The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Alert: Hyper to hypothesis

Washington, Aug. 12: Caught between a hyperactive US embassy in New Delhi and a circumspect state department here, the Americans are tying themselves up in knots over their latest terror warning in India.

The state department’s deputy spokesman, Tom Casey, yesterday virtually contradicted the American embassy in New Delhi when he said at a briefing that the “warden message” about possible terror attacks in India between August 11 and 16 was in “somewhat more hypothetical terms” and that “it is not definitive information that is there” in the warning.

The embassy, according to those here who keep a finger on the South Asian pulse, had repeated its bungle four years ago when it issued an evacuation warning to Americans predicting that India and Pakistan were going to war, presumably a nuclear holocaust.

When American citizens in India refused to take the warning seriously, the then US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, forced unwilling families of his staff at the embassy and three US consulates in India to evacuate to impress on other expatriates across India that the situation was critical.

The evacuation of US diplomats prompted other embassies in New Delhi to follow suit.

Michael T. Clark, who was then executive director of the US-India Business Council, recorded after that brouhaha: “The real impact of the evacuation warnings (was) felt not in India, but in the US, where... American companies new to market in India have been alarmed by perceptions of South Asia as ‘the most dangerous place on earth’.”

Clark wrote that “major new contracts have been indefinitely deferred or diverted to other countries; important investment projects have been shelved or cancelled”.

According to him, “US companies with operations in India kept their own counsel”, but Indians described ‘the notices as ‘the latest sanctions imposed by the US’. Some important business leaders and officials asserted that the US was exploiting growing commercial ties between the two countries for political advantage.”

Yesterday, the state department was very clear on one point. Casey said it had no plans to elevate what was in the warden message to the level of a “travel warning” on India.

“Obviously, we will evaluate the information that we have and see if anything more than this is required,” he said.

The embassy appears to have decided that discretion is the better part of valour and chosen to absolve itself of any blame in case of any terrorist act in India around Independence Day.

However, in the process, the mission has created suspicion and ill will between the two countries and somewhat undermined a growing spirit of cooperation between India and the US.

By being circumspect about the warden message, the state department is trying to undo any damage.

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