Thursday, July 06, 2006

Will Shyam Saran be the next National Security Adviser?

It is just speculation and an intelligent guess. It is learnt that Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran will be entrusted with an important assignment after his supeannuation in September this year. As a man who has seen through much of the most crucial phase of negotiations of the India-US nuclear deal, it is quite possible that he would be asked to deal with some of the important policy matters relating to foreign relations. His latest visit to Sri Lanka, where he conferred with Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse over kickstarting the peace process through and which has resulted in the setting up of a multi-ethnic consultative body, is a clear sign that he would be entrusted with strategic assignments in the future as well.

This could be best done by appointing him as the National Security Adviser, looking after external security issues like J.N.Dixit did until his sudden death in January 2005. The matters that Dixit was looking after were handed over to M.K.Narayanan, who is the NSA (Internal Security). Narayanan has been holding talks with the Chinese as part of his NSA (external security) assignment.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may want Narayanan to focus on internal security issues, and Saran could as well be asked to fill Dixit's slot. At the moment, it looks like a wild guess. It may not work out that way. But there is enough reason to speculate that this could be so. Singh has been very hesitant in making new apppointments. After Dixit's death, he did not want to excite speculation by looking for a replacement for the late foreign secretary. At this point, Saran offers the prospect of a suitable candidate, and he prevents any intense lobbying for the influential post from all other aspirants.

Foreign secretaries usually have been sent off as ambassadors after their retirement. Lalit Mansingh went to Washington as India's envoy after stepping down as foreign secetary. And so was K. Raghunath sent to Moscow after his retirement. of course, there is niether rule or convention with this. But Singh might just choose Saran because it would not create unnecessary ripples, something that the prime minister scrupulously avoids.

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