Vikram Misri has vital experience on the entire triad of security challenges — China, Pakistan, and Kashmir. It must be put to full use.
As a relatively junior diplomat, with only a little more than a decade’s experience, Vikram Misri held the fort as India’s ranking envoy in Pakistan when the high commissioner and deputy high commissioner had been withdrawn during the Kargil war. He performed with admirable competence and implacable courage.
He had already got used to handling high-tension, hugely important work when he was private secretary to the prime minister. IK Gujral was so impressed with his work when he was Gujral’s private secretary in the ministry of external affairs that he brought him to the PMO with him.
Thereafter, Misri was posted to the Pakistan desk in MEA, and from there to Islamabad itself —from the frying pan into the fire, as one joked each time. All that was a couple of decades ago, but the point is that Misri is deeply familiar with Pakistan.
In any case, all that is only background with regard to his new appointment. From what one hears, he has been specifically brought in to harness his experience of handling China — which the then Raksha Mantri, George Fernandes, had correctly identified as India’s ‘enemy number one’ even when Misri was immersed in handling Pakistan a couple of decades ago.
Over the past couple of years, Misri has been in the hot seat again. As India’s ambassador in Beijing, he has had to manage back-channel negotiations as well as speak for India while the PLA occupies territory that was earlier either no-man’s land between the two countries, or decidedly India’s.
Triad of threats
I have maintained for more than a decade now that India faces a triad of challenges that are converging — China’s determination to squash India’s rise, Pakistan’s longstanding designs, particularly on J&K, and street uprisings within Kashmir.
As those threats actually converge now, it would be in the interest of national security if Misri was given the lead to strategise responses to this triad of threats. He has not only handled both Pakistan and China competently, he is a Kashmiri, born in Srinagar. He is very well equipped to handle India’s national security at this dangerous time.
Only that would make it worth removing Misri from the next logical elevation—as India’s next foreign secretary, if and when a vacancy was to arise. Perhaps the government has someone else in mind for that job.
One hopes Misri’s new appointment is not meant simply to shunt him out of the MEA rankings, but is rather recognition of the fact that he can contribute an immense leadership role at the national security secretariat.
If that be the case, Misri ought now to be given charge of negotiating with China. He would bring to the role continuity from his time as ambassador, and diplomatic suavity.
Many observers appear to have lost sight of the fact that the talks that had been conducted between the ground-level army commanders of India and China reached an ‘impasse’ in October. India has proposed that the talks be resumed, but that really is the task of a diplomat and not an army commander.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has also held some talks with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi, but one is not entirely sure if diplomatic negotiations are among the core skills of the redoubtable Mr Doval.
The best thing about Misri is that he does not wear his competence and extraordinary experience on his sleeve. He is understated, grounded, unassuming. He neither has obstreperous know-it-all airs, nor revels in legends of dashing bravery. No. This is a gentleman who works tirelessly, and quietly.
The downside of that is that he could quite easily fade into oblivion in the labyrinth of the national security secretariat. One sincerely hopes that Misri’s skills, which the country urgently requires in this exacting and vital time, will not get buried under routine files.
(David Devadas is the author of The Story of Kashmir and The Generation of Rage in Kashmir)
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