Talk about being on the front lines...
Uneasily sharing a subcontinent, India and Pakistan target nuclear weapons at each other, quarrel over possession of divided Kashmir and compete for influence in war-torn Afghanistan. As this longstanding geo-political rivalry plays out, two Queen’s alumni have front-row seats, serving as Canada’s high commissioners to the two Commonwealth countries.
The two envoys both began their South Asia postings last September, but in very different circumstances. Stewart Beck, Artsci/PHE’75, MBA’79, arrived in New Delhi in time to see India host the Commonwealth Games. Ross Hynes, MPA’80, arrived in Islamabad in time to tour a flood-ravaged area of Pakistan that was “the size of Italy.” The divergent fortunes of the two countries effectively define the respective priorities of the two diplomats.
India has rebounded smartly from the global recession with a nine per cent annual growth rate, and Beck is busy trying to increase Canadian trade and investment with the emerging economic superpower. A key step will be the negotiation of a bilateral free trade pact. “Optimistically, that will take a couple of years,” he says.
“We’re at $4.5-billion [in two-way trade] now… which is a drop in the bucket,” says Beck. “We’re shooting for $15-billion, but I’m more focused on increasing the number of clients we have working in India. We have 250 Canadian companies now. My target is 750 over the next three years.”
Hynes, for his part, is keen to boost Canada’s trade with Pakistan (currently only about $650-million per year). Pakistan, however, has been “cursed with natural disasters” that have made overseeing Canadian emergency humanitarian aid a major priority. Canadian relief aid, both governmental and private, for the victims of the 2010 flood was $100-million, which is double the amount that Ottawa spends annually on long-term development projects in Pakistan.
When the two Montreal-born diplomats aren’t promoting bilateral relations, they’re monitoring the sabre-rattling between New Delhi and Islamabad. The uneasy neighbours have fought three wars since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1947, and the danger is that a fourth conflict could escalate to nuclear warfare. The possibility of being caught in a nuclear cross-fire “is the reality that you live with,” says Beck, “but it doesn’t preoccupy every second of my day.”
Hynes notes that “no two democracies have ever fought a nuclear war.” He is encouraged, too, that the two rivals agreed in February to resume their suspended political dialogue. "Prospects for a détente," he adds, “are better than they might have been a few years back.” Nevertheless, cautions Beck, ”There’s always an underlying tension, and I don’t think it’s going to go away in the near term.”
Both of these veteran envoys continue to feel an affinity for Queen’s. “There’s a sense of public service at [the University],” Beck says. “Maybe that’s what brought me to what I’m doing today.” For two years, he was an assistant professor in the School of Business, before deciding he wanted to “go and see the world.”
Beck joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) in 1982 as a trade commissioner. Since then he has served in postings in Miami and Taipei, and he was Consul-General to San Francisco/Silicon Valley and to Shanghai. In Ottawa, he served as DFAIT’s assistant deputy minister for international business development. Overseeing the Trade Commissioner Service, he changed the business model of how it operated, abroad and in Canada, to better reflect the needs of its clients.
Ross Hynes joined DFAIT in 1976. His postings have included Warsaw, Lagos and Canada’s U.N. missions in Geneva and New York. He most recently served as High Commissioner to Kenya, with concurrent accreditation to five neighbouring countries and two U.N. agencies in Nairobi. In Ottawa, he was Director General of DFAIT’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force Secretariat, an emergency-response unit experience that made him a logical choice for disaster-plagued Pakistan.
In their South Asia postings, Hynes and Beck are relatively close to each other geographically, yet getting together is quite a challenge. A direct flight from Islamabad to New Delhi would take only 46 minutes, if there was a direct air link. There’s not. So when Hynes recently planned a trip to meet with Beck, he had to arrange a roundabout route via Bangkok, adding many hours to the journey. “It’s what you do for Queen and country,” he says.