Report on Inpad Team’s visit to US and Canada.
Anil Athale, Co-ordinator Indian Initiative for Peace & Disarmament (Inpad.)
On 31st March on a balmy afternoon when Lt. General Eric Vas and I landed in Washington, spring was in the air. On our entire route from Dulles airport, one saw carpet of lovely green with wild lilies. But as our host warned us that weather could be very fickle in these parts of the world, sure enough as we left Washington in a weeks time, instead of sunshine, we actually experienced snow fall. Nothing could describe accurately the state of Indo-US relations post Clinton visit than the fickle Washington spring. Much work needs to be done before one can say that Indo)US relations have finally come out of the cold war freeze. It is precisely such a mission that Inpad undertook recently, with assistance from the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India.
The two of us, both founder members of Inpad were in US and Canada on a lecture tour to explain Indian nuclear policy and our point of view on Kashmir. On the former, Inpad has a view different than Delhi centric formulations. Described as ‘Satyagraha Approach’, a brain child of Gen. Vas, it puts forward a view that India should develop ‘ALL’ nuclear capabilities, openly, but not weaponise. Then from this position of strength we should sign CTBT, but not the NPT and also press for arms cuts across the board. On Kashmir our position is that as a home to worlds six major religions India cannot accept any solution of Kashmir that even remotely recognises the two nation theory. The struggle in Kashmir is over principle that is at the very heart of Indian nationhood and is really the civil war that we ought to have fought in 1947 but didn’t.
In all during this tour we addressed audiences at five universities, three think-tanks that included the prestigious Brookings Institute in Washington and two large gatherings of Indian community. It came as a pleasant surprise that at most places we mustered an attendance of over 30, a feat difficult even in Pune!
The most satisfying feat was that virtually at all places our principled position on Kashmir was totally accepted. Not once did we face any question on the so-called human rights violations in Kashmir or alleged atrocities. I think thanks to the massacre of Sikhs when US President was in India, most Americans have accepted that the problem in Kashmir is that of cross border terrorism. This was in stark contrast to what a very senior civil servant told Gen. Vas before our departure. According to this person, " India has no case on Kashmir! You will be in trouble in US defending our position" It should give readers some idea as to why all these years we seem to lose the propaganda war in the West. With such worthies holding forth at international forums, who needs an enemy?
On the nuclear issue most Americans were confounded by the Satyagraha Approach of Gen. Vas. The key question asked was as to how could the world believe that while India says that it will not weaponise, with all the technologies developed it could one fine morning say that now it has! Specially Pakistanis have every right to fear such a strong India. Gen. Vas proposed that in order to ally these legitimate fears of Pakistan, India should unilaterally open its installations for inspection by Pakis, but neither Americans nor Chinese. For with their huge arsenals, both these countries threaten survival of mankind and it is height of affront for them to be ‘afraid’ of India’s non weaponised capability.
The most satisfying meetings were with Indian community in Washington and Waterloo (Canada). The meetings that started at 6.30 PM went on till 9.30 and later after dinner till midnight. There is an obvious hunger to know about these issues facing India and also a desire to participate and understand. As one World Bank official of Indian origin put it, " Every time something major happens in India , we get lot of questions from our American friends. Your talks have equipped us to deal with these now." Both Gen. Vas and I felt that we have created 70 Ambassadors for India. The love and hospitality was indeed overwhelming and but for this support from Dr. Ravindra Athale and his wife Chanda in Washington and Mr. Ratan C. Arya and his family in Waterloo, our mission could not have been successful. It is a pity that the Indian embassy is slow to tap this potential for national good.
Many in the Indian embassy lamented the fact that Clinton’s India visit did not get adequate publicity in US media as it was overshadowed by the Pope’s visit to Jerusalem. But interestingly, the US TV and press gave wide coverage to the ‘cloak and dagger’ manner of Clinton’s visit to Pakistan. The message reached right down to the man in street in America that even the US President was not safe there! In contrast the relaxed atmosphere in India made a telling point. I think it was this that actually strengthened our position on Kashmir. Time is now ripe to follow through and be on the offensive on this issue. But regrettably, this major impact was missed out by our diplomats in Washington.