Thursday, June 04, 2009

Lines Crossed

My day began with an interesting twist; I had to run to the US State Dept for a press briefing. The new guy -- well, the new old guy -- PJ Crowley, spokesperson, was addressing the press about the issues of the day. Predictably, US policy in the Middle East because of Obama's visit ("why does he call it the 'Muslim' world, as if they are all one") and US policy on China, given the anniversary of Tienanmen Square ("China has a come a long way in terms of human rights") were the highlights, but there was a different reason I was there.

I was to ask Crawley what the US response to Hafiz Saeed being let off was. You know the story -- Saeed (Pakistani) is the leader of Jamaat ud Dawa, which India believes is not really a charity organization but a front for the LeT. The UN put sanctions on the charity in December 2008. Well, our lone terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, in his confessions said that Saeed was one of the many people who visited the terrorist camps while they were being trained in arms/explosives, in the run up to the Mumbai terror attacks. India, being the restrained force that she is, decided to pursue a diplomatic track and not attack Pakistan, and with some pressure from the US on Pakistan, Saeed was put in jail. And Pakistan did agree that Saeed had a role in the attacks.

Now, Saeed has been released. I've read a lot about this and I'm quite unsure what the US can do -- well, in an obvious way. But let me explain what I mean. Pakistan claims there is not enough evidence to hold Saeed under house arrest anymore and has let him go, but voices within Pakistan have come out to say that they will appeal this order by the Lahore High Court as this will tarnish the reputation of Pakistan in the international community. We obviously expect the US to be aghast on our behalf, but it isn't saying much. I have read views in India that the government should release evidence against Saeed so that the Pakistanis can detain him, but it seems we are not doing that. Nor does it seem likely that Pakistan will, as we would love, send him to India for trial.

So back to Crawley. I asked him if the US wasn't worried that this move to build up Indo-Pak tensions, after all, the US has been trying to convince Pakistan to shift its focus to the Afghanistan/Taliban problem. Crawley gave me a long winded answer about respecting Pakistan's rule of law, and that they continue to impress upon Pakistan the need to carry on with the Mumbai attack investigations, but that right now Ambassador Holbrokes focus is on the humanitarian crisis resulting from the Swat attack in Pakistan. That was that, another journalist pressed on, but he did not take the bait.

I had to come back to work to file the story. As it turned out, the client was Times Now, and so I sent them a report from Washington saying that the US is not involving itself in this legal matter and that in Washington (really) this is hardly a concern. But, as Crawley had mentioned, Holbroke will have private discussions and this matter could be discussed. Times Now ignored that part of my report and chose to highlight that the US is asking Pakistan to continue with the 26/11 investigations. Fair enough, but they didn't stress that, what they stressed was that they were not going to do anything about it.

What is clear is that Pakistan attacking the Taliban is the biggest thing over here, and India is not going to ruin that for them by crying about the release of Saeed. I woke up in the morning to find out that a travel advisory had been issued against INDIA because, I believe a LeT operative was captured in Delhi. My father, who I spoke to on the way to work, said that the Congress had been voted in for non performance, and why was SM Krishna the minister for external affairs and not Kapil Sibal, Pranab or even Shashi Tharoor -- people more vocal and forceful?

What exactly is the US position on India? I know people are waiting for Hillary to come in July to get a clearer position. In fact, a few months ago (or was it weeks) when she made statements which seemed to reflect the situation in South Asia correctly (that Pakistan need not be obsessed with India and that Pakistan has not been using the money the US has been giving them for the intended purpose), it seemed that there might be a policy shift, finally. But as of right now, it is frustrating to find that it is not.

Holbroke has now said that other countries should also give aid to Pakistan -- he's appealing to the Europeans and Muslims. (Ah, there you go lumping all the Muslims together). But the real point is that it seems, poetically, in their eyes, they are saving a Muslim country from the brink of extremism and really, unless we have the exact same problem, we will just have to get in line.

After all, the problem child gets all the attention while the good kid sits in his room, seething.


Arpit Kumar said...

hi mahima ,
it is quite clear from Obama's speech made in cairo that all he is upto is undoing what his predecessor did . His going out to the "Muslim world" and asking countries to come out and aid pakistan is just tokenism . This aid cannot be utillized until and unless the terror mechanisms are dismantled but with the Indian government taking a "diplomatic" (soft) stand and the US aiding it it doesn't seem that that is going to happen .

nice job on the blog, keep them coming

Dantedownunder said...

I am not sure if considering our nation as the "Good Kid" and therefore, in our own mind, being more deserving of Global support, is the best way to approach diplomacy. The fact that international relations are not driven by charity or by some overarching sense of morality, can be verified by the fate of the forgotten continent of Africa. The fact that a powerful country would identify with some issues while ignoring other remarkably similar issues, should not be that surprising, since the country may not find the issues to be homogeneous at all. If India is to protect its sovereignty against malicious groups, it needs to have its own strategic arsenal in place, and not depend upon rewards which we feel we may have earned through our "good behaviour". The fact that we wish to follow a non-aggressive, secular agenda is intrinsic to our identity and personally, I am proud of it. However such a secular agenda or other modes of "good behaviour" cannot be used to win strategic alliances in the international arena. For the latter we need to have political and economic ties, which make such alliances crucial to both parties, not under a paradigm of morality but under one of tangible mutual benefit and survival. I honestly believe we have a lot to learn from the state of Israel in this matter. I believe it is possible to uphold one's identity and yet prove to be a formidable adversary to those that threaten it.

mahima said...

You are right though, if there is one thing we understand about international relations is that despite all the "common understandings" we might come to about what the rule of law and freedoms is, it doesn't give you much in the international arena.

of course, i was also being ultra-smart with the "good kid" comment.

as india goes, i think you are right. we need to flex our muscles and have our positions know. my mom said, so why don't we put a travel advisory against Australia considering whats happening? (have we? i haven't seen anything in the press)

the good part is Hillary says that she's committed to forging a stronger tie with India so maybe we will get something we need from them.. inshallah

egg style said...

Ha ha, well put. Badness sure has an allure, a rollin’ sorta spunk that goodness can’t satisfy. But to know one requires understanding the other. Once that starts happening, the who’s good who’s bad distinction can get jumbled, lines crossed in knotty knotty ways that could give John Irving writersbloc sorting out.

In all the confusion, blessed’ll be those who don’t get too literalist, lest our follies, the poor language constrained creatures that we hetero sapiens are [communication is of amazing recency in evolutionary terms], doom us for good.

So yeah, we can crib about badness getting its way, but let’s not forget that the good-in-parts stance could yield results, given mutual patience and sharpened self assurance.

In the final analysis, it’s about knowledge, which must be of universal validity for it to be considered so, and which one’d impart to anyone else exactly as one’d want imparted to oneself, viz, with everything open to questioning – except whatever’s ultimately beyond human conception. Gosh!!