Not a `natural ally'

Published : Apr 23, 2004 00:00 IST

COLIN POWELL is the first black Secretary of State of the United States. His record of military service is outstanding. He earned worldwide fame during the first Gulf war 14 years ago. His appointment to his all-important present post was an imaginative and bold decision of President George W. Bush. I first set eyes on the likeable Afro-American at a lunch President Ronald Reagan held for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the White House in October 1987. Powell was in his military uniform. As a disciplined soldier Gen. Powell said not a word. He let his President do all the talking.

During his several visits to India in recent years, Powell has earned the goodwill and respect of all those who have come in contact with him. I am one of them. Powell is a pleasant and engaging personality. One feels comfortable in his presence and pays heed to what he says. He is frank and friendly.

Three weeks ago, when he was in Delhi he was his usual self, confident, candid and cordial. He met the Prime Minister, the External Affairs Minister, Sonia Gandhi and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra. All went well.

Imagine our shock and surprise at what Colin Powell did in Islamabad. He offered Pakistan the status of an important non-NATO Ally. While the members of the Vajpayee government (Jaswant Singh, in particular) have been shouting from housetops - "there has been a paradigm change in U.S. policy on India" - I have always maintained that when the real test comes, the U.S. will always support Pakistan. Vajpayee and his senior colleagues have been going out of their way and proclaiming that America is our "strategic partner", our "natural ally". The unpleasant truth is that Washington has a different view of India-U.S. relations.

Natural allies and friendly strategic partners do not do what Colin Powell did in Islamabad - give India a public diplomatic snub. Powell did not even have the courtesy to take us into confidence when he was in Delhi. The Vajpayee government was taken completely by surprise. It had convinced itself that "our natural ally" would never do anything of the kind that Powell did. What was worse was the explanation given by Powell - instructions from Washington to give Pakistan the new status were received by him only when he reached the Pakistan capital. Now this is nothing but diplomatic nonsense. No one who is familiar with the practice of diplomacy and conduct of foreign policy will believe this unconvincing explanation. Even more insulting are the remarks of the number two spokesman of the State Department: "We do not care to advertise such matters in advance." Friends do not behave in this manner. The words of the spokesman clearly indicate that the decision was taken before Powell left Washington.

Insult has been added to injury. The Americans, after making Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally", are willing to offer similar status to the democratic Republic of India. How arrogant and insensitive can America be. I do not know what South Block will do to undo the damage, but the Americans must be told that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable and will affect bilateral relations, which had greatly improved. There is something more.

According to one newspaper report, the American Deputy National Security Adviser Steven Hadley has written to his Indian counterpart, Satish Chandra, that "if India puts in place an effective export control regime to check nuclear proliferation, the U.S. will take forward the strategic partnership with India".

This is outrageous. A.Q. Khan, with the knowledge of successive Pakistani Presidents and Prime Ministers, has been running a nuclear technology export-oriented black market. He has been pardoned. Pakistan has been rewarded $1.3 billion in aid in five years. India has been ignored and insulted. Vajpayee owes us an explanation. This could become an election issue. I am not at all surprised at Gen. Musharraf doing a U-turn. He has arbitrarily given a time-frame for discussing, resolving Kashmir, otherwise he will pull out of the peace process. I suppose this makes South Block "feel good".

THE creation of a Friends of India (FoI) group in the U.S. Senate is a significant political event. The credit for its establishment goes to the enterprising well-to-do Indian community in the U.S. It has become a powerful pressure group. Senators John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, and Senator Hillary Clinton, Democrat from New York. That the formation of this FoI group was announced at the annual dinner hosted by the influential American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAPI) sends its own message. The AAPI is an influential outfit. Indian doctors have earned a name for themselves by their skill, professionalism and availability on weekends. I lived in New York from 1961 to 1966. There was not a single doctor practising in Park Avenue. Today they are all over the place. They do us proud.

VIRENDER SEHWAG's triple century in the first Test match against Pakistan at Multan was a golden moment for Indian cricket. Here is a young Jat lad from outer Delhi making cricket history. He did so with panache, style, audacity and great flair. His timing is almost flawless, his eye almost electronic. What is so refreshing is his carefree, almost reckless, approach. Only when he was a few runs away from 200, he displayed both restraint and awesome determination. He reached 100 with a six. Also 300. What a player, what natural talent. He is rightly the toast of India. An instant, authentic hero.

The Indian team is not a collection of individualistic players. It is a well-knit outfit of the highest order. It does not depend on any one batsman or bowler. It has great batting depth and bowling skill. Irfan Pathan is the newcomer who has attracted most attention. It is such a pleasure to see three young dashing Muslim boys demolishing Pakistan - Messers Thackeray and Togadia, please note.

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