Inaugural Address by External Affairs Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee at Heads of Missions Conference
December 22, 2008
It is my pleasure to inaugurate this first conference of all our Heads of Missions. The timing of this conference is most opportune. The world is in the midst of transition covering both political and economic spheres. Political transitions are underway in countries of our neighbourhood as also in the world’s leading power. The global economic crisis shows no sign of an ending soon. Issues of energy, environment, food security, and water, to name a few, are becoming more complex. Above all, the effects of the processes of globalization are throwing up new challenges; but, they also provide opportunities for our national endeavours. We have to ensure that our interests and security are safeguarded and promoted. As a stakeholder in the international system, we need to manage the strategic shifts that are underway to maintain our stability and security and bring prosperity to our people.
Before I share my thoughts with you on how we should play a role in shaping these outcomes, I would like to use this opportunity to mention some of our achievements in the past four and a half years. In this period not only we have had significant diplomatic successes but we have also been able to make good progress in transforming our systems and way of functioning so that we are able to respond better to the global developments. If I were to list out the main achievements these would include:
(i) Relations with neighbours: We live in a difficult neighbourhood. Each of our neighbours is undergoing a domestic transition. It is heartening to note that most of these transitions are proceeding smoothly and have led to the spread of democracy. Our relations with each of our neighbours, apart from Pakistan are better than before. Both Nepal and Bhutan have new democratically elected governments and Bangladesh is soon going to hold its national elections. It is also a matter of some satisfaction that we have been a factor for stability and peace in the region and our economic growth is having an impact beyond our borders. There is a realization among most of our neighbours, of the increased opportunities and the benefits of partnering with us.
(ii) Energisation of SAARC: During our chairmanship we have been able to move SAARC from a declaratory phase to an implementation phase and launch several initiatives including the SAARC Food Bank, SDF and the South Asia University.
(iii) Relationship with major powers: Today our relations with all the world’s major powers are much deeper and stronger than before. We are engaged in establishing strategic partnerships and expanding the scope and depth of our economic and strategic interaction with different countries, groupings and regions – whether it is the US, Russia, China, Japan, EU, South East Asia, Central Asia, IBSA or many others with whom we are developing a fruitful and active dialogue. Our relations with Africa got a major fillip with the first India-Africa Summit this year. The successful completion of the Civil Nuclear Initiative is a major diplomatic achievement. It is the first time that we have been able to move the international system to change long established rules in our favour. From being a target of the technology denial regimes we are now regarded as a partner.
(iv) Passport/Visa services: The Passport Sewa project should result in better and efficient passport services to our fellow citizens in a comfortable environment. By the end of 2009 we should be able to issue new passports in 3 days and do all other miscellaneous services in a day. We have also been able to outsource visa work in 29 missions which has resulted in better use of available manpower and also better service to people.
(v)As regards the functioning of the Ministry also there have been several new initiatives and milestones. Cabinet has approved 514 new posts which will be created in a phased manner over the next 10 years. This additional manpower should help us in dealing with our ever increasing responsibilities arising from greater engagement with the world. The work on a new state of the art building for the Ministry ‘Jawahar Lal Nehru Bhawan’ is progressing smoothly. When we next meet for such a conference it will be in that building. The new housing complex in Chankyapuri is almost complete and this should help to relieve the housing problem for our officers when they return to Headquarters. We are undertaking major construction projects in Beijing, Tokyo, Kathmandu and Singapore. We are also working to improve and strengthen the security of our missions abroad so that we can avoid incidents like the terrorist bombing of our mission in Kabul. The Ministry is processing a proposal to classify our missions in different categories depending upon threat perception and to provide them with requisite number of professionally trained security guards and security equipment.
This is just a brief listing of some of what we have done. The real indicator of our success and achievement in diplomacy is the fact India is being called upon to assume an increasingly demanding role on the global stage.
I had mentioned in the beginning that the world today is in transition. This is evident in our immediate neighbourhood as well as in the larger global arena.
In our neighbourhood we have continued with our efforts to deepen engagement, either bilaterally or multilaterally and even by assuming a built-in asymmetry in responsibilities. An objective assessment shows that this policy has yielded results except with Pakistan. The recent terrorist attack on Mumbai was unprecedented both in terms of its scale and audacity. This and the series terrorist incidents preceding it including the attack on our embassy in Kabul, where we lost our colleagues indicate that terrorism emanating out of Pakistan is acquiring an increasingly dangerous dimension and continues to threaten peace and stability in this region and beyond.
We have so far worked at several levels. At the international level we have sought the support of the international community to put pressure on Pakistan to deal effectively with the terrorism. We have highlighted that the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan has to be dismantled permanently. We are not saying this just because we are affected but because we believe that it will be good for the entire world and also for Pakistani people and society. This terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan is the greatest terrorist danger to peace and security of the entire civilized world. There has been some effort so far by the international community but this is not enough. Much more needs to be done and the actions should be pursued to their logical conclusion. We need effective steps not only to bring those responsible for the Mumbai attacks to justice, but also to ensure that such acts of terrorism do not recur. Unfortunately Pakistan’s response so far has demonstrated their earlier tendency to resort to a policy of denial and to seek to deflect and shift the blame and responsibility. We expect civilian Government of Pakistan to take effective steps to deal with elements within Pakistan who still continue the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. We have so far acted with utmost restraint and are hopeful that international community will use its influence to urge Pakistani Government to take effective action. While we continue to persuade the international community and Pakistan we are also clear that ultimately it is we who have to deal with this problem. We will take all measures necessary as we deem fit to deal with the situation.
The international financial and economic crisis presents another set of transitional challenges for us. From our perspective, we need to see how we can manage the crisis and also place ourselves in a position so that we can play a role in any future global financial or political structure. The challenge for us is to shape a set of policies encompassing both the security and foreign dimension such that we can ensure an external environment conducive to India’s transformation and continued development.
You have the experience and are well versed in the craft of diplomacy. However I wish to point out some facets which will require particular attention, given the transitional global political and economic environment that we now find ourselves in.
We have today a multiplicity of actors on the global firmament, including think-tanks, NGOs and the media. These actors are exercising a significant level of influence. During the civil nuclear cooperation discussions, we saw how a concerted effort was made to unsettle negotiations, by portraying a narrow and distorted view of the negotiations. Therefore, even though these actors may exercise varying degrees of influence and hold views which may be antithetical, there is no alternative but to take cognizance and engage with them. This engagement can be at various levels in its intensity and range. In the coming years, the crafting of sound policies will also depend on the influence we are able to bring to bear and the way in which we manage these processes and actors.
In this context, our soft-power is an asset we need to utilize with a greater degree of cohesiveness and with an outcome oriented approach. We have scholarships and mid-career training programmes, we offer defence cooperation and related technical programmes. A vast amount of money is spent on these programmes. Unlike some other countries, we have till date eschewed monetizing these programmes. Perhaps, we may now need to conduct a more realistic assessment and undertake an audit of the utility of these programmes, of these tools of soft-power at our disposal. The database of participants can be augmented not only by annual ITEC days but perhaps by promoting an alumni of graduates of Indian institutes in your countries. We should capitalize on the existing goodwill, in creative ways, and I expect our Missions to assist in this task.
Our chanceries and facilities for those seeking passport, visa and other consular services represent our public face and need a special mention. The maintenance and upkeep of these facilities should be a priority. At the same time we should endeavour to provide services comparable to best international standards. As I noted earlier we have made some progress in this regard. I hope that this will continue.
The Indian Diaspora is an asset. They are not only affluent in many countries and are also influential, being well integrated into their local communities. The efforts of previous years to engage them, has proven to be beneficial and they can be a source of strength. We need to continue to nurture them.
On the economic dimension, India’s economy has proven to be both outward looking, competitive and resilient. Our companies are no longer shy in exploring new opportunities and our manufacturing is setting new standards and earning a healthy reputation. This can be utilized to enhance our reach and effectiveness in other countries.
The larger process of globalization has unintended consequences. There is the accelerated interaction, due to the speed and spread of the electronic media. This has severely compressed the time available for decision-making. We have to be aware of this in our work both in Headquarters and in Missions. We must be clear in our analysis and in our presentation of options. The transitions underway globally also makes it harder for us to arrive at assessments but we should gear ourselves to discerning the different strands, particularly the underlying currents which are influencing policy making. The fluidity of the situation provides us an opportunity, to fashion new frameworks to enhance our interest.
To conclude, it is not merely the structure of the international system that is changing at a rapid pace. The challenges themselves are rapidly evolving. Traditional approaches must make way to more forward looking approaches of cooperative solutions. We should prepare to play a leading role in shaping the emerging world, by preparing long term strategies as an influential and respected member of the international community.
You will over the next three days consider many aspects of our global interaction. I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to your conclusions which I will discuss in the concluding session on the 24th.