”.

Unless the US moved on issues like space, nuclear energy, high technology and dual-use technologies, no other country would, he pointed out. “So if we want international cooperation in these sectors we need to develop a strong bilateral relationship with the US,” he argued. India and the US, he said, had decided to move forward in these areas and had set up a High Technology Control Group for this purpose.

He argued that to fight terrorism effectively, the US would have to show “the same determination and clarity as it does while dealing with international terrorism directed at it”. However, he claimed “even here we have succeeded in bringing the US to our point of view. It is not a mean achievement that America now uses the vocabulary of cross-border infiltration and terrorism.”

The developing relationship with China — especially the initiation of border talks — was listed by Sibal as a major foreign policy achievement. “To this I would add the establishment of our strategic presence in Afghanistan; building a long term strategic relationship with Iran and Myanmar; and the forward thrust of our look-east policy,” he said.

About the immediate neighbourhood, however, Sibal was less sanguine. The situation in Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Bangladesh, he admitted, continued to threaten regional security.

However, he pointed out that with Nepal, India had adopted a policy that did not interfere in its internal affairs but “yet makes us the most important and trusted interlocutor both with the monarchy and the political parties”.

With Sri Lanka, Sibal said, India had entered into a comprehensive economic partnership and was going for a defence cooperation agreement. “The relationship should become a model for all our neighbours. It underlines the fact that disparity in size and economic strength is not necessarily a handicap; that the Indian market and goodwill can be leveraged by our neighbours.”

Commenting on the India-Pakistan relationship Sibal said: “Coping with Pakistan is clearly the most important challenge that we face. It has implications for our internal security, to some extent for communal harmony and for our diplomacy in general.”

India, he said, was forced to respond to Pakistan raising the J&K issue in all international fora. “The issues of international terrorism, religious extremism, weapons of mass destruction and human rights form a complex skein of subjects that arise in the India-Pakistan equation. So when we deal with Pakistan, we have to with all these issues,” Sibal said.

Sibal said dealing with the hegemony of western values, remained a major challenge. “There are many positive aspects to them but they become problematic because there is a tendency to pack them with intrusive diplomacy,” he said.

India “by virtue of its size, strength, civilisation, human resources and culture has to find a role for itself which is commensurate with its assets”, Sibal said. A permanent membership of the UN Security Council alone would allow that.

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