India’s soft-spoken, suave veteran foreign minister, SM Krishna, has bowed out to make room for ‘young blood’, which comes in the form of Salman Khurshid — his country’s first Muslim foreign minister in 16 years. Mr Khurshid, from the politically-powerful state of Uttar Pradesh, has had a slow rise to the top with the Congress party and along the way, has taken an aggressive lead in tackling various issues — including controversial ones such as that concerning the age of the Indian chief of army staff. He has always openly embraced his Muslim identity, often with a lively sense of humour, used from time to time to combat the communalism directed his way.
It is still too early to say what Mr Khurshid’s style will be or what he will contribute to the Indian ruling party, which currently struggles for control. But as far as the question of Indo-Pakistan relations is concerned, the induction of Mr Khurshid should hardly make a difference. The policies on key issues will not change. But it will be interesting to see if we have any difference in style. His predecessor, Mr Krishna, had struck up a good working relationship with his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar. Beyond policies, personal equations also matter when it comes to negotiating delicate issues and for now, Mr Khurshid’s style is an unknown factor, though some predictions from India suggest he may adopt a more combative style than the immensely experienced Mr Krishna, who had established for himself a reputation of being a superb diplomat.
What is most important is that Indo-Pakistan relations continue along the lines they are currently proceeding on. The tensions that had resulted in the aftermath of the November 2008 siege of Mumbai have finally begun to ease, with the peace process more or less back on track. As Mr Khurshid takes charge of the foreign ministry in New Delhi, we must hope this continues and talks move forward at a fast pace, since harmony between the neighbours — given their history of acrimony — is essential to the welfare of the region as a whole.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2012.