DELHI-NAMA: America on my mind —Jyoti Malhotra
Indian analysts pointed out that the American flip-flop was really inevitable, that diplomacy demanded he say things to please both New Delhi and Islamabad in their respective capitals. Difference though, was, that Armitage’s comments in Islamabad were this time around greeted in New Delhi with a certain sense of déjà vu bordering on indifference
Once upon a time not so long ago, visitors from America were received with such fanfare and hospitality in India that it sometimes boggled the mind. Bill Clinton was such a hit during his 2000 visit, despite all the non-proliferation demands his then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was simultaneously making on New Delhi. Even a cursory read of her deputy Strobe Talbott’s book Engaging India : Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb — which has created such a flutter in the capital, albeit for all the wrong reasons — gives one a flavour of the slow sparkle that really transformed the Indo-US relationship. When the White House demanded that he be protected by American security within India — not chancing life and limb to the protection of Delhi Police — both the government and the public acceded without a murmur. So the bullet proof cars were flown in, along with all those close-cropped men with silver wires behind their ears and the ubiquitous Ray-Ban aviators on their noses. It added to the glamour of power.
Iraq changed all that. Before Iraq, America was simply the toast of the world. Turns out, some of the gold is really gilt. With over a thousand Americans dead since the invasion of Baghdad last year and another 11,000-12,000 Iraqis killed, one would think the war would have been worth it. Perhaps it still is. It might be worth remembering that America has so much weight to throw around despite the grievous injury to its power and prestige, it would be difficult for the rest of the world to together balance the other side of the scale.
Which begs the question why the usual quickening of the pulse last week was laced with a certain lassitude when Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage flew in to get to know Manmohan Singh & Co. It didn’t show up in the chaotic throng that followed the bulky American, including at an NGO called Prayas that helps rehabilitate street children in Delhi. There were so many TVs at the early morning interaction with Armitage that none of them ended up being allowed in. It led to a reporter remarking crisply, “All we saw was that he went in through one door and came out another.”
Elsewhere at his press conference, Armitage even said all the right things. There were far too many people dying in Kashmir as a result of the militancy. And while the Line of Control had been admirably silent and the infiltration remained at an all-time low, even a little infiltration was far too much. He would speak to the Pakistanis about that. The government had told him that it would be speaking to all the parties in Kashmir. He would speak to Islamabad about that too.
The news barely made it to Page One the next morning. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that too much was happening at home (the Left parties, a major supporter of the Congress government, were manifesting barely controlled fury for not having been consulted on the question of foreign direct investment). Perhaps the news that Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the very suave and sophisticated former high commissioner to India — and after his post-December 13 attack-on-Parliament expulsion from Delhi, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US — had been chosen over the head of a former Indian foreign secretary to become the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Iraq, was far more interesting. Perhaps the question of how and why things have recently not been going so well between India and America was uppermost in many a mind.
Certainly, 24 hours later in Islamabad, it seemed as if Armitage was completing his leftover sentences from New Delhi. Yes, he told the Pakistani press, far too many people were dying in Kashmir, but there was also an indigenous movement that was responsible for the deaths. America was certainly grateful for the help Pakistan was providing in dealing with the Al Qaeda in Waziristan and FATA. So much so that the comments of the American ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad on Pakistani collusion with terrorism, were completely out of line. He had a narrow view, pronounced Armitage, “we in Washington have a much better clue to the big picture”.
Of course, no one asked poor Khalilzad for his point of view. Or if they tried, the phone lines to Kabul were probably out of order. Meanwhile, Indian analysts pointed out that the American flip-flop was really inevitable, that diplomacy demanded he say things to please both New Delhi and Islamabad in their respective capitals. Difference though, was, that Armitage’s comments in Islamabad were this time around greeted in New Delhi with a certain sense of déjà vu bordering on indifference. Of course the Americans were still the all-important power and had done more than anyone else to stop the infiltration, persuade Musharraf to sign on the January 6 statement and commit Pakistan to a composite dialogue timetable with India.
It didn’t really matter why America persisted with the diplomatic doublespeak. Courtesy Iraq, the Bush administration was on a leash that became shorter each day the elections came nearer. Perhaps John F Kerry would be tougher, with his do-gooder habit of reforming the world while rejecting outsourcing. It wasn’t the point though, not yet.
Meanwhile, as the noose tightened around its neck, courtesy Iraq, the Americans allowed Kofi Annan to choose Ashraf Qazi as his points-man in Baghdad. Perhaps Musharraf had accepted the quid pro quo of sending a garrison of troops to protect the UN compound and its main occupant in the Iraqi capital — anything, as long as the US could withdraw a few hundred of its own.
In this fetid silence before the storm, did anyone wonder why New Delhi was slowly plodding along with Pakistan? To keep the momentum going, not too fast or too slow, breaking up the days between appointed meetings on Siachen and Sir Creek and Wular and Tulbul and trade cooperation. Throw in a couple of googlies on revamping old transport routes, including across the LoC, then wait patiently until Islamabad reacts. Fix another meeting before someone accuses either side of procrastination.
By the end of the year, Musharraf would have kept his promise of quitting his uniform. And America would have had at least elected a new presidency.
Jyoti Malhotra is a Senior Editor at the ‘Indian Express’ newspaper in New Delhi. She wrote this article for Daily Times