OFFICIALS of the United Nations are bewildered at the Indian establishment's reaction to what's being considered here as mundane references by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the perennial issue of Kashmir and the debutant topic of Indian and Pakistani nuclear testing in his 236-paragraph annual report to the General Assembly. "It's stunning to see the intensity of comments coming out of New Delhi," remarked a senior UN official. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said: "I guess the ferocity between political contenders in New Delhi is reflected against the secretary-general's report. I wish the report hadn't become a political football in India."
Echoing his view, a senior South Asian diplomat said: "First we had a brouhaha from the Indian side at the Durban non-aligned meeting (over the host's references to Kashmir); now they're making a fuss over a UN report. That poor fellow (Annan) has just done his job."
Diplomats, both from the developing world and the West, said they didn't find anything punishingly accusatory against India in the report. Leading American analysts say they're surprised at India's reaction and assert New Delhi should've expected some reference to Kashmir. Dr Stephen P. Cohen, senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution and co-founder of the Program in Arms Control at the University of Illinois, who has written several books on military and security issues in South Asia, told Outlook: "The upsurge in international interest over Kashmir is not due, of course, to any dramatic developments in the valley—although the three-way struggle between the Indian security forces, the various Kashmiri groups (some more loyal to India than others), and various elements who have their base, or at least their support, in Pakistan and elsewhere, drags on. The significant change has been the nuclearisation of the subcontinent, which the rest of the world thinks makes the region a far more dangerous place than it was before May."
"They're right," says he, "not because a war's more likely to break out, but because if one should occur, even by miscalculation or by stupidity on one or both sides or by a third party triggering a 'catalytic' war between India and Pakistan—the consequences would be vastly more grave." According to Robert L. Hardgrave, professor of Government and Asian Studies at the University of Texas in Austin, whose book
India: Government and Politics in a Developing Nation has for long been the leading text on Indian politics: "In the wake of the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan, Kashmir has become a focal point of international concern, as evidenced by Annan's remarks and by Nelson Mandela's call for a settlement of the ongoing dispute. In its international dimension, Kashmir is a bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan and no resolution can be imposed by outside parties, but the concerns expressed by Annan and Mandela are well-taken and a response to what has become a seemingly intractable problem that's imposed staggering costs on both countries."
Elaborating, he said: "For Pakistan, its self-imprisonment in the Kashmir dispute has distorted its politics and burdened its economy at serious costs to social and economic development. For India, the costs may seem less evident but they're no less serious. Continued hostility with Pakistan pushes India's military expenditures beyond what would otherwise be required for its security at inevitable cost to development. More serious, India's inability to resolve the Kashmir dispute has weakened its international prestige and the influ-ence it might rightly exercise in the world, for example, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council."
Another analyst, Dr Sumit Ganguly, professor of political science at the Hunter College in New York City and author of the seminal The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace, puts the blame squarely on the failures of Indian diplomacy after the nuclear tests. "Indian diplomacy has been singularly inept. At a regional level, India has also demonstrated little or no dexterity in handling public relations on the Kashmir issue."
However, Shashi Tharoor, confidant of Annan at the UN Secretariat, told Outlook: "The secretary-general's reference to Kashmir in his report is routine and perfectly understandable. Not too much should be read into it."
UN and other diplomatic sources told Outlook that the report was put together by Prof John Ruggie, who heads the Strategic Planning Unit, an internal UN thinktank of academics and experts. Ruggie is a dean of Columbia University's School of International Affairs and is on a sabbatical to the UN. He was described by a Third World diplomat as a believer in "muscular diplomacy" and by no means "a cowboy".
References to India, Pakistan, South Asia or the nuclear testing occur in only four paras (18, 38, 47 and 49) of Annan's report, a diplomatic source pointed out. One Indian official, who's analysed the document threadbare, speaking privately to Outlook, said: "On balance, it's not the reference to J&K that's objectionable to me, but his reference to the N-tests. It's obnoxious because India's national security is not anyone's business but it's own. But even here, Annan has been respecting of our sensibilities."
Said an Asian diplomat: "India's nuclear testing, perhaps the most dramatic event of the year, has been treated with kid gloves by Annan. Nuclear non-proliferation evangelists (peaceniks), I think, will be mad at him for that reason. So, I don't understand why there's such a cacophonous reaction from New Delhi." Added another official from a neighbouring country of India: "Instead of ignoring these references, the Indians, by protesting, are internationalising the issue. They've drawn attention to something many of us had simply ignored."