Satinder Kumar Lambah: Diplomat Par Excellence
Amb Satish Chandra, Vice Chairman, VIF

Satinder Kumar Lambah, or Sati, as known to his associates, was undoubtedly not only one of India’s most accomplished diplomats but also a wonderful human being inspiring both respect and affection. It is a tribute to him that while his friends, from diverse professions and walks of life, were a legion, he had not a single detractor. His recent demise has, therefore, been deeply mourned by all those who knew him and India has lost a diplomat par excellence.

It is common knowledge that Sati performed with distinction in the many high profile assignments which came his way most notably as Head of Mission in Germany, Pakistan and Russia, as India’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan, and as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on back channel talks with Pakistan. His contributions in each of these assignments were invaluable. Indeed, he made a mark no matter where he served in the promotion of the national interest. It is, for instance, little known that the export of Maruti cars to Hungary came to fruition due to his efforts during his tour of duty there as Ambassador from 1986 to 1989. From those beginnings to date as many as two million Marutis have been exported to Hungary. Similarly, while Consul General in San Francisco he led a four month campaign which generated $2 million for Indian Studies resulting inter alia in the creation of two Chairs of India Studies and an annual scholarship at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California.

While I never had the privilege of working with Sati I got to know him fairly well as I had the good fortune of spending an hour with him each day commuting to and from the Ministry of External Affairs for a couple of years in a car pool and succeeded him as Joint Secretary (Afghanistan - Pakistan) in the mid 80’s and later as High Commissioner to Pakistan in the mid 90’s. As his successor I could not fail to note that he ran a tightly controlled but happy ship both at the Ministry and in Islamabad and there was little need for effecting any change.

Sati had many admirable qualities. Thefollowing are some which I feel deserve special mention:

  • A thorough professional, he was invariably well informed and a master of his brief. No detail, however small was overlooked and the fine print was always read and digested.
  • His time management was outstanding. He could dispose off a very heavy work load in an amazingly short time which was impossible for lesser mortals like myself. I attribute this to his complete clarity of thought and at having mastered the art of not wasting time on nonessentials. This was brought home to me while we were car pooling as more often than not while I would be struggling to finish my work on a far lighter desk he would often telephone me that he was through for the day and prepared to leave whenever I was ready!
  • His presentations, being brief, pithy, and fact based, always attracted note and were most effective.
  • His knowledge on Pakistan was encyclopaedic. This was, to an extent, because he was himself from Peshawar and his wife, Nina, was from Lahore, but more so because he had served in Pakistan both as Deputy High Commissioner and High Commissioner and had also been Joint Secretary (Afghanistan Pakistan). As a result the range and depth of his contacts in Pakistan was unmatched and he had ready access to most who mattered. It is thus not surprising that he was India’s leading expert on Pakistan.
  • Both he and Nina were a very warm, charming, and hospitable couple and kept a very good table. It was thus but natural for them to have had so wide a circle of friends who were drawn to them by their innate conviviality.
  • Sati was always understated and highly discreet. He scrupulously eschewed the lime light and never spoke out of turn. With him secrets remained secrets and there were never any leaks!
  • Finally, his innate goodness was dramatically illustrated when just a few months ago despite being very sick he made the special effort from hospital to chair a virtual meeting in connection with a book written by a colleague who had worked with him many years ago. He clearly did so out of his deep sense of loyalty to all those who had worked with him.

Sati will always be remembered for his innumerable contributions in the field of diplomacy and for conducting himself in accordance with the highest traditions of the Indian Foreign Service. He would be the first to admit that much of the credit for this also goes to his wife and a very supportive family.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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