Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ensured continuity with change—besides recognising talent—in the appointment of Shivshankar Menon as the national security adviser.
A diplomat with vast experience in the neighbourhood is in the saddle of the national security adviser as the government tries to strengthen ties with the countries, including repairing relations with Pakistan and putting greater focus on China.
Menon’s experience as a diplomat should also help as security is becoming an important component of foreign policy.
“I am conscious that this is a very great responsibility. I will do my best”, Menon told Hindustan Times on Thursday. He didn’t say more, but sources said he had a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a telephone chat with the outgoing NSA, MK Narayanan.
Menon, who retired as foreign secretary last year, was deeply involved in the key strategic diplomatic initiatives of the UPA government, including the India-US civil nuclear deal. Thus, he brings in the necessary continuity with change.
He has also been India’s envoy to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China. He is fluent in German and Mandarin, though his mother tongue is Malayalam. Those who followed Menon’s career in Pakistan remember his access to the top Pakistani leadership, and the way he endeared himself to the Pakistani media.
Menon is fourth in his family to become foreign secretary but the first to be NSA.
One controversial note in his career was when he commented on the “bad drafting” in the Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt) joint statement at an interaction with members of Parliament.
But many observers believe that with the statement, he deflected criticism from the Prime Minister as the joint statement was interpreted differently by the government and the Opposition here, besides President Asif Ali Zardari
who termed it a victory for Pakistan.
“He is the right choice for the job. As a career diplomat, he has in-depth knowledge on the neighbourhood. Traditionally, the job of the NSA is that of a diplomat,” said TP Sreenivasan, a retired diplomat who is a close associate of the incumbent NSA, his uncle and grandfather.