With India's international engagements expanding at a rapid pace, the ministry of external affairs is facing an "acute shortage" of personnel and is planning to induct 500 officers in the next few years to meet its requirements.
"We have been hearing repeatedly about how small the ministry is and how we are unable to cope with challenges of our time due to shortage of resources. I would like to say that we have not let the acute shortage of resources, which is a reality, stop entirely the efforts to be proactive," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said at a book release function in New Delhi.
"We have created bureaus to deal with emerging issues. We have stepped up recruitment of personnel in the Indian Foreign Service. We have increased intake of people from other services and backgrounds to build in-house expertise in non-traditional areas," he said.
Asked about the extent of shortages, Mathai said, "We have not carried out any study to assess the shortage but we will be inducting 500 personnel in next few years to meet our requirements."
On the role of domestic factors in framing foreign policy, the foreign secretary said, "Domestic factors will influence policy towards neighbours. We have created presence in some state capitals beyond the traditional passport offices by having branch secretariats."
"We have created within the ministry a development partnership administration that will take charge of any development and aid programme with other countries. This will help in optimising the programmes that are being devised for development cooperation particularly with our neighbours," he added.
Mathai said the visa regimes and consular issues continue to remain a "major challenge" for the ministry but efforts were on to address these issues.
Speaking after releasing the book 'India's Neighbourhood Challenges in the Next Two Decades', Mathai said the higher growth trajectory of countries such as India and others has "led to a discernible peaceful shift of global politico and economic centres of gravity."
"This has increased their weight and profile in international relations and enhanced their capability to influence global events," he said.
The foreign secretary said global shifts are often accompanied by an "inevitable backlash" as such movements are not welcome by those who lose due to these changes.
"The determined effort to choke our growth through environmental norms and regulations is one such example. We also need to consider that the upsurge now called Arab Spring and the changes it could bring to oil markets in future, who would be affected most by it. Would it be traditional centres of power or will it be the emerging ones," he said.
On the challenges in India's neighbourhood, Mathai said, "The promotion of a politically stable and economically secure periphery is a paramount foreign policy objective for India."
He said such a policy was essential to meet challenges of fostering sustainable growth and "to ensure that regional differences could not be exploited by those who would be happy to see us absorbed in these disputes."
Mathai said India has been "hard at work in fostering interconnectivity and mutual confidence in multiple areas, in promoting trade and investment and trying to leverage India's rapid economic growth for a win-win arrangement with our neighbours."
The foreign secretary said "common South Asian interests must factor in policy making process of nations in the region."
"South Asian Economic Union, which is often spoken about, is possibly a distant dream but even an expanded set of economic connections will not only transform the economies of Asia but will be a force for political stability," he said.
Mathai said there were very few areas in the world where the logic of regional cooperation are as obvious as in South Asia "but it is also a fact that there are very few regions where the challenges in creating the structures for regional cooperation are so daunting."
The foreign secretary said that even as countries deal with historical challenges, they are faced with challenges of the 21st century.
"For example, the problem of demarcating the borders are now accompanied by completely different set of issues which arise due to irrelevance of borders due to globalisation," he said.
On the growing expectations from governments, Mathai said if they are not able to meet the requirements of their people, they create "fragile and weak" states.
"The dividing line between terrorists and transnational criminals in disappearing. Access to technology is increasing the dangers that we face. Even as South Asian nations struggle to bridge their internal digital divides, they now have to divert resources to foil cyber criminals operating in virtual world," he said.
In his address, the foreign secretary said 2012 marks 20 years of India's engagement with the ASEAN and a commemorative event will be held in September to celebrate it.
He also said that while building strong ties with all its neighbours and other countries, India is also attempting to build an 'Indian Ocean Littoral Community'.