Weeks before the Obama administration appointed Richard Holbrooke as the Special Representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, New Delhi sent an unequivocal message to the United States that any move to include India in his brief would be “unacceptable.”
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee registered India's strong disapproval of President-elect Barack Obama's plan to appoint a special envoy for the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan region.
During a meeting with U.S. Ambassador David Mulford on January 9, 2009, Mr. Mukherjee is reported to have said the move “smacks of interference and would be unacceptable [to India].”
The meeting took place two weeks before Mr. Holbrooke's appointment. India was conspicuously absent from his designation, suggesting that New Delhi had — as speculated in some quarters — successfully lobbied the Obama administration in ensuring that neither India nor Kashmir were included in Mr. Holbrooke's official brief.
A cable (186057: secret) dated January 7, 2009 sent by Mr. Mulford to Washington shows the speculation was not far off the mark.
“Mukherjee was deeply concerned about any move toward an envoy with a broad regional mandate that could be interpreted to include Kashmir.
“Such a broad mandate would be viewed by India as risky and unpredictable, exposing issues of vital concern to India to the discretion of the individual appointed.”
Mr. Holbrooke passed away in December 2010 and was succeeded by Marc Grossman.
Mr. Mukherjee's keenness that the U.S.-India relationship should not be viewed primarily through the lens of the crisis in the region was also reflected in his remark that “India was content that Vice President-elect [Joe] Biden [did] not extend his trip beyond Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
He, however, added that India would look forward to welcoming him one day to “showcase the breadth of the bilateral relationship.”
During the meeting, Mr. Mulford drew attention to the lack of an agreement on End Use Monitoring (EUM) between India and the U.S., saying he did not see why it was so difficult for the former to conclude an acceptable agreement. As it turned out, an EUM agreement — under which restrictions on use and mechanisms for monitoring may be applied to defence and other items using cutting edge technologies sold to India — was finalised in mid-2009, or within a few months of the meeting.
Another cable (185384: confidential) dated December 31, 2008 sent by Mr. Mulford to Washington records that India's Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon had expressed the country's “extreme sensitivity” on the issue of a U.S. special envoy with “a mandate to address the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.”
Mr. Shivshankar Menon is said to have conveyed this in a meeting with U.S. Under Secretary Bill Burns. The cable cites Mr. Menon as telling him that India is concerned about the possibility of a narrow deal in which the U.S. would tell Pakistan the Mumbai terrorist attacks will not “stick on you” as long as “you keep fighting in the West [against militants in the western region of Pakistan].”
India needed to work to “update perceptions,” the Foreign Secretary said, “because the concept of such a deal could have originated only from those with out-dated views of the reality in Kashmir.”
The cable reports Mr. Menon telling the U.S. official that “a special envoy would be deeply unpopular and could negatively affect the gains in [the U.S.-India] bilateral relationship. Menon observed that ‘we have not heard a peep' from critics of a close relationship with the U.S. about co-operation with the FBI following the Mumbai attacks, but added, ‘Kashmir is different; we do not want to feed the notion that the U.S. is messing about in Kashmir, especially in the lead-up to national elections.”
The Pakistan Cables are being shared by The Hindu with NDTV in India and Dawn in Pakistan.
The photo caption has been edited for clarity.