February 16, 2017: This essay on the redoubtable John Kenneth Galbraith starts a series of occasional pieces remembering American diplomats with whom I worked over the years on U.S. relations with South Asia. I’ll be looking mostly at the times I served at our embassies in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, some fifteen years in all. My focus will be on the character, aspirations, and activities of these diplomats rather than on the policies they advocated. I plan to write only about those who have passed away.
February 20, 2016: U.S. provision of sophisticated Lockheed-Martin F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistan Air Force has been a particular sore point for the Indian government for decades, since the Reagan administration made them available to Islamabad following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Indians have always contended that whatever the Pakistanis may offer as their rationale for acquiring the planes — whether it is to ward off a possible Soviet attack, their claim in the 1980s, or to use as precision firing platforms to combat terrorists, their present argument – Islamabad’s real purpose is to bolster its air power in a potential confrontation with India. For their part, the Pakistanis have long viewed the F-16 as a potent symbol of where they stand with the United States. Like the Indians, they afford it an outsized military and political significance. Continue reading “U.S. Sale of F-16 Jets to Pakistan Riles India”
February 17, 2016: A deadly avalanche that killed ten Indian soldiers earlier this month on the disputed 20,000 foot high Siachen glacier in Kashmir received extensive coverage in the Indian and Pakistani media. The avalanche prompted some commentators in both countries to call for an early settlement of what seemed to them and to many others (including ourselves) a senseless dispute.
Their voices were largely drowned out in India by an outpouring of patriotic fervor that cast the dead soldiers as “Bravehearts” who had died for their country. The Indian Defense Minister publicly dismissed pleas that both sides pull back from the 47-mile long glacier where they have confronted one another since 1984. Possibilities for a settlement seem remote.
May 13, 2015: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success in winning unanimous parliamentary approval for a constitutional amendment designed to eliminate the vexing anomalies along India’s land boundary with Bangladesh is the latest example of his determination to improve New Delhi’s relations with its smaller South Asian neighbors. The amendment still needs to be ratified by the required one half of the Indian states, and that process may not be complete by the time Modi makes his first visit to Bangladesh as prime minister next month. But the broad support it received in both houses of Parliament and the praise Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her bitter rival Khaleda Zia, and the Bangladeshi public have given to Modi for his role in pushing it through will significantly help to make that visit another of the successful, high-visibility events that have been the hallmark of his foreign travels.
March 19, 2015: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (at R) holds the high cards in her Awami League government’s violent confrontation with an opposition coalition led by her longtime bitter rival Begum Khaleda Zia (at L), the leader of the Bangladesh National Party. But though Zia’s strategy of disrupting economic activity to force early fresh elections under a caretaker government has clearly failed, she is unwilling to give it up. Nor is an increasingly confident Hasina interested in coming to a compromise settlement, as some Dhaka-based diplomats have urged. She may in fact see the confrontation as an Continue reading “Bangladesh: Political Confrontation”