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What S Jaishankar brings to ministry of external affairs table

As our former man in Washington, Jaishankar can also help steady relations with the US.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Updated: Jun 15, 2019, 07.23 AM IST
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ANI
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But Jaishankar’s real test will be the long-pending border dispute with China.
By Surendra Kumar

Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s new role as external affairs minister is one of the brightest developments not just for this government, but for India as well. What sets Jaishankar apart from earlier career diplomats — and India has had quite brilliant ones — is that the trust and the confidence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi he enjoyed even before he joined the latter’s Cabinet.

In these turbulent times, when international relations have been turned upside down by the likes of US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping, Modi has picked someone who not only is a keen analyst of this global flux, but also who understands his mindset, his vision for India in this new global order.

So, what does a professional diplomat like Jaishankar bring to the external affairs table of GoI? An incisive mind to dissect and understand the complexities of the issue at hand; a dispassionate analysis of ground realities; patience and perseverance for conducting tough negotiations while focusing on the broader national interest.…

It is an open secret that Modi wants to use foreign policy as a productive means to fulfil his domestic agenda of transforming India from a developing country to a developed one. Jaishankar is expected to help realise this aim.

As our former man in Washington, he can also help steady relations with the US, whose president has already termed India as the ‘tariff king’, withdrawn the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from India — amounting to a loss of $5.6 billion — and asked us to stop importing oil from Iran and buying the S-400 Triumf antiaircraft defence system from Russia.

Along with those, the tightening of the H-1B visa, intellectual property rights (IPR) pressure, imposition of duties on steel and aluminium, and India filing 17 trade disputes with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the US has impacted US-India relations despite the US having declared India a major defence partner, granting it Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA-1) status, and converging on the Indo-Pacific, not to mention selling India defence equipment worth $6 billion in the last six years. Jaishankar is India’s best bet to iron out some of those issues.

He is equally at home with China, where he is perceived as a promoter of closer Sino-Indian relations. Not too many will know that the idea of the Wuhan ‘informal summit’ between Modi and Xi didn’t emanate from Beijing; it was proposed by New Delhi. And if sources who map the corridors of South Block daily are to be believed, it was Jaishankar’s brainchild.

Besides maintaining peace on the border and reduction of the trade deficit, efforts will be made by India to dissuade China from supporting Pakistan blindly and obstructing India’s membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and UN Security Council.

But Jaishankar’s real test will be the long-pending border dispute with China. Over 40 rounds of talks between the special representatives of the two countries haven’t produced any tangible results.

Can Jaishankar facilitate a territorial compromise acceptable to both parties? What can it be? Have we prepared Indian public opinion? Any success on this front will require statesmanship, more than diplomacy.

The statesman focuses on the broader picture and rises from the chaos of the present to secure a better future. Above all, he is prepared to take risk and put all his prestige at stake to achieve long-term national goals. Egypt’s Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977 was an act of courage and statesmanship. Though they didn’t produce desired results, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore in 1999 and his invitation to Pervez Musharraf for the Agra Summit in 2001were great initiatives of statesmanship.

Professional diplomats are, by training and temperament, not prone to taking risks. Will Jaishankar, as external affairs minister now, be willing to move imaginatively and take risks in opening new chapters? Let time tell.

The writer is a former ambassador

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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