Winds of change sweep India’s foreign officeAugust 11th, 2009 - 12:32 pm ICT by IANS
By Manish Chand
New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) The elite Indian Foreign Service (IFS) that powers India’s global diplomacy and manages relations with nations is changing. Mid-career training and specialisation are the new mantra. Promotions were a matter of aging gracefully, but now even senior diplomats have to prove themselves to move up the career ladder.
In a never-before event, 30 joint secretary rank diplomats - or mid-career diplomats - due for promotion were sent to the Indian School of Business, the country’s top business school, at Hyderabad to reorient them to the new challenges of economic diplomacy in a business-driven world.
All diplomats starting at the level of directors now have to submit a well-researched paper on one of the subjects relating to India’s foreign policy to graduate to the next step up the ladder. The proposal originated with a report by Satinder Lambah, currently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy to Pakistan, on the reorganisation of the foreign office.
Lambah recalled a number of recommendations he made for revamping the foreign office, including reorganisation of divisions/departments in the ministry, integration of policy planning and research division with think tanks, a more objective and performance-oriented promotion policy and the inspection of missions.
“There is no getting away from the reorganisation of the service. The process has already started,” Lambah told IANS.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, building upon the spadework on internal reforms initiated by her predecessors Shivshankar Menon and Shyam Saran, set the tone on the day she took charge by emphasising that expanding India’s diplomatic capabilities in keeping with its growing global status will top her agenda.
The manpower crunch - just 669 diplomats spread across the headquarters in New Delhi, 119 resident missions and 49 consulates - that has hobbled the ministry is now finally being addressed. Last year, the cabinet approved 30 new posts each year over the next decade.
An article by an American strategic expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, Daniel Markey, that did the rounds, critiqued the functioning of India’s diplomatic institutions. Markey said in his article, “Developing India’s Foreign Policy Software”, that the IFS is a right fit for a country like Malaysia, but surely not for a rising power. Even a country like Brazil has 1,197 diplomats. The US, the world’s sole superpower after the Cold War, tops the list with 19,667 diplomats. Germany has 3,250 and the UK has 3,600 diplomats, Markey noted.
Markey’s articles were discussed internally but foreign offices sources point out that changes had already begun with opening of new missions, specially in Africa, where an Indian envoy is sometimes responsible for more than two to three countries, and more emphasis being paid to public diplomacy with a region that has often stood neglected despite long-standing political and ethnic ties.
To enrich knowledge and expertise, there is a plan to bring in specialists from other ministries on deputation and experts from think tanks to address specific issues like climate change and energy security. Regular consultations with think tanks on specific issues have also become part of the drill.
There are also ambitious plans to outsource some of protocol-related work to private agencies to free up diplomats to focus on more substantive policy issues. A part of the passport services has been outsourced. Called the Passport Seva Project, it is likely to become operational in Punjab and Bangalore by the end of the year. Part of the passport services has been outsourced to Tata Consultancy services.
But while it’s a good beginning to make, the IFS has to act fast on these and more changes if it wants to shepherd India on the world stage with a place on the global high tables, say strategic analysts and former diplomats.
Satish Chandra, a former deputy national security adviser and a former envoy to Pakistan, rues the lack of depth of expertise and area specialisation among diplomats. There are opportunities for specialisation in areas like economic diplomacy, climate change, legal issues and non-proliferation, Chandra told IANS.
Above all, there is a compelling need for a mindset change that is in tune with India’s rising global stature and expanding economy. “The present mindset is not of a major role player in the global system. One hopes it will change,” K. Subrahmanyam, a strategic analyst, said.
(Manish Chand can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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