THE STRATEGIC SHARPSHOOTER
Entering the Indian Foreign Service in 1966, Kanwal Sibal had a distinguished career as a diplomat that concluded when he retired as India’s foreign secretary in 2003. In his 37 years of service at the Ministry of External Affairs, he had held several key jobs, including ambassadorships in Paris (1998-2002), Cairo (1995-98) and Ankara (1989-92). Between 1992 and 1995, he was deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy in Washington, DC. Sibal’s tenure as foreign secretary coincided with some of the most challenging days in contemporary Indian diplomacy, covering the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the terrorist strike on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, the creation of a post-Taliban Afghanistan, the near-war mobilisation on the India-Pakistan border, the politically courageous moves towards a better understanding with Pakistan, and a breakthrough prime ministerial visit to China.
Like the man, Sibal’s stint at the top of the MEA was characterised by boldness in gestures but underpinned by caution and a careful, calibrated realism. After retirement, Sibal served as ambassador to France from 2004 to 2007, an indication of the bipartisan regard the political establishment had and continues to have for him. He is recognised as one of contemporary India’s foremost strategic minds, and an influential columnist and voice in the shaping of Indian foreign policy and deepening of its engagement with both its near-neighbourhood and its broader world.