Saved from terror, India bound

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 29.05.09

Washington, May 28: Tim Roemer brings to Roosevelt House, the residence of the US ambassador in New Delhi, a chilling story of his providen tial escape from a devastating terrorist attack in Islamabad last year, in which scores of people were killed and hundreds injured.

US president Barack Obama yesterday nominated Roemer, a former Democratic Congressman from Indiana to be his new envoy to India, end ing a long phase of heavy lob bying by several prominent South Asia experts here for the diplomatic post in New Delhi which has become an important job in recent years.

Roemer has recounted the story of his narrow escape from the huge terrorist attack in Islamabad on September 20, 2008.

“I was preparing to board a flight from Kuwait to Pakistan when I received an urgent e-mail. Our destination, the Marriott in Islamabad, had been demolished by a truck bomb,” Roemer wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer when he came home from that trip.

There was speculation after the bombing that a US Congressional delegation, of which Roemer was member, was the target of the terrorists and that al Qaeda mixed up the
dates of the delegation's visit or that disinformation was spread in Pakistan about the
group’s itinerary.

But the providential escape from a terrorist attack may also have firmed up the ambassador's views on South Asia in a direction negative enough for the next foreign secretary to have to work on Roemer once he lands in New Delhi.

“We also must address the tension between Pakistan and India over Kashmir,” Roemer wrote in The Philadelphia In quirer. “For generations, this issue has fuelled extremism and served as a central source of friction between two nu clear states. Resolving this dis pute would allow them to focus more on sustainable develop ment and less on armed conflict.”

He added ominously, leav ing much to be read between the lines: “We need to harness the energy of the international community to resolve secu rity issues in the (South Asia)

During and in the run up to hearings on Roemer’s confirmation on Capitol Hill, Indian
lobbyists will prevail upon a slew of Senators to din into the incoming ambassador New Delhi’s view that Kashmir is not the root cause of tension between India and

But once he arrives in Chanakyapuri, South Block will have its job cut out on ensuring that Roemer follows the Indian script on Kashmir like several of his recent predeces sors.

Under Roemer, the US embassy will reclaim its role on policy. The previous envoy in
New Delhi was short on policy and believed that economics was more important than politics in diplomacy.

David Mulford often put his foot in his mouth. As a result, decisions on India were almost exclusively made in Washington, reducing the US embassy in India to a mere courier outpost.

Roemer, on the other hand, has dedicated long years of his public life to strengthening US national security. As a mem ber of the Congressional Per manent Select Committee on Intelligence, he was the prime mover for a joint Congressional inquiry into the nature of the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001.

He later served on an inquiry panel which came be known as “the 9/11 Commission.” He continues to be on the Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, created by the US Congress two years ago.

If Indian schools are looking for a patron for improving their performance in basketball, the incoming US ambassador is their man: Roemer loves coaching children's basketball teams. Collectors or sellers of old, used first edition books will have a friend in Roosevelt House. Picking up such books is a passion for Roemer. The new external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, need not worry that India’s views will not get right to the White House Oval Office.

As one of the first Democrats to endorse Obama in his presidential primaries, Roemer vigorously campaigned for Obama in as many as 11 states. He was at one stage mentioned as a choice for the cabinet, but the president eventually decided that Roemer would be more useful in New Delhi.