INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: After leaks, paint lips – Diplomacy loses trust factor

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS: After leaks, paint lips – Diplomacy loses trust factor – a new set of “do’s and ‘don’ts” ?!!


Barak Obama comes a shopping in India - to try and preserve US jobs ?!!



Washington, Nov. 29: The next time an Indian minister or a senior civil servant accepts an invitation to dinner at the residence of an American diplomat in New Delhi, he is likely to wish that the dress code for the dinner included gloves in addition to the usual prescription of “lounge suit/national dress”.

It is equally likely that if the invitee is male, he will wear some lip balm; or an extra coat of lipstick if the guest is a woman.

The gloves will prevent his or her fingerprints from being taken and the hope will be that the lip balm or lipstick will make it difficult for American diplomats to extract DNA from a glass from which wine has been sipped once the dinner is over and the guests have all left.

This may be a vivid, but by no means, an extreme scenario. At some point in the coming months, when the latest WikiLeaks revelations of classified cables from US embassies around the world are analysed and the dust has settled down, some sort of “Top Secret” cable is bound to go out from South Block with instructions to Indian diplomats advising caution in dealings with their American counterparts. So it should be.

Simultaneously, Indian intelligence agencies will give briefings to those who hold sensitive jobs in ministries like defence and home, men and women who have to deal with foreigners in or out of their governments, on a set of new “dos” and “don’ts”.

This is nothing unusual. During the Cold War, western diplomats who were posted to Moscow and the capitals of Soviet satellite countries had very clear and precise instructions on dealing with their hosts.

In capitals like East Berlin or Sofia, it was presumed that every East German or Bulgarian who came into contact with a western diplomat was presumed to be a communist agent either on the lookout for recruits or waiting to trap westerners into some compromise.

Even western jouranlists who were posted to Moscow in those years had a code of conduct on how to deal with their Soviet contacts.

In sheer practical terms, the most serious fallout of the publication of the secret US diplomatic dispatches on American diplomacy will be that their career diplomats will have significantly forfeited the trust of their hosts.

Since the last quarter of the 15th century, when Spain and England exchanged the first recorded instance of resident ambassadors in each other’s capitals, trust has been the sheet anchor of modern diplomacy. All else was qualified by the level of that basic trust or by its absence, as in the case of India and Pakistan.

The Bush administration tried to undermine everything from freedom of information to the Geneva Conventions during its eight years in power: it would appear from the leaks yesterday that fitting into that pattern was then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s instructions to US diplomats to wade into the murky world of intelligence gathering as part of their conventional work at embassies abroad.

But clearly, her successor, Hillary Clinton, improved on those methods. Or so it would seem from the leaks.

In a cable she sent out on July 31 last year, for example, Clinton asked career foreign service officers, as part of a “National Humint Collection Directive”, to spy on diplomats of other countries at the UN to the extent of getting their personal credit card details, frequent flyer numbers, email addresses and passwords, telephone details, “biometric information”, and “personal encryption keys”.

“Humint” is short for human intelligence, the product of personal espionage, while “biometric information” commonly refers to fingerprints, digital photographs and iris scans. “Encryption keys” refer to codes which are needed to unlock secret telegrams sent by other governments in altered text that is readable only by those who have the codes to decipher them.

It will be argued that there have always been CIA stations at major US embassies like New Delhi. But more often than not, host countries knew who manned those stations. For those engaged in diplomacy, it is not a difficult task to find out.

But there have been firewalls between diplomats and spies, both within the embassies and in dealings between host governments and embassies.

Which is why when there have been expulsions from the US embassy in New Delhi — there have been some in the last two decades which were mutually managed by the two governments without incident — those who were asked to leave were invariably CIA personnel and not career diplomats.

The long term-damage done to US diplomacy may not really from the leaks of cables this week but from actions by Rice and Clinton in largely eliminating the line that separated professional spies from career diplomats.

Which maybe why state department spokesperson P.J. Crowley tweeted with alacrity as soon as WikiLeaks material began surfacing on the Internet on Sunday. “Our diplomats are diplomats. They are not intelligence assets,” he wrote in one Twitter message.

In another tweet, he wrote: “Diplomats collect information that shapes our policies and actions. Diplomats for all nations do the same.” Which was eerily reminiscent of Indira Gandhi’s declaration in Parliament with a straight face many years ago that there was not a single RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agent in any Indian embassy.


Warning and apology before whistle blows – leaks and plugs in place yet ?!!


Barak Obama - elbowed by those set on letting the relationship with India gel ?!!



New Delhi, Nov. 27: US officials in Washington and New Delhi have spent the past 48 hours apologising in advance for any uncharitable words they fear some of their own may have used against Indians that are about to be leaked.

Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has threatened to release, in the next few days, classified US documents that may harm Washington’s interests, embarrass its friends, and create tension between them.

No one yet knows what exactly will be leaked but the Americans have reason to worry. Papers declassified a few years ago had shown US President Richard Nixon referring to Indira Gandhi as an “old witch” during the Bangladesh war, and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, observing: “The Indians are bastards, anyway.”

Indian officials, though, are worried less about insults and more about whether WikiLeaks might expose the intelligence practices and personnel that New Delhi employs to secure its interests in the region, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sources said the Americans were now privy to these practices because of closer counter-terrorism cooperation with India and that, via them, these details may have landed in the hands of WikiLeaks.

The website says the size of the next release will be “seven times” the 400,000 Iraq-Afghanistan war logs it published last month, deeply embarrassing Washington.

In Delhi, some recalled the April 2003 leak of a US study on military relations with India, but said the WikiLeaks documents may have more serious implications for India’s security.

The 2003 study, based on interviews with 40-odd US policy makers, described Indian bureaucrats and generals as people who could be “easily slighted or insulted”, were “difficult to work with”, and were “obsessed” with history rather than the future. One commentator said Indians “cannot think strategically”.

The interviewees criticised Indians’ obsession with protocol, and the country’s “rigid and centralised” bureaucracy that was inimical to individual decision-making.

In 2003, New Delhi had not reacted to the report probably keeping the balance of power in mind, but the situation may have changed a little since then. Agencies quoted US state department spokesperson P.J. Crowley as saying: “We have reached out to India to warn them about a possible release of documents.”

The Americans can only draw hope from another set of declassified records that showed Kissinger saying about Indira, five years after the 1971 war, that “I wish we had a man as strong as she in our cabinet”.


Lady’s long march to freedom – I’ve so much to tell you: Suu Kyi – but still diplomatically quiet to appease India’s delicate relations with its natural democratic allys ?!!


Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest - Indian Diplomacy at its best ?!!



Yangon, Nov. 13: Military-ruled Myanmar today freed Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from seven-and-a-half years of house arrest, giving the country a powerful pro-democracy voice days after a widely criticised election.

Suu Kyi stood waving and smiling in a pink, long-sleeved shirt at the gate of her compound as thousands of supporters cheered and sang the national anthem in a blur of camera flashes.

“We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you,” she said, holding a white handkerchief and clenching the red iron gates, hair pinned with flowers given by a supporter.

“She is our mother, she is our mother!” a woman said, near tears.

“If we are united, we can get what we want. When the time comes to talk, do not be quiet,” Suu Kyi, 65, said before walking back inside her home.

She said she would address supporters tomorrow at the headquarters of her now defunct party, the National League for Democracy.

Her latest house arrest term, during which she was denied even a phone, expired today but it was not clear if she would be freed until police removed the barricades and withdrew from her home.

Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. When her British husband Michael Aris died in the UK in 1999, she had declined the junta’s offer to go there for his funeral, fearing she would not be allowed back if she left.

In neighbouring Thailand, the younger of her two sons, Kim Aris, is waiting to see his mother after 10 years. Kim lives in Britain and has been repeatedly denied visas.

“She is a hero of mine,” US President Barack Obama said. “The United States welcomes her long overdue release. It is time for the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners, not just one.”

Analysts said Myanmar’s ruling generals might now see less need to isolate her because this week’s elections, held after 20 years and widely seen as stage-managed, resulted in victory for the party they backed. Also, by freeing her, the junta may be trying to gain some legitimacy for the political process it has initiated.

However, Suu Kyi, known as “the Lady” to the public, is believed to retain her old mesmerising appeal and with a few words could rob the election of any shred of legitimacy it might have, possibly seeking to have the results annulled on grounds of fraud.

Western diplomats said they would assess the degree of liberty she would be given and watch the military’s behaviour towards her. The possibility of future confrontations remains: Suu Kyi’s lawyer says she intends to plunge into political activities, no matter what restrictions are placed on her.

Sunday’s elections were the first since 1990, when the National League for Democracy won in a landslide. The generals annulled that result and clung to power.

Suu Kyi’s party refused to take part in the latest election, saying it was undemocratic. As a result, it was forced to disband as a political party, and Suu Kyi now has no official standing as a political leader.

Experts say the junta would likely need to release more political prisoners before the West lifts sanctions. However, Suu Kyi’s release could rekindle the debate whether the embargoes are viable at a time Myanmar’s neighbours, such as China, are tapping its vast resources and propping up the regime.

Suu Kyi had previously backed sanctions but has reviewed her stance. Analysts say she could mediate between the generals and the West.

Suu Kyi’s most recent term of house arrest began in 2003 after an attack on her motorcade by government-sponsored thugs that many believe was an assassination bid. Her detention was extended in August 2009 when an American, John Yettaw, swam across a lake uninvited to her home, leading to a trial that convicted her of violating the terms of her detention.

In the past, as her terms neared completion, extensions would be imposed. But yesterday, it had appeared that she might be freed as promised.

US & India on the same page – but what about those Gorkhas held without charge in Bengal for over 9 ½ years – still in legal limbo ?!!


Chattray Subba - still held without charge for over 9 1/2 years by Bengal, what sort of Justice can the Gorkhas expect in Bengal ?!!



Washington, Nov. 13: Myanmar was one of the more contentious issues during the recent Indo-US engagement and contrary to public perception, South Block very firmly stood its ground on its dealings with Yangon despite the Obama administration’s allergy to the junta there, records of bilateral meetings available in Washington reveal.

Hours after the release of Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today, the Obama administration appears to have grasped the pragmatism of Indian policy towards Myanmar.

The crux of a statement issued this morning by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton reads like a xerox copy of an earlier statement on Suu Kyi’s release by external affairs minister S.M. Krishna.

For the usual suspects and doubting Thomases, it should be clear who copied whom: Krishna read out his statement before television cameras in New Delhi at least four hours before Clinton made her views known here.

Krishna said about freedom for Suu Kyi: “We hope that this will be the beginning of the process of reconciliation in Myanmar.”

Clinton nudged the junta in Yangon “towards national reconciliation and a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic future”.

Krishna asserted: “We are confident that the release of Madam Aung San Suu Kyi will contribute to efforts for a more inclusive approach to political change.”

Clinton said: “We urge Burma’s leaders to break from their repressive policies and begin an inclusive dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic and ethnic leaders.”

At the heart of what appears to be a belated and grudging acceptance of India’s approach to Myanmar are four words in the statements by Krishna and Clinton.

They are “reconciliation” and “inclusive”, common to both the statements, as well as “process” and “towards”, which are key to an emerging common ground in the policies of both New Delhi and Washington towards Yangon.

India maintained throughout its recent, contentious discussions with the US that it viewed the elections in Myanmar as part of a process, merely as one in a series of incremental steps towards political normality.

The Obama administration, on the other hand, saw elections in Myanmar as an end in itself, following a familiar pattern in US policy that has contributed to instability and crisis in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, to mention recent examples.

Today, Clinton moved closer to the Indian view and implicitly acknowledged that the elections, followed by Suu Kyi’s release, meant Myanmar was heading “towards” a distant but bigger national objective as South Block has been telling Foggy Bottom, seat of the US state department and the White House.

India believes, as Krishna said today, that the rulers in Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s new capital, are engaged in a “process” that will move towards an ultimate objective.

In the run-up to Obama’s visit to India, Kurt Campbell, an assistant secretary of state who is in charge of Myanmar, led a delegation to New Delhi for extensive discussions with the Indian government.

According to a diplomatic despatch sent by Campbell on his talks, he accused Myanmar of smuggling in nuclear material and warned Indians that Yangon would become a proliferator and a nuclear threat to the whole of South Asia.

To which the Indians testily retorted that when a nuclear threat to South Asia was emerging to India’s west —meaning Pakistan — the Americans stood by and did nothing. That argument put Campbell and his delegation clearly on the defensive.

This reporter has not seen Campbell’s “secret” despatch, but a source here, who has access to what he wrote, today read out its relevant contents for this story.

It was typical of US immaturity and cowboy-style diplomacy in dealing with such situations that Campbell complained to India that during his travel to Naypyidaw he asked questions and did not get answers.

The Indians retorted that they too ask questions but the answers always come during follow-up visits. The solution, South Block said, was to keep engaging Naypyidaw and not to make one visit to the country and expect to wrap up the problem with readymade answers, according to Campbell’s despatch.

In retrospect, it is now clear in the light of the fast-changing scenario in Yangon that India’s decision not to publicly respond to Obama’s criticism of Myanmar in the Central Hall of Parliament was wise and fruitful.

It is also clear from a briefing at the end of Obama’s visit by a very senior Indian official — who cannot be named because of the rules of the media interaction — that South Block did not buckle under Obama’s aggressiveness over Myanmar which has to do with the President’s domestic political compulsions.

The Indian official made it clear that during discussions with the Americans they were told that “we have to deal with Myanmar as an immediate neighbour”.

“When we look east, the first place we see is Myanmar,” was India’s response to Obama’s advice to New Delhi to engage its east.

At the briefing, the official was sarcastic about the US suggestions that India should shun Yangon. “It is not on the dark side of the moon” unlike for the Americans who were half way round the globe away.

The official added that “we can’t pretend to be brain dead” as China increases its engagement of Naypyidaw.

After Obama referred to Myanmar in Parliament, a core group in South Block considered a public response but advised the Prime Minister after a detailed review that, unlike Pakistan on which Manmohan Singh responded to Obama’s comments at their joint news conference, it was not an issue that called for a rejoinder.

Private diplomacy was thought to be the best response and its effectiveness was proved by events today — although, if the rulers in Myanmar mishandle Suu Kyi’s rally on Sunday, all of India’s good work may well be back to square one.


Class not ready, ‘silent arm’ stays in Russia – the bungling balance not yet quite in place ?!!


Akula-II class, 8,140-tonne submarine, Nerpa - Still waiting to be delivered, but upto scratch for the Indian Navy ?!!



New Delhi, Nov. 29: A secretive project for the transfer of a Russian nuclear submarine to the Indian Navy has got delayed after New Delhi complained that Moscow had not trained Indian officers and sailors adequately for the task of operating it.

The Akula-II class, 8,140-tonne submarine, Nerpa, was to be delivered to the Indian Navy by December.

The Indian Navy, whose “silent arm” of submarines is fast depleting, had posted nearly 100 officers and sailors to the Amur shipyard in Siberia, where the Nerpa was built and tested, for more than a year.

Nuclear submarines can stay under water for much longer periods than the conventional diesel-electric submarines in the Indian Navy’s fleet. India has coveted nuclear submarines for decades, largely because of China’s expanding fleet.

Now the Indian Navy has concluded that its crew in Russia have not been trained well enough to “operationalise” the submarine after the transfer. The submarine is now likely to be accepted only in the middle of next year.

While the Indian defence establishment is miffed with the Russians for inordinate delays in several projects, it is also acutely aware that it cannot source such strategic co-operation from any other country.

This is the second time that the navy will be leasing a nuclear submarine from Russia after the first, the INS Chakra, was returned in 1991 after being in service in India for 10 years. In 2004, India and Russia had signed an agreement (about which officials do not talk in public) that would allow the Nerpa, which is likely to be re-christened INS Chakra, to be with India for 10 years till 2020 under a $650-million programme.

The agreement envisaged that Russia would not only physically sail the submarine to India but would also train the Indian Navy to operate it. Since its last experience with the INS Chakra, the Indian Navy’s trained personnel have almost all retired.

Also, the technology of nuclear submarines has undergone a change over the years, necessitating a fresh set of skills to operate them. The Indian Navy was intending to train its officers and sailors on the Nerpa till its own nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, built with help from the Russians, is operationally ready.

The Arihant was “launched” in 2009 in the naval dockyard in Visakhapatnam but sea trials are yet to begin after its reactors were integrated. It is expected to be operationally ready only in 2013.

The Nerpa has had its share of misfortune. An accident killed 20 Russian sailors while the submarine was being tried in the Sea of Japan. The repairs cost more than $60 million. The accident and the repairs caused the first delay and now the delivery has been re-scheduled.


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