THE UNITED STATES Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, has overstepped his diplomatic role by writing directly to the Assam Chief Minister offering assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate the recent bomb attacks in the State. The offer, made by Mr. Mulford in a letter to Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, is unmindful of the established procedures for diplomatic conduct in the host country. Those procedures clearly specify that all communication between an envoy and a State Government must be routed through the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ambassador could not have been ignorant of this. Consequently, his conduct cannot be explained away as a faux pas. Considering the political overtones to the resurgence of violence in the Northeast, Mr. Mulford's direct offer of FBI assistance to the Assam Government has been widely perceived as both presumptuous and an unwanted foray into India's internal affairs. In any case, what is the practical assistance that the FBI, or any other foreign investigating agency, can offer in this matter? Investigations have already established that the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), two organisations that are leading separate secessionist insurgencies in the region, engineered the explosions. Both organisations have specific demands for which New Delhi has ultimately to find a political settlement. Neither the U.S. nor any of its investigating agencies has a role to play in this arena.

True, international intelligence agencies have helped in the investigation of earlier terrorism cases, such as the 1993 Bombay blasts, the hijacking of IC 184, and the bomb attack outside the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata. In each of these cases, assistance came only after India requested specific help from the agencies. Sharing of intelligence and expertise among countries is no doubt necessary in going after terrorist networks that recognise no international boundaries. But cooperation can be a double-edged sword with serious implications for India's internal security and sovereignty. It was for this reason that in the 1970s, the Government laid down procedures for interaction between the Indian intelligence agencies and their foreign counterparts and designated a nodal agency to control and monitor such interaction. There were loopholes in the system. But in recent times, the setting up of joint working groups on terrorism with as many as 21 countries has resulted in the emergence of several contact points in the Indian intelligence system, loosening the controls and leading to a free-for-all situation. The presumptuousness behind the U.S. offer of assistance has no doubt something to do with this laxity. India must act quickly to disabuse the outside world of this notion.

As noteworthy as Mr. Mulford's letter is the Indian establishment's conspicuous reluctance to take a stand against it. What was Chief Minister Gogoi thinking when he welcomed the U.S. offer? He has displayed insensitivity to the implications for national sovereignty. The Centre has done no better. Instead of nipping the U.S. envoy's hyperactivism in the bud, the Union Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, sought to explain it away as a "gesture" of help and sympathy by the U.S. Despite admitting that it was "not usual for an envoy to write to a Chief Minister," the Ministry of External Affairs appears to have opted for a lenient view of the whole episode. Such waffle can only send out the wrong signal that in the age of globalisation, even the country's internal security and political problems are open to external influence verging on intervention.