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World action passes India by

Washington, July 23: Bereft of a full-time external affairs minister, short on foreign policy expertise within the Prime Ministerís Office and uncertainties paralysing the ministry of external affairs, the Manmohan Singh governmentís dealings with the international community are adrift at a time when the world is grappling with crisis after crisis in several regions.

At Indian missions, veteran diplomats are nostalgic for a time when leaders and special envoys of key governments made a beeline to New Delhi whenever there was a major crisis.

Instead, even the few who had earlier scheduled visits are cancelling them: last Wednesday, Iranís foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, cancelled his trip.

In a week when special envoys of key countries are criss-crossing the globe to contain a flare-up in West Asia, the only significant visitor to arrive in New Delhi, as of now, will be the king of Bhutan.

Instead of claiming its role as the fastest-growing democracy in the world, the government appears content with crumbs, such as being on the sidelines of G8 summits.

True, at St Petersburg the G8 condemned the Mumbai blasts, but it would have done that anyway, given the present global fight against terror.

US officials insist that the other achievement India is touting ' the G8ís endorsement of the Indo-US nuclear deal ' is their initiative. President George W. Bush was keen on an endorsement.

Judging by South Blockís efforts, Indiaís foreign policy establishment is groping in an environment unrelated to reality.

Last week, the government announced a high-profile ďspecial committee to deliberate on how to bring the focus of the Non-Aligned Movement on economic and social issues relevant to the developing countriesĒ headed by Rajya Sabha member Arjun Sengupta.

In New York, where the NAMís coordinating bureau is located, diplomats of the organisationís leading member countries are laughing. For several years, NAM does not even deal with economic and social issues in any great depth. That task has been virtually delega-ted to the Group of 77, which includes all the key NAM states.

A few days ago, South Block was caught off guard when Cuba, New Delhiís friend of many decades, opened an embassy in Islamabad for the first time.

In an effort to control damage, the external affairs ministry rushed its secretary (West), Shashi Tripathi, to Havana. Too little too late.

The Prime Minister is aware of the pitfalls of not having a full-time external affairs minister, but is said to be unable to make up his mind on a new appointment.

What makes this worse is that the post of deputy national security adviser has been lying vacant for months since Vijay Nambiar left to become special adviser to the UN secretary-general.

The external affairs ministry is paralysed by un- certainties over succession to foreign secretary Shyam Saran, who retires in September.

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