NEW DELHI: Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar took charge of the External Affairs Ministry on Friday, a rare instance of a career diplomat handling the key portfolio as minister.
Considered an expert on China and the US, the new minister’s moves will be keenly watched to see whether he brings any changes in India’s approach in dealing with a hostile Pakistan. He is the first foreign secretary to head the MEA.
Jaishankar, who takes charge of the ministry nearly 16 months after he retired as foreign secretary, will also have to deal with overall expectations of expanding India’s global influence and stature, particularly in key multilateral forums like G-20, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and BRICS.
However, a major focus of the ministry under his leadership is likely to be on further boosting India’s trade and defence ties with the US, Russia, France, Japan and the European Union as well as with the countries of the neighbourhood.
Another challenge for him will be to further strengthen India’s ties with China, hit by the Doklam standoff in mid-2017.
The 64-year-old is also likely to push for deepening cooperation with the African nations where China is fast expanding its influence and presence.
Getting the long-awaited membership of the UN Security Council and Nuclear Suppliers Group is expected to be another area of interests of the new government.
Vivek Katju, former secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said Jaishankar has an “outstanding record” as a diplomat and he will prove to be “great assistance” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he formulates his policy.
Former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan and Sweden, Ashok Sajjanhar said, “Jaishankar will bring with him over 40 years of valuable experience from the diplomatic field and he understands India’s relations with major countries including the US, Russia and China, and the challenges ahead.”
Jaishankar, son of the late K Subrahmanyam, one of India’s leading strategic analysts, was a key member of the team which negotiated the Indo-US nuclear deal. He has also served as India’s Ambassador to the US and China.