Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Saturday, Nov 20, 2004
Columns - E-Dimension
Don't ask the way to the village if you don't want to get there
While it is remote that Mr Powell's successor, Ms Condoleezza Rice, or her new deputy will have anything to complain about a different cleric in captivity closer home, we may have to bear with the US articulating its views on many a matter, ranging from bomb testing to border disputes, during the forthcoming term of Mr George Bush.
Ms Rice failed to prevent the Pentagon from using fabricated information to start the Iraq war, charges the American media, and it seems John Bolton, the `ultra-hawk' who is tipped to be her deputy, wants the US to invade Iran! Unnerving, but `virtuous violence' is guaranteed to continue, after the exit of `moderates' from the Department of State, even as the UN is seen as lacking nerve. In an article on the UN, published recently in The Economist, Strobe Talbott, a deputy secretary of state under Bill Clinton, has observed: "The sheer pre-eminence of American power could, in itself, be the ordering and taming principle of a disorderly and dangerous world."
Predictably stereotypic of superiority with which most of us may not align, yet there is a new Talbott book, Engaging India, to tell the inside story of `diplomacy, democracy, and the bomb', published by Penguin (www.penguinbooksindia.com) .
Mr Talbott is now the president of The Brookings Institution (www.brookings.edu) where a press release for the book highlights that Mr Talbott and Mr Jaswant Singh `met fourteen times in seven countries.' Talbott-Singh diplomacy is credited with helping avert a nuclear clash in 1999, and facilitating Clinton's visit to India in 2000.
The coded message to the then Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that Mr Clinton delivered as a guest to our Parliament, in the course of his much-applauded address was, as Mr Talbott puts it: "India might someday get American support for permanent membership on the Security Council if it found a way of advancing another more immediate, more specific, and much larger cause, which was non-proliferation." A carrot behind the stick, that is. The book talks of how Mr Jaswant Singh had warned Mr Talbott not to call the talks `negotiation' because the word implied "retreat from basic and immutable national positions." `Dialogue' was better. True, diplomacy hinges on dialogues, but Talbott is cagey about that word too.
"In a successful dialogue, the two parties do more than just talk to each other. Each makes an effort to understand what the other has said and to incorporate that understanding into a reply. A dialogue does not, however, necessarily mean that the participants change each other's minds," he defines. Interactions with `Jaswant guy' were `engagements', which not only had conciliation but also contest; "eye-to-eye contact, firm handshake, pledge, and long-term commitment" as well as "crossing of swords."
The `smile of the Buddha' that shook the Thar about three decades ago has remained a lingering worry for the US ever since.
Soon after the Pokhran test, the then Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, met Indira Gandhi, and said: "Congratulations. You did it, you showed you could build nuclear weapons. You have the bomb. Now what do we do to keep from blowing up the world?" However, about the then Prime Minister, Kissinger's memoirs would complain of: "Her assumption of almost hereditary moral superiority... and a disdain for capitalism quite fashionable in developing countries."
That was when Mr Talbott first visited India. Years later, about his meeting with Ms Sonia Gandhi, when the BJP was in power, he remarks that "on the issue of the Indian bomb," she was in sync with her `mother-in-law' and Mr Vajpayee too.
`Benchmark' is a word that management consultants and software professionals love, but Talbott found it bombing bomb diplomacy because "it implied that Americans saw themselves as stern schoolmasters" grading Indian performance.
There was more: "Three of the benchmarks on the CTBT, fissile material, and strategic restraint were based on American judgments about Indian defence requirements." A difficulty, because we have not decided on "how many nuclear warheads to have and how to deploy them."
Mr Clinton too tried to get Ms Sonia Gandhi to "budge on the benchmarks" when he met her briefly at the hotel where he stayed during the India visit. "Clinton got nowhere," writes Talbott. "For someone who smiles a lot and has the gentlest of manners," Clinton is said to have remarked later, "that's one tough lady." Why? "She never said `no' but she made it mighty clear she wasn't saying `yes' to anything that will get in the way of playing hardball with Mr Vajpayee."
`Village' became a staple in the banter, recounts Talbott, ever since Mr Jaswant Singh quoted a Rajasthani proverb: "Don't ask the way to a village if you don't want to get there." A `double negative' that needed `unpacking' for the American.
"I got the point," he exudes confidently. "Since India and the US both had an interest in finding a way out of the dead end they had reached, there was no harm, and maybe some good, in their representatives talking about how to do so." Thus, whenever the two got together for "yet another round in yet another city," one of them would ask: "Was this finally the village?"
An interesting snippet talks of Talbott's interaction with Abdul Kalam, then presiding over the missile programme, seated next to him at the dinner table: "His idiosyncratic but precise, imaginative, and expressive syntax, combined with his rapid-fire delivery and distinctive accent, made his English sound as though it had been translated into words by a computer from some higher form of mathematics." Kalam had congratulated Talbott for establishing the diplomatic equivalent of `impedance matching', which the visitor had understood "to mean something like being on the same wavelength."
Whether President George Bush "risked making the US part of the problem of proliferation" is a question that Talbott tackles in a chapter appropriately titled `unfinished business'. On the Indian side, he expects the pursuit of nirvana to continue in the changed regime.
A genuinely international `we' including India, as Talbott proposes, may seem too idealistic. With the `village' still far away, there is enough time to read and re-read his engaging book.
Stories in this Section
The Hindu Group: Home | About Us | Copyright | Archives | Contacts | Subscription
Group Sites: The Hindu | Business Line | Sportstar | Frontline | The Hindu eBooks | The Hindu Images | Home |
Copyright © 2004, The
Hindu Business Line. Republication or redissemination of the contents of
this screen are expressly prohibited without the written consent of
The Hindu Business Line