Vijay Keshav Gokhale to take charge as foreign secretary today

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New Delhi: Vijay Keshav Gokhale, currently secretary, economic relations in the Indian foreign ministry, who played a key role in resolving the 73-day-long Dokalam standoff between India and China, will take charge as the new foreign secretary on Monday.

He succeeds S Jaishankar, who completed three years as India’s foreign secretary on Sunday—earning the distinction of being one of the longest serving foreign secretaries in India. He was given a farewell by colleagues on Sunday.

Gokhale, a 1981-batch Indian Foreign Service officer, is considered an expert on China. He was India’s ambassador to Beijing when the Dokalam standoff erupted in June. The standoff ended on 28 August and Gokhale moved to New Delhi to take charge as secretary, economic relations. Besides being an envoy to China, Gokhale was also India’s ambassador to Germany and Malaysia and served in India’s missions in Hong Kong, Hanoi and in New York.

Gokhale will have a two-year tenure as foreign secretary. He is described as understated but efficient by colleagues and seniors in the Indian foreign ministry. Seen as a “traditionalist”, Gokhale is viewed as favouring the “tried and tested” policies and solutions.

As secretary (economic relations), Gokhale played a key role in planning visits like the one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in mid-January.

When India expressed its anger at the Palestinian envoy to Pakistan, Walid Abu Ali’s presence at a public rally with Hafiz Saeed, the chief of the terrorist Lashkar-e-Toiba group that is blamed by India for the 2008 November terrorist attack on Mumbai, it was Gokhale who summoned Palestine’s envoy to India and conveyed the message.

His upcoming tasks include planning the visit by King Abdullah II of Jordan, working on the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Palestine, the UAE and Oman, besides organising the visit of the France president Emmanuel Macron who is to visit India in March for an international conference on the launch of the International Solar Alliance that is expected to be attended by more than a dozen heads of state and government.

Managing ties with China and Pakistan will also be high on the priority list of Gokhale. With elections expected in several countries in India’s neighbourhood this year as well as next year, Gokhale will have to keep a close watch on India’s immediate periphery where China has seemingly made deep inroads.

Gokhale will also have to prepare for the first “2+2” meeting between the foreign and defence ministers of India and the secretaries of defence and state of the US that is expected in March-April. This format was agreed to when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US president Donald Trump at the White House in June.

Outgoing foreign secretary Jaishankar was appointed to the post in January 2015 for a two-year term, just days before his retirement. He replaced then foreign secretary Sujata Singh.livemint