Debating India

UN SUMMIT

Splendid Repast

V. SUDARSHAN

Sunday 28 September 2003, by SUDARSHAN*V.

Article paru dans Outlook India, ?dition en ligne du 27 septembre 2003.

Musharraf may have stolen the thunder, but Vajpayee returns with more concrete gains.

It was at 12 noon sharp, September 24, when the lunch on the 42nd floor suite of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel began. This is the residence the American ambassador to the United Nations maintains at the hotel. It was here that US President George Bush stayed in New York last week. Sitting opposite Bush was Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. For starters, there were shrimps and scallops in lemon tarragon sauce. Bush said only that morning he had talked to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the subject of cross-border terrorism. "I have told Musharraf to take action on cross-border terrorism. I have told him so in the past and will continue to tell him," Bush said.

These remarks were of little comfort to Vajpayee, whom Bush kept referring to as a man of peace and a good man. The Indian PM said the infiltration in Kashmir was still continuing, that the infrastructure for export of terrorism from Pakistan was still robust. He then added that no sustained dialogue with Islamabad was possible if the violence in the Valley persisted. It was around then, eight blocks away at the United Nations, that Musharraf was beginning to hit the high notes on Kashmir, throwing in phrases like "brutal suppression of Kashmiris’ demand for self-determination" and "freedom from Indian occupation". Strong stuff, brazen as well. It was obvious Musharraf had chosen to disregard whatever Bush might have conveyed to him just that morning. Either the message to him had not been communicated effectively enough or he was absolutely certain of his indispensability in America’s war against terror.

Back at the Astoria, the main course was served-chicken with capers, artichokes with garlic potatoes, haricot verts (green beans) and red crepe tomatoes. Bush was dominating the conversation. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell threw in a sentence or two. Also at the lunch table was James Moriarty, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Asian Affairs, National Security Council, with whom New Delhi had been talking nuclear issues.

The PM ate well, so did Bush. On the Indian side, besides Vajpayee, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and the National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra contributed to the conversation. Then Bush began to speak on Iraq. There was silence around the table. Bush said that even Germany was now fully committed to see that Iraq was not left "undone" as far as reconstruction and transition were concerned. Perhaps Vajpayee assumed he ought to clarify his stance on the issue of sending Indian troops to Iraq. He pointed out that the internal security situation in India had enhanced the demand for troops. In other words, it wasn’t possible for him to spare troops for international duties abroad. Bush was gracious enough to accept the primacy of national security considerations. He added, "Anything you can contribute will be welcome." Bush was, in a way, asking: couldn’t India provide humanitarian assistance? There were other subjects Bush talked on. He spoke of his anxiety about Iran possessing nuclear weapons and the opaqueness of its political system. The Indian delegation thought Teheran would abide by international protocols on the nuclear matter, but wanted to do it with honour and dignity. The prime minister briefed Bush on his "get-acquainted" visit with the new Chinese leadership. Afghanistan too was discussed. When Bush spoke of President Hamid Karzai’s worries over the regrouping of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Vajpayee promptly expressed his resolve to continue assistance to Afghanistan.

Long after Musharraf’s speech was over, the lunch at the Astoria wound up with apple tart, raspberry, and vanilla sauce with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream. As Bush escorted Vajpayee out of the dining room after the 65-minute repast, the Indian team was satisfied with the "rather good progress", as a source put it, on complicated issues of cooperation on high technology transfers. During the lunch Bush committed himself to moving forward on the trinity issues-cooperation in civilian nuclear energy, space and hi-tech commerce. Hitherto, these have been entangled in a maze of US federal laws as well as export and other restrictions and were, in fact, put on the table only a year ago by Mishra.

A fortnight back, deputy national security advisor Steve Hadley had come down to New Delhi with a set of proposals on the trinity issues. Though these proposals have been wrapped in a cloak of secrecy, it is believed a statement of intent outlining broad features

will be released during the US under-secretary for commerce for export administration, Kenneth Juster’s, visit to New Delhi between November 19-20. This statement of intent could see India and the US cross a nuclear rubicon of sorts. Explaining its significance, a source said, "So far the divide over trinity issues has been a translucent divide where you could see the guys on the other side but could not connect. That is about to change." There will be no slideback, insist sources, as the US is moving forward on the trinity issues with its eyes wide open, cognisant of the reality of India’s nuclear programme and where it is headed. They, however, clarify that this does not amount to granting legitimacy to India’s nuclear acquisition but marks only a stronger acceptance of nuclear facts as they exist today. For those who have come in late on the story of high technology with dual use applications (that is, technology which can be used for military purposes as well), it should be pointed out that in the years after Pokhran, such technology was denied to India by the US automatically.

Subsequently, though, the US switched over from a presumption of automatic denial to a presumption of approval, officialese for saying that hi-tech requests from India were not to be automatically denied as they had been earlier. But this change in attitude was notional, something Indian officials had been repeatedly telling their US counterparts. In that sense, Hadley’s proposals on the trinity issues marked a significant departure from the past. "We have entered a kind of final lap with the US on these issues," declared external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha. Sources say the aspects that remain to be sorted out pertain to putting together a framework "determining the sequence (respective steps to be taken), the process (the nature of these steps) and the timing (when these steps are to be taken) by which India and the US could deal with tricky nuclear issues. For this, among other things, India’s domestic export control laws will have to be tightened. The negotiations on these have been intense.

However, since these negotiations were beyond media scrutiny, what became more visible was the Indian preoccupation with Pakistan and Musharraf, who fired an early broadside on India while he was still flying into New York. He said India was getting "uncontrollable" in its quest to acquire arms, clearly making it known that he was going to complain to Bush about it. Among the first things he did here was to tell the New York Times that their government had done "far more in our capacity to defuse tension on the Line of Control, to take actions which will build confidence with India, but, unfortunately, there is zero return, I repeat, zero return from the Indian side". Later, at a conference on terrorism organised by the International Peace Academy, he suggested that the UN should promote a solution to Kashmir along the lines of East Timor.

India did not attend this conference even though it had been invited. Foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal remarked sarcastically, "It is not necessary to be present in every conference anywhere in the world on the question of terrorism. We also have to keep in mind the company we keep." He then went to add, "If Gen Musharraf feels there has been zero return it is because there has been zero investment from him."

Despite the shrill rhetoric, India made a few moves in New Delhi to outflank Musharraf. One, it offered to increase the strength of Pakistan’s mission from the existing 47 to 55.

Two, it threw open the Baglihar hydropower project in Jammu and Kashmir to a Pakistani visit. For two years now, Pakistan has been insisting on a site-inspection of the Baglihar project, claiming that its design was in violation of the Indus water accords.

Sources say the Pakistanis have been keen to restore at one stroke the status quo ante prevailing before the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, and quickly move to dialogue on Kashmir. This could have diluted India’s concern over cross-border terrorism. In contrast, India has favoured an incremental approach, thereby emphasising that any step forward on Kashmir should be linked to cessation of terrorism. It was this frustration over India’s incremental approach that found its echo in Musharraf’s belligerent speech. The Pakistan president’s bellicosity didn’t surprise the Indian delegation. When US assistant secretary of state Christina B. Rocca had come down to Delhi three weeks back, New Delhi had, in fact, told her that it was expecting Musharraf to go ballistic over Kashmir at the UN. Rocca had responded: "It’s something we have to work on."

A day after Musharraf’s speech (see Blazing Saddles), Vajpayee responded in the General Assembly to the charges Musharraf had levelled against India. He brushed aside Pakistan’s plea to examine the root causes of terrorism. "We are sometimes led into semantics about the definition of terrorism. The search for ’root causes’ and imaginary ’freedom struggles’ provide alibis for the killing of innocent men, women and children." He then went on to add, "Yesterday, the President of Pakistan chose this august assembly to make a public admission for the first time that Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. After claiming that it is an indigenous struggle in Kashmir, he has offered to encourage a general cessation of violence in Kashmir..." And then came the knock-out line, "We totally refuse to let terrorism become a tool for blackmail. Just as the world did not negotiate with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, we shall not negotiate with terrorism."

Vajpayee thought that to negotiate with terrorism would be betraying the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who participated in an election "universally hailed as free and fair". So, when was India going to talk to Pakistan? The answer was unambiguous: "When the cross-border terrorism stops-or when we eradicate it-we can have dialogue with Pakistan on the other issues between us." That is a firm goodbye to any talks in the near future.

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