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Natwar has busy agenda ahead

May 24, 2004 11:42 IST

External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh has a busy agenda ahead of him with the Indo-Pak peace process at a crucial stage and tough negotiations underway with China to expeditiously resolve the complex boundary issue.

The deteriorating situation in Iraq and the West Asia crisis are other areas that are likely to engage his immediate attention.

Singh will also need to give special focus on further strengthening strategic ties with the US and Russia. An old Pakistan hand, the Bharatpur-born 73-year-old Singh will find himself on familiar turf while dealing with diplomatic challenges in the immediate neighbourhood. He was India's ambassador to Pakistan from 1980 to 1982.

After graduating from Delhi's prestigious St Stephen's college and continuing his higher education at Cambridge and Peking University in China, Singh headed Indian missions in Poland (1971 to 1973), Zambia (1977) and served in Britain as deputy high commissioner from 1973 to 1977.

Elected to the eighth Lok Sabha in 1984, he joined the Rajiv Gandhi government as minister of state for steel the next year. In 1986, he was appointed as MoS in the external affairs ministry and held the position for three years.

Joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1953, Singh also served in New York and held important positions including Secretary (East) in the MEA.

He was a member of the Prime Minister's (Indira Gandhi) secretariat from 1966 to 1971.

One of Singh's immediate tasks would be to give the necessary directives for taking forward the dialogue process with Pakistan.

The new government has promised to fashioning a stable, working and cooperative relationship under the framework of the 1972 Simla Agreement and subsequent agreements and confidence-building measures.

Outlining the broad contours of the Pakistan policy to be pursued by the Manmohan Singh government, Singh stated in a recent interview to PTI that the "peace process will be resolutely continued."

Parleys on nuclear confidence building measures between the two countries slated to take place next week have been postponed following a request from New Delhi. It is now expected to take place before foreign secretary-level talks in May-June which will be followed by a meeting of the two foreign ministers.

Singh is well aware of the complexities involved in dealing with Pakistan. He sees no difficulty in the coalition government talking to President Pervez Musharraf or Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali. "We deal with the government that is in power in any country," he said/

Significantly, Singh has emphasised that among the priority areas would be strengthening SAARC and the Non-Aligned Movement.

India's relations with China are also expected to be given special attention. Singh said "we place the highest importance to this".

The new government will have to take a decision on appointing a Special Representative to carry forward the talks to speed up the resolution of the protracted boundary issue. The next meeting of the Special Representatives is slated to be held next month.

Widely travelled, Singh has visited over 100 countries in connection with diplomatic and other official assignments. He accompanied then prime minister Indira Gandhi on her tours to 29 countries.

He made a mark during the tough negotiations with the players involved in the Kampuchean tangle when he achieved a major breakthrough by convincing Prince Norodom Sihanouk to agree to talks with the Marxist Heng Samrin regime.

Singh, who returns to South Block after a gap of 15 years, has also indicated that he may effect certain changes in the foreign office while indicating that there would be "no abrupt departures" from the principle of seniority while considering the appointment of the next foreign secretary.

Foreign Secretary Shashank's term comes to an end in July. Singh will also have to initiate steps for appointing new envoys to the US and Britain.

He has also indicated that political appointees by the NDA government in diplomatic posts would soon have to quit.

Singh, who married Heminder Kaur, the eldest daughter of the late Maharaja Yadvindra Singh of Patiala in 1967, is also a widely-acclaimed writer.

His published books include E M Forster: A tribute, The legacy of Nehru, Maharaja Suraj Mal - his life and times, and Profiles and Letters. Singh was the Delhi state junior tennis champion in 1949 and Delhi University tennis champion in 1950-1951.

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