Commonwealth to include women's progress as measure of development

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Indy Politics

The next secretary-general of the Commonwealth has had plenty of time to think about development issues during a long diplomatic career which focused on North-South and South-South cooperation.

However 67-year old Kamalesh Sharma, who was chosen by Commonwealth leaders at their Kampala summit over the weekend to succeed Don McKinnon of New Zealand, says there is "no silver bullet for development." "It has to be multi-pronged. But if there is any silver bullet it has to be how well the women are doing generally," says the Cambridge-educated Mr Sharma, who is currently the Indian high commissioner to London.

One of the "big ideas" that he is bringing to the Commonwealth to "add value" to the 53-nation organization, is for women to be a key measurement of progress, in terms of mortality, literacy, nutrition and security.

Mr Sharma only takes over from the current Commonwealth secretary-general in April, so he remains cautious. But his biggest idea, which he raised "in a gentle way" with governments as he traveled the globe to press his candidacy, is to bring new "stakeholders" into the development process, to take the strain off the budget. But he quickly adds: "All members must accept they are ready for the institution to investigate this route."

In his election as secretary-general, Mr Sharma, a career diplomat who became Kofi Annan's special representative for East Timor after retiring as India's UN ambassador in 2001, is aware that he benefited from a wide consensus within the organisation that it was "Asia's turn". He is the first Asian secretary-general in more than 40 years.

"For a long period of time it has been suggested that India should become more active, more visible in the system of international governance because its profile is increasing year by year in a globalising world and in terms of its economic weight," he says.

But also, India has stayed the course since independence "without taking shortcuts, without abridging freedoms and democratic principles."

"Very often a country gives itself a perfect constitution, but very soon there are deviations, departures, suspensions, disappearances of constitutions," he goes on. Is the ambassador perchance referring to Pakistan, which is currently the burning issue before the Commonwealth? "I won't name any countries but many societies fall into the temptation of saying - because we are poor we need to govern in a different way in order to make progress quicker," he says.

In fact, Pakistan did not seek to block the appointment of the Indian diplomat to the post, at a time when both countries claim a permanent seat on the UN security council and are fighting each other for it.

But is it not a problem that Mr Sharma is Indian, while the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth is such a live issue? "Not at all. No," he says firmly.