muscular diplomacy
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M. K. Bhadrakumar|

When President-elect Donald Trump picked Ambassador Nikki Haley as the US ambassador to the United Nations, eyebrows were raised that she lacked ‘diplomatic experience’. But Haley has been a successful politician and diplomacy and politics are two sides of the same coin.

A successful career in diplomacy almost always requires one to have the DNA of a politician – no strong convictions, capacity to bend like soccer star Beckham, killer instinct and Teflon smoothness to dissimulate. Henry Kissinger epitomises a successful diplomat. If, on the other hand, John Bolton or Zbigniew Brzezinski turned out to be spectacular failures, it can only be attributed to their stubborn beliefs.

Nikki Haley is no simpleton

To be sure, Nikki Haley has the making of a successful diplomat. Watch the ABC’s ‘This Week’ with Haley holding forth on the delicate topic of Trump and Russia. If one ever thought her acerbic remarks about Russia’s interference in American politics betrayed her shallowness, revise that opinion. Haley was as slippery as an eel. Trump himself thinks all this talk of Russian interference is nonsense, but Haley maintains that she still wants to believe in the allegation (provided, she adds the caveat, it can be someday substantiated with facts).

Haley then discloses that Trump never pulled her up for her remarks on Russia. How does it all add up? Simply put, Trump has placed her at the far right of the spectrum of opinion on Russia where she becomes a strategic asset, since there is no scope whatsoever for Senator John McCain or any witch-hunting Democrat to outflank her strident rhetoric.

 India-Pakistan tensions are indeed the principal hurdle today to an Afghan settlement, thanks to our moronic policies since the late nineties to make Kabul a turf to settle scores with the Pakistani military.

To be sure, Haley is tough as nail. Make no mistake. And she is very well clued in on Trump’s thinking. Haley holds cabinet rank and Trump decreed vide National Security Presidential memorandum-2 dated January 28, 2017 that she shall be a regular attendee of both the National Security Council as well as the Homeland Security Council where she sits with the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Homeland Security, National Security Advisor and Homeland Security Advisor.

Read more: Where does Pakistan fit into Trump’s World?

Her comments on India-Pakistan need to be taken seriously

Which is why her remark about the Trump administration’s interest in trying to “find its place” in mediating between India and Pakistan needs to be taken with bloody seriousness. Haley reportedly told reporters in New York on Monday in a briefing that was occasioned by the rotating chairmanship of the US in the UN Security Council in April:

It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward.

Haley said she expects that the Trump administration is going to be in talks and try and “find its place to be a part of that (de-escalating tensions).” Then she dealt the lethal body-blow to Modi government:

We don’t think, we should wait till something happens. We very much think that we should be proactive in the way that we are seeing tensions rise and conflicts start to bubble up and so we want to see if we can be a part of that. So I think that will be something that you will see members of the National Security Council participates in, but also wouldn’t be surprised if the President (Trump) participates in that as well.

The point is, firstly, she said all this when asked if the US can make any efforts to get India and Pakistan together for peace talks as tensions between the two South Asian neighbors over Kashmir have risen. Whereas, she could have easily parried. Secondly, she brought in the NSC into the ambit of the US policy on Kashmir. And, thirdly, she hinted that she could be reflecting Trump’s thinking on Kashmir (which is not at all surprising because India-Pakistan tensions are indeed the principal hurdle today to an Afghan settlement, thanks to our moronic policies since the late nineties to make Kabul a turf to settle scores with the Pakistani military.)

Read more: Afghanistan’s Options: India’s Treachery or Regional Cooperation

The South Block reaction to Haley’s remarks has been dodgy:

Government’s position for bilateral redressal of all India-Pakistan issues in an environment free of terror and violence hasn’t changed. We of course, expect international community and organizations to enforce international mechanisms and mandates concerning terrorism emanating from Pakistan, which continues to be the single biggest threat to peace and stability in our region and beyond.

Interestingly, the GOI reaction has been attributed to the PR in New York. New Delhi would like to downplay Haley’s remarks, which of course reflect poorly on what our establishment pundits often tout as the single biggest feather on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomatic hat – namely, that he single-handedly put the US-Indian relationship on an ever-rising trajectory of partnership in the twenty-first century.

In retrospect, NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar who went to the US twice to meet with Trump’s team drew blank. The good thing about Haley’s stricture is that the Indian establishment will now feel the compulsion to roll back the “muscular diplomacy” and instead re-engage Pakistan with a view to keep tensions under check.

M.K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.  This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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