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Highly personal envoys - The Telegraph

K. P. Nayar ()
July 1, 1998

Title: Highly personal envoys
Author: K. P. Nayar
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: July 1, 1998

The statements, communiques and diplomatic manoeuvres which have
dominated world headlines since the Pokhran tests have reinforced
a school of thought among practitioners of foreign policy that
diplomacy, like charity, begins at home.

Those who belong to this school of thought maintain that there is
no other explanation for the raving against India of the United
States secretary of state, Madeleine Albright - which is out of
step with the rest of the Bill Clinton administration - or the
breakdown in chemistry between South Block and the British high
commissioner, David Gore-Booth.

If India had not been the victim of the ire of the Clinton
administration over the nuclear tests, many Indians would have
found the US actions and statements since May 11 quite

If India has had to face sanctions from Washington and cut off in
aid from the West since Pokhran II, it has not been any easier
for the US either. The Clinton administration is in the
unenviable position of having to respond to the Indian and
Pakistani tests with clearly defined actions: it does not have
room to manoeuvre.

At the same time, it realizes what is at stake. Sanctions,
history tells us, are merely a euphemism for countries which are
not party to those sanctions to secure lucrative contracts and
projects. The US has learned this to the disadvantage of the
Americans more than once since World War II.

So the Clinton administration has behaved with extreme political
correctness. It has done the minimum that is required to be done
against India under US laws. But they have kept channels of
communication open, and more important, they have worked very
hard here and in Washington to limit the damage to US interests
as a result of the sea change in the geopolitical situation in
south Asia in the last seven weeks.

But a discordant note from Washington throughout the whole
proceedings has been the one struck by Albright. It is as if she
is single-handedly trying to destroy the modus vivendi which
others in the administration and in the US congress are trying to
work out with New Delhi after the Bharatiya Janata Party led
government's decision to go nuclear.

For the benefit of those whose memory may be short, there are
precedents in US history for such bizarre behaviour. Warren
Christopher, Albright's immediate predecessor, was deputy
secretary of state from 1977 to 1981 in the Jimmy Carter

In this role he was in charge of the negotiations for the release
of 52 US hostages seized from the US embassy in Teheran in
November 1979. The 15 month hostage drama, in which Teheran's
Islamic regime won a clear psychological and political victory
over the Carter administration, nearly destroyed Christopher's

He never forgave the Iranians for this. When Christopher returned
>from oblivion in 1993 as Clinton's secretary of state, he made
sure that every single initiative in Washington to improve ties
with Teheran during the next four years was killed before it had
time to catch the imagination of the White House.

The latest US attempts to befriend Iran bear testimony to the
fact that what Christopher fashioned as the Clinton
administration's Iran policy during his secretaryship had more to
do with his dislike for the Iranians than any strategic or
regional considerations.

Albright's words and actions against India in recent weeks are
reminiscent of her immediate predecessor's attitude to Iran. But
to understand the way her mind works, it is not merely enough to
recall the famous description of the former United Nations
secretary general, Boutros Boutros Ghali, of Albright as an,
"East European peasant with the crassness of an American

It is necessary to go back in history and remember that Albright
is the daughter of Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat who was
chairman of the UN commission for India and Pakistan. Albright's
teenage reminiscence - apart from the holocaust - are those of
her father spending long periods of time in Kashmir. Korbel
retired from the world of diplomacy a frustrated man. His
subsequent writings show his frustration against India and his
bitterness against Jawaharlal Nehru for hobnobbing with
communists and refusing to work with the so called free world
against Maoist China.

The years that Korbel spent in Kashmir have left a lasting
impression on her daughter. As in the case of Christopher's Iran
policy, it is Korbel's personal animus against Nehru, shared by
his daughter, which is reflected partly in the statements and
actions of Clinton's current secretary of state against India.

But what about David Gore-Booth? In his case too, history has
played its part in defining the chemistry of his interaction with
the Indian government.

In 1963, when India was vulnerable to international pressures on
Kashmir following the war with China in the previous year, the
Americans and the British tried to armtwist Nehru into ceding
large areas of Kashmir valley as part of a settlement with

During that difficult period for India - far more difficult than
what the country is facing now - the covert armtwisting was done
by the US. Washington persuaded the Pakistani president, Ayub
Khan, into believing that a weak India, battered by the Chinese,
world be willing to virtually give up Kashmir.

It was left to the British to do the overt part of the
armtwisting exercise on Nehru. The British secretary of state for
Commonwealth, Duncan Sandys, headed the infamous Sandys mission
to India and Pakistan. At the local level, the present high
commissioner's father, Paul Gore-Booth, who was then the British
envoy to New Delhi, carried to Nehru what came to, be termed the
"elements of a settlement in Kashmir."

The Anglo-American perfidy in trying to take advantage of this
country's weakness and the realization that both Whitehall and
the White House had tried to trap him into a settlement with
Pakistan was a factor which cut short Nehru's life. Within less
than a fortnight after the sixth round of Indo-Pakistani talks he
broke down due to the interference of the big powers.

There is little doubt that every time the present British high
commissioner walks into South Block for his meetings with Indian
officials, the recollections of those grim days are very much on
his mind. Similarly, Indian officials who have a sense of
history cannot but remember the role played by Paul Gore-Booth
whenever they deal with his son.

Is it any surprise then that the interaction between the British
high commission and South Block has suffered grievous damage in
recent months? In Albright's case, as in Gore-Booth's, it has not
been easy to divorce the personal aspects of their dealings with
India from the political.

And in London's case, this handicap is compounded by another
difficulty: that a .large number of Labour parliamentarians in
the house of commons have to appease their little Jayalalitha's,
the Mirpuri leaders from Pakistan occupied Kashmir who have
funded them and campaigned for their election. Yet another case
of charity beginning at home.

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