Monday, July 25, 2011

Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard Magazine/ July 24, 2011

Diplomacy is an abstract art; and diplomats across the world its perfect practitioners. They talk a lot but say nothing; they keep all options open. But Indian diplomats are fast becoming the exception to the rule. Of late, most of them have been specific, even explicit, in their assertions even if these are not in tune with national sentiment. The recent utterances of some of our senior-most diplomats make it clear that they enjoy being politically correct even it means being diplomatically incorrect. Consider the recent statement on Pakistan-sponsored terror by Nirupama Rao, our ambassador-designate to the US, on CNN-IBN. Rao asserted, “I think the prism through which they (Pakistan) see this issue has definitely been altered.” Later, she talked about the need to tackle only non-state elements and ignored the active support that the terrorists enjoy from official agencies. As if to prove her wrong, terrorists struck Mumbai just 10 days later and killed 18 innocent people. Two died later of their injuries. On what basis the outgoing foreign secretary gave the ‘character certificate’ to what Home Minister P Chidambaram calls the “global epicentre of terrorism” is known only to her.

Surprisingly, no global leader shares her perception or even the formulations on Pakistan expressed by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna during his interactions with Pakistan leaders and at various other international fora. Even visiting US Secretary State Hillary Clinton was much more indiscreet when she spoke about Pakistan. Despite the friendly and strategic US relationship with Pakistan, Hillary was quite harsh on our neighbour. In fact, she warned Pakistan that “they cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists anywhere” and “when we know the location of terrorists whose intentions are clear and need to work together in order to prevent those terrorists from taking innocent lives and threatening institutions of the state”. Interestingly, while Hillary was talking tough on Pakistan in New Delhi, back home the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Ghulam Nabi Fai, executive director of the anti-India Kashmiri American Council. He was charged with being an ISI agent and involved in a conspiracy to influence key US officials on Kashmir policy. Compare this with our diplomats, who were not even willing to hazard a guess about the possible involvement of the ISI in the Mumbai attacks. For the past one week, Indian diplomats have weakened India’s case against Pakistan by letting an impression grow that the Mumbai incidents may not have been sponsored from across the border.

So, while the world is looking at Pakistan with suspicion, Indian diplomats and some leading politicians are still talking about dialogue and debate. From President Nicolas Sarkozy of France to Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, most powerful world leaders have slammed Pakistan for harbouring and exporting terrorism. Last year, Sarkozy set the tone against Pakistan when he said, “It is unacceptable for the world that terrorist acts should be masterminded and carried out by terrorist groups trained in Pakistan.” Our foreign office mandarins, in contrast, can’t even ask Pakistan to wind up the terror camps operating inside the country. For the past few months, the foreign ministry has followed up the home ministry’s request to Pakistan to hand over the fugitives hiding there. Rao—while addressing a London-based think tank—made a strong case for a stable Pakistan which she hoped would act as a “bulwark against terrorism”, quite forgetting the categorical point made a few months ago by Hillary that “America cannot and shouldn’t solve Pakistan’s problems. That’s up to Pakistan.”

This stance of our diplomats baffles the political leadership. Some of them see it as the emergence of an alternative centre of power within the foreign office, which is following its own agenda. They see the diplomats taking advantage of a weak yet gentlemanly foreign minister and ignoring sensitive issues raised by the other ministries. While Pakistan diplomats are aggressively fighting for their country in global capitals, our ambassadors are either silent or making politically correct noises. Instead of isolating the country at world forums, our diplomats have allowed Pakistan to acquire the status of a victim of terrorism. Even after so many months, the foreign office hasn’t been able to get full access to Tahawwur Rana and David Coleman Headley, both accused in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which 180 people were killed. The ministry has also failed in persuading the American establishment to force Pakistan to punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage. None of them has made any impact on the American establishment in reviewing its relationship with Pakistan and supporting India on ISI-funded and sponsored violence in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indeed, with Indian diplomats becoming more vocal on international issues, there appears to be a reversal of roles. Earlier, it was the political leadership which would determine foreign policy and the diplomats would only implement it. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who had veto power to decide on the contours of India’s external relations, allowed powerful diplomats to advise but not dictate to him. Those who succeeded him followed the same path, never allowing civil servants to take the lead. However, with the non-political Manmohan Singh as prime minister and a hands-off external affairs minister in South Block, the diplomats have
chosen to speak for the government but not for the nation.

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