WHAT is the impact in America of the protests by India, China and Russia against nato attacks on the Serbs? The US Administration, apparently, is "furious" with India for its high-profile protest at the UN against nato attacks. Why did India make it a point to stick it to nato when most countries were ranged against the Serbs? What purpose did India's protest serve? Wouldn't it have been in India's interests to be less shrill about this and to work behind the scenes? These are the questions the Administration is asking. While the US understands Russia's historical links with the Serbs and China's opposition, it finds India's protests a little "over the top".
"We find it regrettable that India has not acknowledged Serbian actions, especially human rights abuses," said a senior official. "They only talked about it in an oblique way. We would hope that the Indian government would take exception to the activities in which the Serbs have been involved—forcing tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and massacring them."
Yet another US official was "very disturbed and irritated" by the statement by Kamlesh Sharma, India's permanent representative to the United Nations, in the Security Council debate on March 24. "The statement was aggravating and unnecessary. They want to condemn nato attacks. That's fine. But how about also condemning the most outrageous human rights violations by Milosevic? India would have been credible if it had tried to be more balanced. This is really going to set relations back. India wants to be a player but this is no way to go about it." Said an official: "We are very disappointed with India's statement and we have expressed our displeasure."
The Administration's displeasure was apparently conveyed by assistant secretary of state Karl 'Rick' Inderfurth to Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra at a State Department meeting on March 31. However, according to Indian Embassy sources the meeting was "a normal diplomatic exchange" and no sense of US grievance was conveyed to the Indian envoy. Whatever gloss Indian officials may want to put on it in Washington, it was confirmed that the Americans had conveyed their unhappiness quite unequivocally. "We didn't like Sharma's statement, particularly where he compared the nato action to that of the Serb police. That was offensive. India is in this case joining with China and Russia. Is that the way India wants to be?"
According to an American official, when asked for the reason for their stand the Indian side explained that "India is a poor country, a less powerful country and therefore it wants to emphasise the importance of legal concerns in international standards."
Privately, American officials have argued that India's role in Sri Lanka and Maldives was no different. While this argument is fallacious, Washington is believed to have informally told the Indians that it too does not have a perfect record where other nations' sovereignty is concerned.
To Tom Thornton, professor of political science and Asian studies at John Hopkins University in Baltimore and Georgetown University in Washington, the fact that India's reaction had been ignored by the US press showed just "how completely irrelevant" it was in the larger scheme of things. "Why should we or anyone else bother what India says or thinks?" he asked. "Its criticism is made for all the wrong reasons. India is not in the Security Council. They are not getting any joy out of it." He added that India's disapproval of the nato aggression was because "the Indian ministry of external affairs is the last bastion of hard-core socialists. They dearly love Yugoslavia. India does not like to see countries dismembered, despite what they did to Pakistan."