India’s Ability To Articulate Has Always Been Very High ASOKE K. MUKERJI

Q. Can you tell us a few high and low points of your career in Foreign Service so far?

I joined the Indian Foreign Service 35 years ago. We were young then. We didn’t realize how the would changed right after the Cold War. Whatever we have achieved after that was a collective effort. The Indian Foreign Service was a small team during those years. For me personally dealing with a part of the consequences of the Cold War was when I was posted in Russia. This was right after Russia broke into 15 independent countries. Five of those countries were directly in my charge. I was the only English-speaking diplomat in Central Asia. I had to establish the foundations of political and economic relations with each of these countries. This meant we had to pave way to negotiating treaties from the scratch. This was rather unusual for us because India inherited most of the treaties during 1947. But doing that part of my job was one of the most satisfying phases of my career. It was a real learning experience. Another moment of satisfaction was when I got the opportunity to work with the World Trade Organization (WTO). This was a body that not only negotiated our trade relations legally but also protected the economic and commercial interest of each participating region. WTO had a body within which was called the Dispute Settlement body. I represented India in 11 disputes that were heard by the court. This was an equally satisfying experience. We won some cases, we did lose my cases but that is how it goes in the court of law. When I was working in UAE as the Consul General, we pioneered the set up of a mechanism, which involved the community, the public sector and the government. This was called the Indian Community Welfare. I chaired the committee. We were able to reach out to 1 million Indian passport holders who live and work in those parts of UAE. Today, our government has taken that model and established it many missions across the world. Also in 2005, I was sent to Kazakhstan as Ambassador. Our main purpose was to get oil for ONGC. Even recently the President of Kazakhstan reiterated that to be able to draw a negotiation without any hassles of tenders or disputes is surely an achievement. This was possible only due to a transparent government-to-government dialogue. Each assignment has rewards. Of course, there are shortcomings too. But it is the reward that stays with you and you remember when you look back.

Q. Can you also tell us a bit about the challenges that you faced during your service?

Well, there have been many weak points but the one sole challenge for any diplomat is the way the world is changing. It is not only changing to something entirely new but it is also fast paced. So you need to keep up with it. You can never say that I know everything. You have to keep educating yourself. Yet, this kind of education does not come through books and periodicals. You get educated these days by meeting people, participating in events and attending informative seminars. I do all of them and I am very fond of learning in this manner. One of the challenges for us in the Foreign Service is how the world is adept at technology. The technological advancement is ever changing and cannot be contained. Everything is pursued through technology, be it communicating with your elected representatives, banking on mobiles or communication in general. For any Foreign Service or a diplomat technological advancement plays an important role. This can also affect diplomacy. Before coming here, I was involved in India’s cyber dialogue with many other countries. Each of these dialogues was about education as it is a completely new sector.

Q. Do you see such similar challenges in your time as the Permanent Representative of India to the UN?

Certainly. We have always felt that the changes that take place in the world must be reflected in the United Nations. Whether it was disarmament in 1950s or terrorism right now, we need to as a mission in the UN participate in a way that the international community responds to these challenges. All of us know about our views on the Security Council reforms. We are hopeful that the process that has been initiated and has faced 9 rounds of discussion, it will lead to reforms in Security Council. It is very difficult to implement reforms, if you do not have the tools to implement them. Tools are as important as the objective that is put forward. Implementation requires carrying the consensus of all member states towards a common objective. So if you have a common consensus among all participating countries, the chances are that implementing the objective will be easy. If you have objectives that are set outside the international community and are forced to be carried through UN, then chances of implementing these objectives are lower.

Q. Where are we as far as Security Council reforms are concerned?

I think we are significantly further down the road to reforming the SC. Initially even the idea of reforming the SC was not accepted. We have moved from that to a process of discussing groups. Within the groups and participating countries that have discussed this matter, there is now a larger consensus about reforms in SC. The next stage is how we put all these reforms into a document. Then we need to discuss this document and then how to execute the suggested reforms. We are currently at that stage. It has taken us 9 rounds of discussions to reach here. Of course, there are still several groups that have not consented to reforms maybe because they have not analyzed the benefits of these reforms in their own regions.

Q. Can you hypothesize a time frame within which these reforms could be executed?

Apart from the political will for reforms, we have to also keep in mind of the procedures of the UN through which the reforms are implemented. We have to focus on the reforms of the UN procedures as well. These were created at the end of World War Two. They have evolved in their own way. The time frame cannot be set in only one process.

Q. Can you shed some light on how diplomacy can work in today’s age of spiraling conflicts around the world?

Diplomacy is one side of the coin. The other side has traditionally been war. In the last 20 to 30 years there has not been wars but instabilities. Instability may not have been caused by states, but even non-state influencers like viruses, pandemics, etc. The way we achieve diplomacy cannot be conventional methods of stopping war anymore, but also in understanding that our issues of instabilities are not conventional and thereby our methods can’t be the same either. Today we are dealing with issues like poverty, terrorism, gender, cyber attacks and such issues. These are newer issues for diplomacy. That is why we must take a wider approach on how to do our job. Our biggest strength in Indian Foreign Service today is that we have large number of technically proficient members. This is certainly an advantage that we did not have during our time of Foreign Service. So we need to adopt newer means to combat today’s instabilities.

Q. Diplomacy is straightjacket post. How would you like to win more admiration for India? How would you be able to take other nations along and meet the agenda that India has manifested and make it successful?

I start from a very strong foundation. When we were elected to Security Council elections we had 187 votes out of 190. That itself is a manifestation of the regard in which India is held in the International community. How do we carry forward this momentum? I think the answer is in conveying the message and in emphasizing in the substance of your message. If we show that the challenges to the international community are challenges to everybody and that there is no one who is immune from it, then you make sure that there are more friends than foes. India’s ability to articulate has always been very high. We are a knowledge-based society. If we maintain this tradition, I don’t see why we cannot carry everyone along with us.

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