Former Ambassador of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta sheds more light on being a part of the Indian Foreign Services, the current war situation and more on peacemaking.
Can you tell us more about your personal journey and decision to join the IFS?
I loved to travel and meet people and learn languages and I thought that the foreign service could be a good and respectable medium for that. Apart from that diplomacy word itself fit into my Libran mindset and fascinated me a great deal . Moreover , in the foreign services one represents your country and taking initiatives to improve relationships and serve your national interest has no limits . Hence I joined the Indian Foreign Service and continued for nearly 35 years retiring in 2016 as the Indian Ambassador to Jordan. I have served from Africa to America to Europe to the Middle East and wide ranging challenges only enthused my resolve . I could never trade this journey with anything else.
What has personally been the most challenging situation you encountered in your career so far?
Well, immediately after the killing of Gaddafi in Libya I came as Ambassador and due to political choices India made, like abstaining from the external intervention by NATO at the UNSC, we were made out into villains by the western and Libyan media as India was projected very wrongly as pro-Gaddafi. Hence to assuage the grass root animosity was my first and foremost task which was very difficult but any thing that you bring from a negative to a zero is also a significant achievement. Evacuating Indians from war and conflict zones in Libya and Gaza and rescuing kidnapped Indians in Nigeria were difficult challenges . But all these also make diplomatic journey more meaningful.
What can be done to prevent children from getting affected by international relations issues – specifically war?
In war women and children suffer the most not only physically but are scarred for a lifetime . We also witness children being indoctrinated by radical ideologies and pick up arms and becoming a greater threat to society. Therefore the international efforts and covenants must be made fool proof and greater opportunities must be provided to prevent such incidents . Those who indulge in inflicting such crimes against children and women and indoctrinate must also be dealt with in an exemplary manner to deter others. Of course every effort to stop war is a desirable pre- requisite.
How can intercultural understanding and peace building be inculcated in Indian education?
Fortunately , Indian culture and civilisation has an inbuilt tolerance and coexistence as the core principles and tools are dialogue and discussion to prevent conflict and conflict resolution which are necessary also for peace building. We need to go back to our roots. If we believe in and propagate ‘ Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ -world is one family -then we have a good beginning. India is host to all religions and the birthplace of many hence coexistence is intrinsic to our way of living. These ideals must be reinforced in practice.
What have been some of the best sources for you to personally learn about diplomacy? Do you think diplomacy is taught or practiced?
Diplomacy is a learning process as the terrain of your work keeps on changing with newer challenges but certain fundamentals like pre-eminence of national interest remains the key contour of diplomacy. Kautilya’s Arthashastra is a good beginning. Seniors in service and institutionalized training of diplomats provide adequate exposure and modus operandi.
The youth is getting increasingly political – even with the climate change movement. What age do you think is appropriate for youth to engage in politics?
All things that impact us and the world must be taught from school. When I see young children speaking out against ‘Climate catastrophe’ I am encouraged.
What are three key ways in which the world can unite to prevent war?
Respect for territorial integrity
Respect for Sovereignty
Respect for others beliefs and religions
Does social media if at all influence international relations between countries? Please highlight more.
Yes it does . Unfortunately it works both ways. Fake news can cause havoc as you see the narratives being created on false premises. Recent Ukraine-Russia conflict is a case in point where information warfare is fanned by social media and media in general.