Making A Difference

The Importance Of Being Raphel

The high-profile American official was given an unusually low-key reception by the government

The Importance Of Being Raphel
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Raphel's visit to India came soon after the Brown Amendment was passed, allowing arms sales to Pakistan, and was the third leg of her journey after Afghanistan and Pakistan. A controversial official, as far as India is concerned, she received a markedly cool reception in official circles and the media this time. As a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official said: "She had a free run the last time. She met people in the MEA and the Home Ministry. But on this visit she was restricted to just our ministry." And that too, to meeting Secretary (West) V.K. Grover. This could be easily explained. Foreign Secretary Salman Haider was away attending the Commonwealth summit along with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and Grover was the seniormost officer in the ministry. However, the fact is that although the two ministers of state, R.L. Bhatia and Salman Khursheed, were in Delhi the day Raphel met Grover, there was no meeting arranged with either of them.

There was a method in the way things were done. "Raphel," several Indian officials emphasise, "is very pro-Pakistan." Her discussions in New Delhi only reinforced this feeling. Her statements in the past on Kashmir, on Pakistan's role in Kashmir and her role in piloting the Brown Amendment through the American Congress are still fresh in the minds of Indian officials.

Yet in terms of protocol, the MEA could not be faulted. If anything, Grover is a rank senior to Raphel. But considering she is always keen to have high-level meetings,the Americans would have noticed that her access was restricted to Grover only. "She meets Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. She feels that she should have the same access here too," points out an official. He recalls that, two years ago, when she was posted to the newly-created South Asia Bureau in the State Department from the American Embassy in New Delhi, she had sought a meeting with Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. The MEA naturally turned down the request. "Then she had given the excuse that she had a message from President Bill Clinton to pass on to Rao. We had reservations. But Siddhartha Shankar Ray kept calling the Prime Minister's Office from Washington and she was finally able to meet Rao just before leaving India," said an official.

On a previous visit to New Delhi, soon after she questioned the legality of the accession of Kashmir to India, she had received an extremely rough reception. The Youth Congress held an angry demonstration connived at by the authorities. And the media had expended much ink on the 'black carpet' treatment she received.

Since then Raphel has pushed aggressively for the arms transfer to Pakistan. American officials here argued that what Senator Hank Brown and Raphel did was simply carry out a commitment on arms transfer made by President Clinton to Benazir Bhutto. The Indians remain unhappy with her nonetheless.

On her part, Raphel stayed away from the press and made no statements that could lead to any controversy. Her presence remained low-key, perhaps because the US Administration did not want to add to the tension generated in Indo-US relations by the decision to supply arms to Pakistan. Raphel met the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu and Bihar and had discussions on economic matters. These meetings were also meant to help make an assessment of the political situation in the pre-election months in India. Her meetings with the captains of Indian industry and the two days that she spent in Jamshedpur were a signal that the US attaches importance to improving economic ties with India.

But viewing her visit in the narrow perspective of who she met is missing the woods for the trees. "Please do not blow it out of proportion. She is an influential official, but there are others in the State Department with whom India can deal and expect a more balanced treatment," said a senior official cautiously. "She came here for routine consultations and there was no single bilateral or international issue on the agenda, though Afghanistan figured prominently in the talks," he added.

American officials too emphasise that the "major impetus" behind her trip to this region was the visit to Afghanistan. Since she was coming to South Asia, she also took the opportunity to hold routine consultations with her counterparts in these countries and it involved no special initiative. Her consultations, though routine, covered a wide range of issues. The Brown Amendment, on which so much has been said and written, figured only briefly in her talks with the Indian side. She stuck to her line that the release of arms, paid for by Islamabad, was necessary because it would help the US restore its influence in Pakistan, without violating Washington's disarmament goals.

She arrived in India when the Government here had announced elections in Kashmir, only for the proposal to be shot down by the Election Commission. While making no negative assessment of the Indian Government's attempt to hold elections, Raphel reiterated that India and Pakistan should sort things out, after consulting the people of Kashmir. She is believed to have pointed out that it was for the people of Kashmir to judge the election package. But the fact that she did not offer support for the starting of the political process in Kashmir, according to Chintamani Mahapatra of the Institute ofDefence Studies and Analysis, means "she is still with Pakistan on this matter".

Raphel took the opportunity to meet Farooq Abdullah, leader of the National Conference, and assess the Kashmir situation for herself. This raised many eyebrows. Before she arrived, it was believed that she would meet the leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). But that meeting never transpired. An official felt that since Omar Farooq, chairman of the APHC, was recently in the US and had met some State Department officials, it made sense for her to meet Farooq Abdullah, who had derailed the Government's plans of holding elections.

INDEED, making an assessment of the political situation in Pakistan and India appeared to be one of the major objectives of her recent visit. She had extensive meetings with Bhutto and other key people in Pakistan's political and military establishment. The visit signalled political support for Bhutto, who Raphel believes does not face any immediate political threat, especially after the Islamic coup plotters were arrested.

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While the coup attempt by Islamic officers in the Pakistan army worried the Americans, the passing of the Brown Amendment should help keep the armed forces happy. Raphel sees Karachi as an intractable problem, with little political leeway for Bhutto to manoeuvre around. The ethnic conflict in Karachi, the economic problems and most importantly, Pakistan's involvement in Afghanistan, would certainly have engaged her attention.

Raphel has not changed her stand on Pakistan's support to the militants in Kashmir. She has always maintained that there isn't enough evidence for such charges and that, while support may be coming from Pakistan, the government there has no control over it. This is an argument that India does not buy, but it does suit US interests.

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The Bhutto government is not seen by Raphel as exporting fundamentalist Islamic doctrines. With the changed situation in Central Asia, Pakistan's strategic location can be useful to further American aims in this area, besides helping to encircle Iran.

Raphel is believed to have urged the resumption of Indo-Pakistan talks and is unconvinced by the argument of both countries that they want to restart the dialogue but it is the other side which is avoiding it.

Raphel also expressed concern at India's modifying its stand on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which had led to differences with the US. The US wants touse the CTBT and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty to cap the nuclear programmes of India, Pakistan and Israel. The US appeared to have been taken by surprise by the change in India's stand. In fact, she sounded out Grover on a possible foreign secretary-level talk to resolve the differences, which manifested themselves when India refused to co-sponsor the resolution on a comprehensive test ban in the UN. A decision on this matter is not expected before the end of the winter session of Parliament. India has not accepted the American position on the issue and believes that the situation is now radically different given the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the nuclear tests by France and China and the American resolve to carry on with hydrodynamic tests.

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