Govt changes mind,picks Pak,US envoys

Reversing its earlier logic not to make any significant Ambassadorial appointments before elections...

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi | Published: February 19, 2009 1:40 am

Reversing its earlier logic not to make any significant Ambassadorial appointments before elections,the UPA government has decided to fill the hot seats of Indian Ambassador to US and High Commissioner to Pakistan when these fall vacant. Meera Shankar,Indian Ambassador to Germany,will take over charge in Washington while Special Secretary Sharat Sabharwal will move to Islamabad.

It’s learnt that the Prime Minister’s Office had earlier supported the view that these appointments must remain the prerogative of the new government given that elections are just weeks away. While Indian Ambassador to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal is to retire on February 28 and Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen’s term ends on March 31,the initial reasoning was that either they could be given extensions or their deputies could fill in until the next government.

However,sources said,External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee — currently the seniormost Cabinet minister while PM recovers from a bypass surgery — felt that these were very important positions to lie vacant till mid-May. It was also argued that these two were serving IFS officers and not political appointments,so there was no compulsion to leave the decision to the next government.

Shankar,who retires in October 2010,has served in junior ranks in the PMO of Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao besides being Minister in the Indian Embassy,Washington. As Additional Secretary,she headed the counter-terrorism dialogue with all key countries and then went on to Berlin as Ambassador. She also headed the SAARC and Nepal-Bhutan divisions.

Fluent in German,she is a 1973 batch officer and gets the job over officers who are senior to her. Her name was floated earlier,too,but each time the government decided to give Sen an extension. Sources said she is among the few serving officers to be given this post,which has mostly been a political appointment. Even Sen was appointed by the UPA government well after his retirement.

In the case of Pakistan,sources said,the MEA took the line that not appointing an Ambassador after Pal’s retirement could send a wrong signal. Pal is set to become Member of

the National Human Rights Commission in March and not sending someone there would have been construed differently. His replacement Sharat Sabharwal has served as Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad from July 1995 to June 1999. A 1975-batch officer whose language training is French,Sabharwal has worn different hats.

In particular,he has been a regular feature in the administration department of the MEA at different levels. As Special Secretary too,he heads the Administration,Passport and Visa sections of the MEA. Besides this,he has held diplomatic assignments in Geneva,France and was Ambassador to Uzbekistan before returning to Delhi.

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