November 8, 2005Foreign Affairs

And what’s he been smoking?

Natwar Singh’s stint as foreign minister has been an unmitigated disaster

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

C Raja Mohan, rarely one to voice an opinion that differs from that of the government, writes that Natwar Singh skidded dangerously’ only in the last 48 hours’ of his term as foreign minister. Neither Natwar Singh’s performance nor the manner in which he left the scene warrants this attempt to botox his reputation.

…there was no way of ignoring Natwar Singh’s role in engineering major breakthroughs in India’s troubled relations with the United States and Pakistan.[IE]

There was nothing extraordinary that Natwar Singh did with respect to America or Pakistan. Major changes in policy direction were made during the days of the Vajpayee government. Jaswant Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee deserve credit for the transformation of India-US relations. The Acorn is no admirer of India’s handling of Musharraf, but again much of the credit for initiating the current peace process’ is due to Vajpayee. The most charitable thing that can be said about Natwar Singh is that he did not undermine their good work. Not that he didn’t try.

But apart from Pakistan and United States, there are more 188 other countries in the world. Of them, many of the most important lie in India’s immediate neighbourhood. During Natwar Singh’s watch, King Gyanendra seized power in Nepal. Not only did he catch India unware, but continues to thumb his nose in India’s direction even to this day. Jihadi ideology and operations have sunk deeper into Bangladesh, border clashes have escalated and its government sees every incentive to pursue a hostile line on India. Maldives has become unstable. That defence pact India was to sign with Sri Lanka never got signed, while the security situation in that country has taken a downturn. Natwar Singh did nothing to prevent SAARC from being hijacked by Pakistan.

In South Korea, he publicly regretted India’s nuclear status, holding the Vajpayee government responsible for carrying out the 1998 tests. On Iran, Natwar Singh did a horrible job of explaining the rationale of India’s decision to the public. His failure reinforced the mistaken view that India voted against Iran’s nuclear programme due to American coercion. But perhaps it is Iraq that Natwar Singh will be most remembered for — not just for his alleged involvement in the oil-for-food scam — but for caving in to a band of Iraqi kidnappers who had taken Indian truck drivers hostage. On that occassion too, he allowed thuggish Iraqis to dictate India’s foreign policy.

So what has C Raja Mohan been smoking?

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