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I.P. Khosla

DIPLOMACY AT THE CUTTING EDGE
By
Manas Publications, New Delhi, 2016, pp. xxv 371, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 5 May 2016

The best known advice to budding diplomats was given by Charles Maurice, Prince of Talleyrand, widely known as the Prince of Diplomats: surtout, he said, above all, avoid excessive zeal. In that age, of course, decisions taken by Ambassadors, even words uttered by them, could lead to international crises, even wars; caution was imperative. The British, from whom we first learned the ways of diplomacy, treated any such French advice with disdain, but nevertheless frowned on hyper-activity. Then again, the Indian Foreign Service belonged for several years, despite a rigorously competitive entrance exam, largely to a social elite: wide reading, especially in history, an affable temperament, basic negotiating skills, an ability to learn languages and to learn about food and wine, refined etiquette; these were some of the key requirements. Specialized skill development, long term aims, goal-setting, bench-marks, were not. This has changed a good deal, and there is no doubt that the drive for change came from within the service, in which the author and other colleagues played a notable role. It is apparent from this volume that from fairly early in his career, he was keen to think through the kind of reforms that can improve the working of the Indian diplomatic system, make it more business-like; to learn from the best practices of other countries and to team up with colleagues to get the needed changes going. This interest was sparked, as he writes, by a Quaker conference he attended while posted to Geneva, 1967. It was given a sharper focus when he met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975, before going as Ambassador to Algeria. She told him that with Algeria we enjoyed a good political understanding; his task should be to develop an economic relationship commensurate with that. That clear advice became a guiding principle for the rest of his career. The first few years were apprenticeship: years of training and learning on the job, including language learning (Chinese), Hong Kong followed by Beijing, then return to the Ministry for a couple of years, Geneva, another assignment to Beijing now as first secretary, more time in Delhi in the Ministry. They were years spent in getting to know new service colleagues and bosses, how missions work, how the Ministry is managed. There were important insights gained: that strategy and tactics need a prior comprehensive examination of the broad issue; how little foreigners really know about China; how ...


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