14 November 2015


10 November 2015

Recently, there have been three diplomatic debacles: India’s failed entry into the Missile Technology Control Regimel; an uptick in US-Pakistan ties in Washington, DC; and the swearing-in of an ‘anti-India’ cabinet in Ottawa. In each case, the MEA failed to do its job

This has been a wonderful few months for Indian diplomacy. Within this period, there have been major diplomatic disasters, entirely due to the Ministry of External Affairs’ serial bungling, and these have gone virtually unnoticed in the Press. In fact, between the diplomatic disasters, missteps and clumsiness of the MEA, one could felt that the BJP’s performance in Bihar was a triumph in comparison. Of course, the big loser in this whole game is India.

For starters, there was India’s much vaunted membership to the Missile Technology Control Regime. Ostensibly membership to this regime would have opened up access to a whole new set of weaponry and technologies that would enable India to strike further and with greater payloads. It would be the first major anti-proliferation arrangement that would legitimise India’s role as a rule-following nation, after the India-US nuclear deal. The supposed benefits were both tangible and reputational, and in the run up to this occasion, one saw a slew of op-eds, in-depth reports and what not, trumpeting India’s entry into the club — all reeking of that acute inferiority complex and proclaiming that India had finally ‘arrived’.

Things, clearly, did not go the way India wanted because Italy vetoed India’s entry on the grounds that the Marines case was still stuck in India’s courts, which have yet to even decide jurisdiction, leave alone guilt. This, of course, was natural — a footnote in India, the Marines are a cause célèbre in Italy. The question is: Why didn’t the MEA pick up on these signs, as any primary collector of intelligence is meant to, and postpone the vote or at least try to liaise with the Italians, find out how they would vote, and get them to abstain, at the very least?

Now, if this weren’t bad enough, it seems India’s relationship with Washington, DC, also took a few hits. Some DC think-tanks put out a document calling for a “normal nuclear Pakistan” — arguing for mainstreaming Pakistan’s nuclear programme in return for caps on its weapons programme and joining treaties like the Fissile Material Cut-off Agreement and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

This was hardly a surprise. Most of us who travel to Washington for even a few days in the year could pick up that US was inching towards such an agreement (or, at least, that certain elements in Washington wanted to push the Government in this direction) as far back as 2013. In other words, while everyone who isn’t in the MEA in New Delhi had got the note, the MEA not unsurprisingly was the only one taken by surprise at the publication.

Compounding this was the joint statement that came out of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with US President Barack Obama, containing this gem: “The leaders emphasised the importance of a sustained and resilient dialogue process between the two neighbours aimed at resolving all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir, through peaceful means and working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism”.

This means that, on top of being clueless about how nuclear non-proliferation winds were blowing, the Indian Embassy in DC was equally clueless about the winds blowing in Pakistan-US relations. There is a reason for this. The general refrain one hears from the Americans is that the Indian diplomats are only interested in “preaching and talking down” to the Americans, as if the latter were a bunch of retards. Listening, clearly, isn’t in their skill set; neither is problem-solving. Their default response is hostile obstinacy, adopting an attitude that US foreign policy should be deployed to serve India’s, and not the US’s, interests.

This nuclear debacle has in no way been any less than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Iran catastrophe, and both stem from the exact same problematic negotiating position: ‘That America has no right to its own interests but I (India/Israel) won’t be constructive. Instead, I will criticise and the US must be grateful to me for being downright obnoxious’. Frequently, the best results in diplomacy are achieved by the tactic Nehru espoused — ‘get into it and bring it down from within’. In other words, become part of the negotiations and introduce poison pill clauses or sabotage from within.

While Israel is now licking its wounds, realising its huge diplomatic mistakes, Indian bureaucrats are busy blaming the Americans for everything to cover up for their own multi-year inter-departmental ineptitude. After all, who will have the guts to go to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and admit that they got it wrong or were sleeping on the job? You see, Indian diplomats do not sleep on the job and they never get things wrong! But they are frequently the victims of grand conspiracies hatched by non-proliferationAyatollahs, Indian collaborators and their ISI handlers, all of whom are single-mindedly hell-bent on destroying that bastion of Indian virility — the Indian Foreign Service.

The final debacle that went equally unnoticed — although to be fair India had little room to manipulate — was the Canadian election. Of course, Indians don’t care that the new Canadian Prime Minister has sworn in the most anti-India Cabinet, so long as he looks cute and does a mean bhangra. India supporters have, for the last four years, been consistently warning of a Khalistani takeover of the Sikh community in Canada.

This year, the Liberal Party saw every pro-India candidate edged out in the primaries by a concerted campaign by pro-Khalistani elements allied with anti-India elements. Every, repeat every, single Sikh Minister in the Cabinet is connected in one way or another to the World Sikh Organisation — a front organisation for the Babbar Khalsa International, that says one thing in English and French and quite another thing in Gurumukhi publications. The fountainhead of this is the new Defence Minister, Mr Harjit Sajjan, whose father headed the World Sikh Organisation. Mr Sajjan has simply brushed aside, but never explained, his association with that group.

Similarly, four out of seven Muslim Ministers in the new Canadian Cabinet are tainted for having been associated with a terror organisation of some sort. And what was the Indian High Commission in Ottawa doing about all of this? You guessed it: Nothing. Indian intelligence operatives there weren’t interested in the information or in activating measures to protect our interests. Presumably, they were more concerned about acquiring sources to protect their promotion schedules. In the end, we really have to sit back and wonder: What has India done to deserve this calumny that is the MEA?

(The writer is Coordinator of the National Security Programme at the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi)

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