Friday, 27 December 2013

India & US: Mars and Venus (Pakistan Observer)

By M D Nalapat. Saturday, December 28, 2013 - India’s version of the Washington “Beltway” (the location where those who make policy reside and work) is even smaller in size and number than its North American counterpart. Having continued the British colonial system of centralized government, successors to Empire have ensured that not more than a few dozen individuals decide on matters relating to foreign and defense policy or national security.

During the period (1947-64) when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister, he decided all major aspects of national policy. In economics, he emasculated the private sector in India, aware that in the past, they had backed his rival Vallabbhai Patel over him. Indeed, during the days before Independence, almost all leaders of the Congress Party, barring Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and of course Mahatma Gandhi, wanted Patel rather than Nehru to be free India’s first PM.

However, Mahatma Gandhi’s views were as decisive in the Congress Party of the 1930s and 1940s as Sonia Gandhi’s are today, with the result that Patel had to be content with being the second-in-command, a role that proved increasingly distasteful and which contributed to his death in 1950 of a heart attack. Although there were still a few leaders such as Rajendra Prasad who stood up to Nehru, by 1955 the diminutive Kashmiri had become the master of both the party as well as the government If during the Nehru period, foreign policy was dictated by one man, during Indira Gandhi’s time in office (1966-77 and 1980-84), it was decided by a handful of individuals, all members of the pandit community of Kashmir. These were P N Haksar, D P Dhar and R N Kao, the last being the chief of RAW.

The three would suggest policy options to Indira Gandhi, who would then adopt one of them. Later, during the time when P V Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister (1992-96), officials in the Ministry of External Affairs were given a greater role in policy formulation, although the last word remained with Rao and the small, informal group of advisers with whom he periodically met, usually singly. It was during this time that full diplomatic ties got established with Israel. After the collapse of the USSR, Rao was seeking a similar alliance of convenience with Washington, and although some within the Ministry of External Affairs opposed the move, the PM’s informal thinktank calculated that giving recognition to Israel would make the Clinton administration less insistent on the two hot button issues of nuclear capability and Kashmir, a wish that never materialized. The Clinton administration was hostile to a partnership with India, except on terms which would have been political suicide for Rao, which were giving up of nuclear deterrent through signing Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear power and accommodating Islamabad on Kashmir.

The policy process followed by Narasimha Rao, of asking officials in the Ministry of External Affairs to prepare a first draft of policy and then getting the same vetted by the PM’s informal thinktank is being followed to this day Manmohan Singh is passionate about the US, the country where one of his two (very accomplished) dauighters has settled down. So deep is this feeling that the Obama administration obviously calculated that a calculated insult such as the arrest and mistreatment of a foreign service official would only be met with a routine expression of protest. According to those tracking developments, it was a mid-level lady official in the US embassy in Delhi who for the past nine months “has been on the Sunita David case”.

Mrs David is the maid whom Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade ( a 39-year old official with a good record) is alleged to have underpaid. Up and down the line at both the State Department as well as the US embassy in Delhi, those officers of a similar activist bent (and who are known as Hillary’s flock, because of their ideological closeness to the former Secretary of State) worked overtime to “punish” Ms Khobragade for “underpaying” Mrs Richards, going to the extent of spiriting away her family to the US with not even a glance from Indian intelligence agencies, whose counter-spy capabilities against the US and its NATO partners is almost zero in the Manmohan era.

According to the doctrine accepted by those working in the Manmohan Singh government, the US can never do anything wrong, even by accident. Ever since the matter of the maid and the diplomat surfaced in the media, US envoy to India Nancy Powell has been briefing friendly envoys informally about the incident. She has placed her full weight behind those who arrested Ms Khobragade and who spirited the maid’s family off to their new life in the US.

Indeed, in her interaction with friendly diplomats,she has explicitly accused the Government of India of “human trafficking”, according to those who move in same social circles as the US ambassador to India. Down the line,the Hillary flock have been active in justifying the arrest and strip- searching of a senior Indian diplomat officially accredited to the US government. This has created outrage within the Ministry of external Affairs where the usual effort is less to cashier the US than to ensure that a son or daughter gets a scholarship to study in that country. For more than a day,the Maqnmohan Singh government kept to the script predicted by US diplomats, and contented itself with a few noises of protest.

However, public anger grew at the insulting treatment given to a lady diplomat at the hands of US marshals, and this combined with a near-revolt in the Ministry of External Affairs to force the Prime Minister’s hand. In 1998,during the time when Atal Behari Vajpayee was PM, the US embassy in Delhi had unilaterally and without asking for permission from Indian authorities put up concrete road blocks in front of its embassy, besides sealing off an entire road running parallel to the embassy walls. Then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra was as accomodative of the US as Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, so this somewhat high-handed action was condoned. It was only a few weeks ago that these barricades were removed, in a sign that India would not accept any extra-territorial rights by the US to unilaterally take decisions the way Washington would in an occupied country, such as Iraq till very recently and Afghanistan to the present.

For the present, US diplomats in Delhi are being treated exactly the way Indian diplomats are in the US, which is a significant change from the past. Unless Devyani Khobragade is freed from the legal clutches of Preet Bharara, the US attorney who joined hands with the Hillary flock in the State Department to punish the diplomat by arresting her, it can never be business as usual between India and the US. However, given that the Obama administration treats India with contempt, and is dominated by remnants from the Clinton period, such a walking away from police action is unlikely.

When last heard,Ambassador Powell was still fuming to all those within earshot of “dastardly crime of human trafficking” that has been committed by Indian diplomats. It looks as though Delhi will have to await a new administration in 2016 (assuming that it will not be headed by Hillary Clinton) before once again picking up the thread of strategic engagement with the US. It is a measure of the insensitivity of Team Obama to Indian sensitivities that even the worm - which is the best way to describe the Manmohan Singh approach to Washington - has been forced to turn away from endless conciliation to a tiny show of temper .

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