In Powell-Modi Meet, It's Election Diplomacy at Play

Published: 02nd March 2014 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 28th February 2014 12:13 PM   |  A+A-

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The US and its European allies have, over the past two decades since the end of Cold War, adopted extraordinary measures to coerce and threaten Asian and African countries. We recently had the experience of the European-dominated International Criminal Court indicting and seeking to summon the newly elected President and Vice-President of Kenya for alleged human rights violations during an election campaign. Worse still, countries like Iraq and Libya have been invaded because their rulers did not yield to Western diktats. These efforts at “regime change” have only fragmented countries, which are diverse ethnically and in their sectarian composition. The map of West Asia is being redrawn amid violence and near anarchy. All this is being done to purportedly uphold the ‘divine right’ of the western world, involving ‘R2P’, or ‘Responsibility to Protect’.

The US has sought to behave in a similar and arbitrary manner in South Asia. Former ISI chief Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha was summoned by a US court in a case filed by families of victims of the 26/11 attack, in which ISI involvement was alleged. The US, then anxious for ISI cooperation, acted promptly to grant Pasha diplomatic immunity from the charges. Yet, the Obama administration did precious little when Indian leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath were sought to be summoned in cases in the US alleging their participation in human rights violations. Worse still, the US administration showed scant regard for the Indian Supreme Court when it stubbornly insisted that it would not remove a travel ban on Narendra Modi, even after a Supreme Court-appointed SIT found there was no evidence to prove his personal involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots—a finding endorsed judicially in India.

Sensing that Modi could become PM after the next general elections, the US quite realistically, and some would aver opportunistically, changed its tune, directing its ambassador Nancy Powell to call on the CM. The Americans were told that as required under Indian protocol, the request for the meeting should be routed through the Ministry of External Affairs. When Powell did eventually meet Modi in Ahmedabad, he made his approach to foreign policy quite clear. He alluded to the “ill-treatment” of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and hoped a “permanent solution” to the issue would be found soon. Modi also held that “such irritants should not be allowed to happen”.

Modi’s meeting with Powell was also reflective of his assessment of two issues of vital security concern—developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Modi spoke of facilities being provided in Gujarat for training Afghan nationals and emphasised the importance of bringing all those involved in the 26/11 outrage to justice. He also held that there should be no double standards in dealing with terrorists and terrorism. The message was clear. He’d remain firm on issues of terrorism and terrorist strikes seeking to undermine India’s national security.

Issues of national security have figured in the current election campaign. Modi spoke to ex-servicemen in Haryana and dwelt at length on national security issues in Mumbai. He was highly critical of corruption and delays in acquisition of vital arms and equipment for the armed forces. He also noted that it was dangerous strategically and economically to be so highly dependent on imports of arms and defence equipment. The message that emerged was that there would be restructuring of defence industry in India, which would involve wider participation—domestic and through foreign investment—in defence and high-tech industries in the country. Rahul Gandhi, in turn, has spoken about changing pension norms for ex-service officers. But there is yet no clear articulation of his security and foreign policy perspectives. Does he still believe, as he told former US ambassador Tim Roemer, that “Hindu Terrorism” constitutes the most dangerous threat to India’s national security? dadpartha@gmail.com

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