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Wisner's farewell faux pas betrays continuing 'tilt' - The Times of India

Mahendra Ved ()
25 February 1997

Title : Wisner's farewell faux pas betrays continuing 'tilt' towards Pakistan
Author : Mahendra Ved
Publication : The Times of India
Date : February 25, 1997

It is rather unusual that the foreign minister of a country,
especially an experienced hand at diplomacy like Inder Kumar
Gujral, should react "angrily" more than once, as reports indicate,
to the observations of an ambassador who is bidding farewell
towards the end of his successful tenure in India.

That Mr Gujral has had to criticise US ambassador Frank G. Wisner
for his "pontification" on how India should conduct its relations
with others is a clear indicator of Indian sensitivity to being
needled on the Kashmir issue. Equally, it is a reaction to what
India perceives as the US's "tilt" towards Pakistan.

"It was not wise on the part of the ambassador to tell the host
country what to do and what not on internal matters," Mr Gujral
said during a stopover in Dubai on Friday. Again in Tehran on
Saturday, he repeated his disapproval of Mr Wisner's statements.
This is bound to he noted here, in Washington and anywhere where
Indo-US bilateral relations are factored in, as an avoidable

The current brush has a message for a region where Mr Wisner
candidly admits that the US has "important national interests at
stake." It is that external interlocution on sensitive intra-SAARC
issues !will not be accepted by New Delhi.

The moot point that both have been trying to hide under fine
diplomatese, particularly during the last five years, is that India
does not view the US's interests, at least so far as Kashmir is
concerned, as compatible with its own. The main reason, again - one
that has persisted since the 1950s is that India finds the US's
strategic relationship with Pakistan influencing Washington's
policy towards the subcontinent.

Indo-US relations, after a period of hesitation, have undoubtedly
warmed up in the post-cold war era. The rising level of political
understanding, the burgeoning economic ties and a fair measure of
co-operation in the field of defence have been enough to make Cold
Warriors in the Pentagon, the US state department and the Pakistan
army uncomfortable. Indeed, a recent report of the influential
Council for Foreign Relations has urged that the US stop equating
India and Pakistan and deal with them independently. That the new
Clinton administration is divided on the issue of placing the
so-called "strategic interests" above the economic ones is

These strategic interests of the US lie with Pakistan, and Western
diplomats are not making any bones about it. What Mr Wisner has
tried hard to do (with little success though) is to convince
Indians, whoever would listen, that US-Pakistan interests are not
to be strengthened at the cost of Indo-US interests. The problem
with Mr Wisner's Jammu statements is that to many Indians, they
give the appearance of the US's old, Cold War tilt towards

He says: "A stable and democratic Pakistan is one of the most
effective guarantees of Indian security. A stable and democratic
Pakistan is what the US seeks to encourage. Our interests, and
India's therefore, are served by our ability to engage with both

It would be difficult to find fault with Mr Wisner on this score,
except that there appears to be an attempt to make India give
territorial concessions in Kashmir. This policy would be
suicidal to any elected government.

India too has the problem of who to talk to in Pakistan. True, the
Nawaz Sharif government has come in with a thumping majority. But
there have been three changes of government in eight years. On two
occasions, democratically elected parliaments have been dissolved,
and governments that were constitutionally installed were deposed
by the very presidents who had sworn them in. The role of the army
and the subtle support of the US in its dominance has been more
than just a matter of conjecture. The overriding role of the
defence forces and the president himself, who should be no more
than a constitutional head in a parliamentary democracy, has been
institutionalised. The council for national defence has become a
permanent fixture.

One reason why Mr Gujral seems to have reacted sharply is Mr
Wisner's comment that his Jammu University speech on February 18
was based on an interpretation of the "Gujral Doctrine." The envoy
says "it has demonstrated that India is prepared to accept one of
the important responsibilities of leadership in South Asia: that,
as the larger, more powerful state in the region, it must take the
lead in being attentive to the needs of its neighbours." Mr Wisner
wants India to show "accommodation." However, he appears to forget
that it is as realistic to expect India to give up Kashmir as it is
to get the US to surrender Florida to Cuba and California to
Mexico. Rather than make Pakistan accept this reality, Washington
appears to be feeding its unreal expectations.

It would be unreasonable for anyone to expect India to make
territorial concessions. Prime Minister Deve Gowda has gone on
record as saying that India could make "minor" adjustments in
Kashmir, but they would have to be within the ambit of the Shimla
Accord. Thus, it would be in Pakistan's interest to agree to
disagree with India on Kashmir and move on to other subjects, said
a senior minister.

Mr Wisner thinks the time is "ripe" for India and Pakistan to
settle the Siachen issue. He talks of "this patch of frozen earth"
which is not worth the bloodshed. But the Indo-Pak military
impasse in the Siachen Glacier is well-known. It is also known that
in response to Pak intrusions, India mounted a military campaign
and its troops have stayed put in the snowy heights for the last 13
years. The US knows, like everyone else, that should India scale
down its presence, Pakistan, which is better placed in terms of
logistics, could simply move in and occupy this vantage point
straddling the Karakoram Highway.

When Mr Wisner spoke of continuing conflict in Kashmir being in
future a "great magnet for violent, radical politics" and sought to
set down an agenda for the people of J&K and for India and
Pakistan, it was left to Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, who was
present, to repudiate this and to emphasise that Kashmir has
suffered because of the US's "role" in the region and its tacit
support to militancy through organisations such as the Hurriyat.
Indeed, the US role has prevented a sensible approach. It was left
to Mr Gujral to underline that an envoy does not comment on the
internal matters of the country he is posted to.

Many more points made by Mr Wisner call for debate. But the moot
point, that Sreedhar of the Institute of Defence Studies and
Analysis (IDSA) points out, is that whenever the US is cornered on
the sensitive nuclear issue by India's rather moralistic insistence
on total nuclear disarmament, the latest one being the fissile
material treaty, the US has dragged in the Kashmir issue and
provided tacit support to militancy, This had happened during the
CTBT debate also.

In Mr Wisner's defence, it can be stated that he is only
articulating the. state department's policies. However, this
one-sided emphasis on India making unilateral concessions is
unlikely to find favour in this country. "One would have thought
that they (the US) have learnt their lesson after 40 years. It
appears that they have not," a senior cabinet minister observed.
The reaction to Mr Wisner's remarks has shown that there are few
takers in India for the line pushed by the US, whose interests in
the region and dependence on Pakistan are growing.

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