Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jaswant Singh and Indo-US calculus

Having spoken about the possibility of having Jaswant Singh make a come back as the external affairs of India in the previous blog, perhaps I have provoked enough reactions among the readers, my patrons.

A few of them mailed me in private putting across their points of view. Well, my contention is I was only trying to debate Jaswant Singh’s role as country’s foreign minister in the crucial period of Indian diplomatic history when post-Pokhran 2 it faced near isolation globally and especially from the United States.

This was the time, mind you, US President Bill Clinton’s first reaction to his close team in the White House was: “we are going to come down on those guys like a ton of bricks”.

Thus, it is given to the credit of Vajpayee-Jaswant team that things were put on correct track at later stage. My humble suggestion is we should not mix up this episode of Indo-US history and the ‘dialogue’ Jaswant Singh had with Strobe Talbott with other issues particularly the Jaswant’s supposed mishandling of negotiations after the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked to Kandahar.

Now, when we come to Jaswant-Talbott ‘engagement’ as suggested by the latter in later stage – by his apt title of the book ‘Engaging India – Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb’ (a Penguin publication) – there is need to focus on some plain speaking that Jaswant did often at the cost of displeasing the American leadership.

Here’s an instance. Stressing on the point of ‘futility’ of any purpose in US pampering Pakistan, Jaswant Singh had at one point of time remarked:

“We realize that you’ve (US) invested so much in that relationship (with Pakistan) that you don’t know how to disinvest”. Jaswant Singh had also pointed up to Talbott that “we (India) held out the hand of friendship (to Nawaz Sharif), and we got a fist in the face”.

A reference to Lahore bus trip and then Kargil.
In fact, there have been occasions when Jaswant in mid-1999 had also suggested to his American negotiator that Pakistan was heading for a coup.

In fact, Indian government had strong inkling of Gen Musharraf taking over soon – but New Delhi was always more cautious about a regime under Musharraf because he has been the “moving force behind the Pakistani incursion and who would be even more intractable on Kashmir and everything else if he emerged as Pakistan’s new leader”.

Talbott also admits in his book that ‘Jaswant was fatalistic about a coup” in Pakistan but added :”there was nothing either India – or, for that matter, the United States could do to stop it, all we could do was not provoke it”.

Moreover, around that time the government of India under Vajpayee in the run up to the parliamentary polls – immediately after Kargil - did not drum up the war-cry. This can be debated because NDA’s victory became easier in 1999 due to Kargil.
Jaswant himself had told Talbott “we could have exploited the crisis”.

Well, moving over these, one must take note of Jaswant’s another point blank statement made to the US negotiator.

“You are playing yesterday’s chess match….The game now is for energy from a region that is falling increasingly into the hands of the forces of radical Islam….No one has had a much experience with Islam as India. You must work with us (India) more in waging our common struggle against these forces”.

Finally, things really changed in Indo-US context since these dialogues.

Today, India is held high as a partner in the comity of nations. It is not without good reason in 2010, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, China, Britain, Russia and France — came calling on India extending all round friendship and cordial relations.

In 2011, Indian foreign policy engine room drew satisfaction during the year when they saw in what is seen as the “stepping up the rhetorical pressure” on Pakistan.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did some plain speaking urging Pakistan to act immediately against the military groups and powerful Haqqani network. “You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours,” Hillary Clinton had said almost endorsing India’s years-old stand point.

In fact, Dr Manmohan Singh’s regime benefited in initial years of these bonhomie and robust Indian economy. Dr Singh exploited the improved relation Indo-US to the hilt in 2008 during parleys on Indo-US Civil Nuclear deal and in 2009 polls. Congress leaders can claim brownie points when they taunt Jaswant Singh for Kandahar.

But as the former external affairs minister and importantly Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘man for all seasons’ said, the calculus of human lives was involved. Well, perhaps Jaswant deserves some kudos.

And if not; there are merits in appreciating what Talbott said: “Jaswant advanced his nation’s interests and sought to harmonise US-Indian relations”. Now, ask Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress regime: if Washington Post and Time magazine today find fault with them and their regime, should they blame Jaswant Singh’s mishandling of plane hijack drama?


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