President Obama on his visit to Asia has been a trend-changer on many accounts. In a zeal to “strengthen” tied with China, US seems to have stepped in the wrong alley. After US-China released a joint press statement making reference to Indo-Pakistani relations and sending message that U.S. is fine with the idea of a third party intervention in the talks between the two nations (India-Pakistan); officials of U.S. embassy in India, State and Foreign Department are now on an explanation spree.
India on Wednesday reacted sharply to the joint statement. India has always been very critical of any third party intervention in Indo-Pakistani relations especially related to Kashmir. It revives the memories of another US-China joint statement issued during the Bill Clinton regime on June 29, 1998. the 1998 statement was also considered “offensive” by India, scolding India and Pakistan for their nuclear tests. The statement had nearly broken up the talks between the then U.S. Deputy Secy. of State, Strobe Talbott and Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh. Talbott had later discreetly apologized for the statement.
Timothy Roemer, the U.S. Ambassador to India, has been doing what seems to be an act of damage control in India after strong concerns voiced by India ahead of impending visit of Indian Prime Minister to U.S. next week. “India and the US will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand and hour-by- hour to co-operate on combating terrorism,” Roemer said. “We are excited to have the prime minister visiting Washington,” Roemer said, adding that he was leaving for Washington on Thursday to prepare for the talks with Obama.
Roemer was also quick to point out the U.S. stand on relation with India that Obama has labelled as the “best and most important relationship to him and the people of the United States” before he (Roemer) came to India on his assignment.
Indian diplomats have meanwhile raised their concerns openly on the issue of third party intervention. “A third-country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said. He made it clear that bilateral dialogue – and that too only when Pakistan stopped terror attacks being launched from its territory – was the only way forward with Pakistan.
The issue can become a major roadblock just before PM Manmohan Singh is scheduled to meet Obama. Washington seems to realize the repercussions of the statement and in what seems to be attempts to pacify sentiments after ruffling feathers in India, senior diplomats are on a firefighting mission.
Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, in a statement in Washington said that the U.S. has always said, that it’s always upto India and Pakistan to decide how, when and the scope in terms of their bilateral relations. “I don’t think there needs to be any concern in India about what the President said in China. We have very important relations with China. But we have equally important relations with India.And I think that will come out very clearly during the course of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit next week,” he said.
India and China have fought a war 1962 and diplomatic crossfires are neither new nor uncommon. It will be interesting to see how things develop during the visit of Indian PM next week to Washington for which elaborate details are being planned out at White House.