February 22, 2020
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Now The Polite Battle

India wins round one diplomatically, but it's a long haul ahead

Now The Polite Battle
outlookindia.com
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Every cloud has a silver lining. On home turf, the bjp government may be bumbling along, but internationally it's savouring a diplomatic triumph that's as sweet as it's accidental. Never in recent history has Indian diplomacy found itself in a stronger position, as world opinion by and large scorns Pakistani posturing and buys India's claim that its territorial rights have been violated.

The icing on the cake was Bill Clinton's letter to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asserting that the US President had written to Nawaz Sharif to initiate immediate steps to defuse the crisis. In other words the onus lay at Pakistan's doorstep. The Indian side welcomed the letter, pointing out that the Americans had been making the right kind of statements from the beginning.

Even before this letter, credible reports revealed the Clinton administration to be persuading Sharif to withdraw the intruders and de-escalate the situation. In New Delhi, US ambassador Richard Celeste was quoted as saying that the US wanted intruders in Kargil to be withdrawn and Indian military action to be scaled down. Another report in the Christian Science Monitor on June 3 had said: "US officials privately point to Pakistan as the main culprit. In a series of strongly-worded messages and exchanges with Pakistani officials that border on the undiplomatic, senior US officials have, behind closed doors, virtually accused the Pakistanis of supporting if not creating the current crisis-in order to bring international sympathy for their claims on Kashmir and force action by the UN Security Council."

For years India has failed to convince the world that Pakistan has been training and arming militants to send them to Kashmir. Even those who believed New Delhi have tended not to do much about it. As one foreign correspondent commented: "Indians have always accused the Pakistanis of encouraging terrorism in Kashmir. But they've done nothing about it." Says an Indian official: "You engage Pakistan in a dialogue, want to improve your economic ties with them, increase people-to-people contact... But you do nothing about Pakistan being a terrorist state. So why expect the world to take steps against Pakistan?"

However, once the action began, the mea was quick to take foreign governments, particularly those from the West, into confidence. It wasn't too difficult convincing the world that it isn't a popular uprising taking place in the snowy heights above 18,000 ft. A senior Indian diplomat, however, is cautious. "We shouldn't take too much credit for it, the Pakistanis dropped it into our lap."

The war zone apart, a longer battle is brewing on the diplomatic front. Pakistan's already saying the LoC isn't clearly defined, its foreign minister Sartaj Aziz reiterated this stand (see interview), which Indian officials believe may hinder his visit. The fact remains the LoC functions as a de facto border, even if Pakistan chooses to ignore it. It was delineated on maps in '72. Trust Pakistan to make it a fresh bone of contention, whatever legality India may attach to it.

And it's to ward off Pakistan's diplomatic moves that India needs to fine-tune its stance.Absolutely unprepared for the Pakistani ingress, the mea is still struggling to grasp its wider implications. "They betrayed our trust," a senior official naively conceded. And it was Sharif who first threw the diplomatic gauntlet by offering to send Aziz to New Delhi. Vajpayee promptly accepted the offer, but then the Indians sat over it. New Delhi, according to an mea official, had conveyed to Islamabad that "politically it was unacceptable for us to receive Aziz without Flt Lt K. Nachiketa reaching Delhi first." And now that Islamabad has handed over Nachiketa to the Indian High Commission, the official says, "our first priority is to restore status quo ante and push the intruders out. First things first."

And dialogue with Pakistan is only second for the mea. One section believes talks are futile at this juncture since Aziz would have nothing to tell India. Comments an angry mea official: "The intelligence agencies are being blamed for the Kargil mess. But if they had told you in February that Pakistanis were moving in there, no one would've listened to them, including the media. Everyone was busy embracing the Pakistanis then." Another section feels India should speak to Pakistan, because it sends the right signals internationally. And Vajpayee's opinion on the Aziz visit? According to one assessment-"The PM is very tough, make no mistakes about that, but he is lonely at the top and in such a situation you tend to go with the safer option." Which was to let Aziz come.

Indian diplomats realise that diplomacy can work only if India gets the upper hand in Kargil and gets rid of the intruders. The US may support India right now, but diplomats feel there might be a catch. An indefinite military operation would imply an immense challenge to diplomacy. Which is why they're hoping for a combination of military and diplomatic effort to bring the Kargil fighting to a speedy, early end.

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