THREE weeks after Pokhran-II, the government finally deemed it necessary to despatch Brajesh Mishra, principal secretary to the prime minister, as special envoy to Paris to brief the French on India's nuclear stand. But Mishra's hush-hush damage-control visit came too late. By then the P-5 (the five permanent members of the Security Council) meet in Geneva, and the June 12 meet of G-8 foreign ministers, had already been scheduled, with nuclear tensions in south Asia—and Kashmir—heading the agenda.
Taken by surprise over India's Pokhran experiment, the US is talking tough. Using the nuclear tensions linked to Kashmir, it is trying to browbeat India into signing the NPT and CTBT. Kashmir is India's weak point—despite New Delhi's declarations that it is an integral part of India, the world realises that India is defensive on Kashmir.
But how has Kashmir got linked to the nukes? How did it reach the top of the international agenda, much to Pakistan's glee and India's consternation? There are various reasons. In a self-congratulatory mood after Pokhran, the BJP government simply ignored the need to mobilise international opinion in favour of India. For three weeks, A.B. Vajpayee failed to send any envoy to any country to explain India's stand.
Then, exactly a week after the first Indian tests, home minister L.K. Advani warned Pakistan that it should "realise the change in the geo-strategic situation in the region and the world, roll back its anti-India policy, especially with regard to Kashmir...any other course will be futile and costly for Pakistan." This gratuitous statement was enough to set off alarm bells of a possible N-flashpoint in South Asia—over Kashmir.
The Vajpayee government's handling of the nuclear tests aftermath has been a colossal diplomatic blunder. In the event, India played straight into the hands of Pakistan. While reacting positively to Vajpayee's offer of talks, Islamabad added a rider—third party mediation, something India immediately rejected.
The Mishra mission was the first diplomatic initiative—and even he went curiously missing after his Paris visit, giving rise to speculation. The government was not willing to explain his whereabouts. Says a former foreign secretary: "It's a bit late to send Mishra. It will serve no purpose as far as the meetings of the P-5 or G-8 are concerned. It should have been done long ago."
Agrees another senior diplomat: "Foreign policy management after the N-tests has been totally inept. The letter to Clinton, the brief sent to Indian missions abroad which was totally routine, when it should have had a broad political sweep, have told on our efforts abroad. Added to this is the fact that senior political leaders have been speaking in different voices." According to him, the government should have despatched senior politicians and diplomats abroad immediately after the tests. "There should have been high-level diplomacy at a personal level. Look how well Pakistan has done."
The same lack of understanding showed when deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Jaswant Singh was despatched to New York to attend a UN conference on drug and narcotics trafficking, and not to Washington to put forward India's view.
The diplomatic mess is also being attributed to the fact that the ministry of external affairs stands totally marginalised—or that it is not being taken into confidence enough. The PMO is managing foreign policy, and according to a senior diplomat, it does not have the expertise. "As foreign minister, Vajpayee must have a direct link with the foreign secretary. " The first hint of a total lack of communication came when the American embassy in Delhi asked the MEA for a copy of Vajpayee's letter to Clinton. "What letter?" quipped the MEA.
MEA officials, however, do not agree that they are being isolated. In fact, they point to the non-aligned foreign ministers' meet in Carthagena, in which the foreign office was deeply involved. Then, secretary (east) Nareshwar Dayal was sent to three Gulf countries where he allayed fears about an arms race in the region.
The US, however, is feeling the most 'betrayed' at being 'conned' by the BJP leadership over the nuclear tests. American sources say they were given to understand by the top BJP leadership that India will conduct no tests till the end of this year or January 1999. Their understanding essentially was that India would wait till President Bill Clinton's visit to the subcontinent.
State Department spokesman James Rubin harped on the fact that the five permanent members of the Security Council would search for ways to avert a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and seek a solution to the Kashmir problem. Secretary of state Madeleine Albright followed it up by saying that rising tensions over Kashmir and mutual fears create a uniquely serious and dangerous situation, suggesting that resolving the Kashmir problem was imperative to reducing tensions in south Asia.
A belligerent Chinese President Jiang Zemin chipped in as well. In a rare interview to an international agency, he charged India with targeting its nuclear weapons at China and Pakistan. This was in line with the consistent Chinese stand of blaming India for the nuclear tensions and seeing Kashmir as a flashpoint, while adopting a more conciliatory tone towards Pakistan.
The Chinese and the Americans have swiftly changed tack on Kashmir. Barring former US official Robin Raphel, the Americans had taken cognisance of the Indian objection to internationalising the Kashmir issue. Two years ago, Kashmir was almost dropped from the UN's annual agenda. In December 1996, President Jiang advised Pakistani Senators to put Kashmir aside and improve ties with India.
What should also bother the Indian government is that even Russia, which is still fairly sympathetic towards India, has suggested that Islamabad and New Delhi must sign the CTBT and the NPT, hold bilateral talks and that the P-5 must take immediate steps to curb the regional nuclear arms race.
INDIA has to be thankful to the Russians on one count though. At the Geneva meet, Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov stopped British foreign secretary Robin Cook from stirring up the Kashmiri pot. But the never-say-die Cook has already set up another opportunity to have his say at the coming G-8 meeting of foreign ministers in London. Cook, of course, won't have it that easy. The draft communique for the Geneva meeting, proposed with the US and Britain, linked Kashmir with the nuclear issue. But Primakov voted those bits out, to the annoyance of both British and American delegates, diplomatic sources in Geneva told Outlook.
There are many in Britain egging Cook along. Former Labour MP Roy Hattersley in his column in The Guardian titled "Kashmiri Cookery" wrote: "The foreign secretary would be entitled to argue that the future of Kashmir has been our proper concern ever since India and Pakistan gained their independence more than 50 years ago. It is, in a very real sense, the unfinished business of the empire." Kashmiri Muslims in India want to join their "co-religionists" in Pakistan, Hattersley wrote. This sort of stuff from the Pakistan lobby often goes unchallenged. Only former Labour Party leader Michael Foot says he is writing a book which "I hope I will finish in time to stop Roy writing further nonsense on this topic".
Cook's second attempt to raise Kashmir, after he had a go during the Queen's visit to India and Pakistan last year, succeeded up to a point. The communique from Geneva gives half an opening. The ministers, it said, "pledged that they will actively encourage India and Pakistan to find mutually acceptable solutions, through direct dialogue, that address the root causes of the tension, including Kashmir, and to try to build con-fidence rather than seek confrontation. The ministers urged both parties to avoid threatening military movements, cross-border violations, or other provocative acts."
This, diplomats say, was some of the most contentious language in the communique. The bilateral emphasis over Kashmir, the reference to cross-border violations and to provocative acts, came with the firm intervention of Primakov. The Russian minister sought to counterbalance the pointed stuff from Chinese counterpart Tang Jianxuan who said India went ahead with its nuclear test "in defiance of world opinion" and that Pakistan sought to test only "after the peace and stability was undermined".
Reacting to the P-5 communique, India on Friday pointed out that it had not "violated any treaty it has undertaken," reminding the P-5 that one of the most serious threats to (India's) security has been the nonobservance of their obligations under the NPT. "The clandestine transfer over the years of nuclear weapons technology and fissile material to our neighbourhood is well-known. Nevertheless, the P-5 has declined to take any action to address a serious violation of a treaty provision." The reference was clearly to China's help to Pakistan.
As for Kashmir, Indian analysts are not surprised it has reached where it has. But says former foreign secretary A.P. Venkast-eswaran, this "should not matter. The important thing is not to bend".