|Powell (top), Sinha: Status squabble'
New Delhi, March 23: US secretary of state Colin Powell, whose desire to make Pakistan a “major non-Nato ally” left India red-faced, called up Yashwant Sinha to explain Washington’s stand. But he had to wait two days to do so.
India also made it clear it was not eager to accept a similar classification from the US.
“Secretary Powell called up the foreign minister on Sunday,” ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said. Powell was trying to get in touch with Sinha since March 19 but the minister was busy campaigning in Hazaribagh, he added.
Sinha’s refusal to take the secretary of state’s phone call for two days may be the only gesture India can allow at this juncture to express its displeasure.
South Block officials have indicated that it was not only what the US was willing to offer Pakistan, but the fact that Powell kept it a secret during conversations with the Indian leadership barely 48 hours before making the announcement that has come as a big disappointment.
Sarna said Powell tried to explain that the US decision was not meant to “spring a surprise on India”. Playing down reports that Washington might also offer India a “non-Nato ally” tag, he said: “We have not given any consideration to any such proposal at this juncture.”
Although this is being dismissed as a hypothetical situation by South Block, many officials said that even if offered the tag, India will find it difficult to accept it. Acceptance would lead to widespread criticism in the country and raise questions about the Centre’s claims of pursuing an independent foreign policy.
Irrespective of the explanation Powell may have given Sinha, his announcement of the desire to make Pakistan a “major non-Nato ally” had come as a shock to India.
Two days before Powell landed in Delhi, the government had been taken aback by President Pervez Musharraf’s strong statement, making Kashmir “central” to improvement in bilateral ties and justifying the violence in the state as a “freedom fight” and not “terrorism”.
Powell had promised to take up the issue with Musharraf and insisted that cross-border violence would have to stop. But when he reached Islamabad two days later, Powell announced that he wanted Pakistan to be a “major non-Nato ally”. More than the military implication of the move, it was the political significance that irked the Indian leadership.
In the past few years, Washington has convinced South Block mandarins that it has been exerting pressure on Pakistan to stop cross-border violence and create a situation that will allow India to return to the talks table. There was hope that the peace process initiated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would progress when Musharraf responded positively by announcing a ceasefire on the border and the Line of Control and promising that there would be no terrorist activities directed against India from Islamabad.
Powell gave the impression that it was mainly the leverage he had used against Pakistan that forced Musharraf to take steps to encourage Delhi to start the normalisation process.
India feels the decision to elevate Pakistan, more so Musharraf’s position, as a “major non-Nato ally” might prompt its western neighbour to only fulfill commitments in Afghanistan to please the US and not those made to India.
Vajpayee had signalled last week that he was still committed to the peace process by sending his close aide and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra to Lahore for Sunday’s one-day match. Details of Mishra’s meetings with the Pakistan leadership, including one with foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, are not known.
A day after Musharraf’s remarks on Kashmir and terrorism, the Pakistani foreign minister had tried to play them down by insisting that the two sides look for areas of commonality instead of difference.