March 21, 2011

WE THE MERE INDIANS



B.RAMAN

The publication in instalments of leaked WikiLeaks diplomatic cables by selected newspapers such as the “Guardian”of the UK, the “New York Times”, “Le Monde” of France, “Der Spiegel” of Germany and “El Pais” of Spain started a year ago.

2.The initial documents were about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subsequent ones were about other subjects and other countries, including Pakistan, China and Singapore.

3.Some countries such as China and Singapore ignored the leaks with contempt without making any comments. Others such as Pakistan painstakingly avoided any impression of panic or embarrassment. They successfully created an impression of taking them on their stride. There have been very few instances of the documents causing any political or diplomatic or other bureaucratic heads to roll except the resignation of the US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual whose cable to the US State Department containing allegations regarding Mexico’s anti-drug policy came in for strong criticism from the Mexican Government. The fact of his resignation and its acceptance by the State Department on March 19 amounts to an implicit acceptance of the authenticity of this cable as leaked by WikiLeaks. After this, it would be difficult for other States, including India, to take up the position that the WikiLeaks cables are not authentic.

4.The Mexican development is also the only instance so far in which the leaks have had a serious impact on state-to-state relations. Otherwise, barring Mexico, practically all the countries affected by the leaks as well as the US itself have shown a certain maturity in dealing with the leaks. They have been helped in this by the advance warnings given by the US State Department to other countries about the impending leaks.

5.One could already discern a diminishing interest in these cables in countries which faced the initial deluge of the leaks. In those countries, one hardly speaks any longer of the leaked documents. Despite the leaks, Government business goes on, diplomacy goes on, state-to-state relationships go on as before .

6.Leaks may come and leaks may go, but diplomacy and statecraft will go on for ever.

7.India was among the last countries to be hit by the Wiki deluge. It took “The Hindu” of Chennai nearly three months to work out with WikiLeaks an arrangement by which it has been allowed to have access to at least some, if not all, of the documents relating to India------ the majority of them consisting of diplomatic cables with various degrees of classification exchanged between the US Embassy in New Delhi and the State Department.

8. It was reported last year that WikiLeaks has about 3,000 such India-related documents in its possession. It is not known whether “The Hindu” has been allowed to have access to all of them or only some. If “The Hindu” is going to publish all of them, a leak fatigue is bound to set in---even earlier than it did in other countries.

9. Some of the documents published by “The Hindu” so far are of trivial importance. There was no need for it to have published them and given them over-stated importance. A typical example is the cable to the US Embassy in New Delhi asking for a personality profile on Pranab Mukherjee. There is nothing ominously significant about it. All countries have such personality profiles on leaders of other countries in their diplomatic database and keep updating them. The State Department’s cable on the subject is part of the updating exercise and there was no need for “The Hindu” to have gone to town over it.

10. The majority of the cables published so far would come under one of the following categories----- minutes of discussions of US diplomats with their Indian interlocutors, observations of US diplomats on the ground situation in states such as Manipur and assessments in general of US diplomats on various issues of interest to the US. These are largely based on facts as they became available to the US diplomats. I have gone through all the cables published so far. I have not come across a single instance where one could accuse the diplomats of fabrication or willful distortion. There is no evidence of any mala fide in the way the cables have been recorded.

11. Most of the facts as stated or discussed in the leaked cables are already known to well-informed sections of the Indian public. For example, everything that has been recorded in some of the cables about M.K.Narayanan, former National Security Adviser, was already known in India through our media reports. The only interesting thing is that the cables enable us to have a look at these facts through American and not Indian eyes. One finds that American eyes could be as jaundiced as Indian eyes.

12. There are some tell-tale leads for our investigative reporters. The most interesting of these leads, in my view, is the one about a planned tripartite meeting in the US on the initiative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to discuss developments relating to the investigation into the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. This meeting was to be attended by officers of the intelligence and investigating agencies of India, Pakistan and the US. The cables are,however, silent as to whether this tripartite meeting was held as scheduled, if so, who attended and what transpired.

13. During the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi and Chandrasekhar as the Prime Minister, the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had three meetings at the level of their then chiefs held at the initiative of a Jordanian dignitary. Nothing much came out of these meetings. After the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, the US had tried to organize such a tripartite meeting in a third country. P.V.Narasimha Rao, the then Prime Minister, and J.N Dixit, the then Foreign Secretary, were not enthusiastic about it. So the suggested US initiative remained a non-starter

14. The leaked cables suggest that the US had again taken up this idea after the 26/11 terrorist strikes and that the Government of Dr.Manmohan Singh had reacted positively to it. This is something interesting and significant and could make a good story if properly followed up by our investigative journalists.

15. There is at least one cable relating to a possible commission of the serious crime of bribery to influence voting in the Lok Sabha and the role Satish Sharma of the Congress (I) and one of his aides had allegedly played in it. This, if true, is a fresh piece of evidence which has come to notice now. This evidence was not in the possession of the committee which had enquired into a related allegation on the same subject after the confidence vote in 2008. The Government cannot escape the responsibility for re-opening the closed investigation or enquiry of 2008 in the light of this fresh evidence.

16. As I read the various cables leaked in different countries, what strikes me is the frankness and lack of inhibition with which our political leaders and bureaucrats discuss sensitive matters of State policy with US diplomats. They confide in US diplomats sensitive things that they never confide in the Indian public or parliament. There is much greater transparency during their interactions with US diplomats than during their interactions with Indian political leaders, media personnel and public. A typical example is the discussion of P.Chidambaram, our Home Minister, with a visiting head of the FBI regarding the constitutional implications of the manner in which the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was set up in a hurry after the 26/11 strikes. He had apparently discussed with his US interlocutors things which he had never broached with us mere Indians. It is as if we mere Indians cannot be trusted with discussions of such sensitive matters whereas the Americans can be. One finds many such instances right across the cables.

17. I find this the most galling. ( 21-3-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary(retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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