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Kamlesh Sharma: Our Man at the Commonwealth

March 25, 2008 14:34 IST

Come April, Kamlesh Sharma, ace diplomat and India's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, will take over as the next secretary-general of the 53-member Commonwealth.

The unanimous election of Sharma at the meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government held at Ugandan capital Kampala in November last year was perceived by many as a great diplomatic victory for India and a recognition of its long and important role in the Commonwealth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had endorsed Sharma's candidature, had every reason to be delighted at the relative ease with which Sharma was unanimously elected as the next Commonwealth secretary-general, succeeding Don McKinnon of New Zealand, who held the position for two terms.

Although, Sharma was unanimously elected, his road to success was not without difficulties as he had to face high profile Commonwealth bureaucrat of Indian origin, Mohan Kaul, and Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo.

While Kaul, through his long association with the Commonwealth, had a major clout with the Commonwealth members, Frendo had also lobbied effectively.

However, it is India's emerging stature, and particularly Dr Singh's disarming demeanour that clinched the deal in favour of Sharma, who has an impressive profile.

Besides, being a scholar of eminence, an alumnus of the prestigious St Stephen's College, Delhi, and King's College, Cambridge, Sharma is a distinguished member of Indian Foreign Service and has held many important positions both in India and abroad.

He was India's permanent representative to the United Nations at New York and Geneva, and the UN secretary-general's first special representative to independent East Timor.

He also brings with him experience and expertise of his association with the UNCTAD during the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations and with South-South and North-South relations.

As the face of the Commonwealth, Sharma has to articulate the concern of developing countries on issues relating to effects of globalisation, which has adversely affected many member countries, besides climate change that threatens even the existence of some of the smaller member countries.

Having worked with the UNCTAD during the Uruguay round of Doha talks, Sharma knows, more than anybody else, as to what can be done to bring out some kind of a fair deal to the less privileged members of the Commonwealth.

Sharma has to be a catalyst working like an honest broker pleading for the interest of the developing countries of the Afro-Asian region with the developed West. He has to tread cautiously carrying with him the goodwill of both the developed countries and that of the developing countries.

He has, what Dr Singh very appropriately called, an inclusive vision of the Commonwealth.

India has a long and enduring engagement with the Commonwealth and as the new Commonwealth secretary-general, Sharma is indeed in an enviable position to forge this relationship to still greater heights.

Rup Narayan Das